Tony Compton, Managing Director
For those of us who remain connected to television programming via cable or satellite, it’s hard not to notice the former CBS-TV network comedy The King of Queens relentlessly being played over and over in syndication. Scroll the on-screen programming menu offered by any cable or satellite provider and you’re sure to find it. The show is on several channels, in the morning, afternoon, and night. It’s on seven days a week.
I never watched the show when it was in its first run on network television. Never. Not once. Nothing against the show, but I just never watched it. But it’s now on television with such frequency that I’ve landed on the show more than once via late-night channel surfing.
A moment from one particular episode caught my attention. One of the show’s characters owns and operates a Queens, New York pizza parlor, and there’s a scene in this restaurant when he’s working behind the counter and in the middle of an in-person conversation. The character talks in a no-accent, Middle America, vocal style. No New York City accent. No Italian accent. No Mid-Atlantic accent. Nothing. Just a straight-forward thirty-something male voice from most Anywhere, USA. But during this episode, that conversation he’s having is suddenly interrupted by the restaurant’s telephone ringing. It’s a wall phone from the 1980’s and somebody’s calling to place an order. But instead of answering the phone in a typical “Hello, How may I help you…” tone of voice, the owner answers in a quickly-fabricated heavy Italian accent. “Hello, Angelo’s Pizza, How may I help you…” (Apply your own interpretive accent to that quote.)
The pizza order is taken, he hangs up the phone, and then goes back to his normal #voice for the balance of the previous in-house conversation. The bit lasts 10-15 seconds, max. It’s an amusing, family-friendly, network tv line from a sitcom, but one that held more of a business lesson learned than the show’s producers, writers, or actors could have known at the time.
Your Voice Assistant Can’t Provide That #CustomerExperience
I’ve read about #Amazon’s Alexa and #Google Home’s ability to locally order pizza from two of the national chains, provided accounts are set-up in advance. (Bugs and shortcomings in the system notwithstanding.) So let’s stay with that example, and imagine if you owned a local pizza place or a chain of regional Italian restaurants. Your target #customer is lying on the couch, watching The King of Queens on late-night TV and gets hungry for pizza. Instead of moving his lazy body to dial for delivery, sit up to use an app, or get up to find his computer, he only has to talk to his voice-assist enabled device sitting on a table on the other side of the room. But instead of delivering a customized audible customer experience, the generic platform voice is the front person for all pizza places within the system. Nothing unique, no Angelo, no Tony, nothing differentiated in the sound of the interaction with the restaurants. Just a computerized voice providing options, and it’s a voice that sounds exactly the same from one pizza joint to the next. At the moment of truth for the vocal and audible customer experience, the interaction is watered down. Homogenized. And that #sales, #marketing, and #customerservice process is going to have to change. One generic voice assistant representing your business – and those of your competitors – can’t last. As nice and sophisticated as your chosen platform’s voice assistant may sound, you don’t necessarily want that male or female voice branding your restaurant – or your chosen line of business.
Three #CX Predictions
1. Across all #platforms, voice-enabled transactions in the next several years are expected to total in the billions of dollars. Given that market forecast, businesses will have to quickly learn how to connect their products and services to this new form of vocal customer interaction, experience, and relationship. They’ll have to do so in a differentiated way or miss out on that future spend. It’s interesting to note that the use of voice-enabled assistants can level the playing field for many smaller or regional businesses (think Pizza Hut and Domino’s vs. Angelo’s New York Pizza), but it’ll be the smaller businesses that are slow to react and invest that could be the most vulnerable.
2. The market should move quickly in a direction that will allow #technology to be developed such that the current platform assistants can connect to corporate-owned, individually-branded voice assistants that will deliver differentiated consumer interactions. This is not a replacement of the current set of computerized voice assistants, rather a connection to one or more voices that specifically represents a particular company, #brand, or business. #Alexa or #Siri could act as a virtual switchboard to route users to any one company’s ability to use voice-assist and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in creative ways their competitor’s could never imagine.
3. For all of the technology and #AI, actual human voices will continue to play a critical role throughout this voice and branding process. I know this seems as if it takes away from some of the futuristic HAL 2000 thinking, but no supercomputer could provide the actual voice used for Tony’s Pizza in Chicago. Or Angelo’s in Queens. Or Hunter’s chain of Western Wear Shops throughout the State of Texas. I wouldn’t want a supercomputer voice to brand my Chicagoland pizza parlors with an automated voice-assist that sounds like a Joe Pesci from Goodfellas ripoff. And just ask somebody from southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama if all southern United States accents sound the same. (They don’t.) Supercomputer voices have a long way to go to reflect the nuances in dialects, and that’s only considering the USA. (BTW, that includes anything uttered by #IBM’s Watson.) For the long foreseeable future, humans will be needed to provide voices for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in the voice-assistance world, and that should make those in the #voiceover industry jump for joy.
Of course the use of differentiated voices for company branding activities is nothing new. Companies have traditionally employed actors with the precise voices they want for everything from radio and television commercials, to Interactive Voice Response systems, to web and streaming media activities, to video games, to, well, computer-generated voice-enabled assistants. But it’s this still-developing link in the voice-assisted customer experience chain that provides the most excitement, and creative possibilities.
Linking AI, to customized voices and crafted sound experiences, through the in-home, in-auto, in-office, or handheld mobile device to represent your business has got to be compelling. Imagine the possibilities, and how your business can own that audible customer experience in ways your competitors could never imagine. I think I’ll stay up late, give some thought to how this economic and technology model can work, and order a pizza.
BTW, Chicago’s pizza is still better than New York’s.