Photo Credit: Twenty20

Voice messaging and audio are becoming key features for messaging applications, but what does the future hold for them?

We have been overloaded with visual communications over the past year. Skipping from laptop to phone, to television screen, and back again has defined a large part of people’s daily routine in a year of rolling lockdowns. Although tech might be ubiquitous, the emphasis is still on screen-time which is certainly not yet frictionless. But it does look like this is changing, thanks to a major audio comeback – and businesses need to take note.

In a hybrid world of remote working, the screen-time balance is shifting. Once the default for all work communications, many have now abandoned the phone for video calls and email. Yet, in our personal lives, voice is gradually becoming the number one way to communicate – whether that’s leaving voice notes on WhatsApp, turning content into a podcast, or taking advantage of ‘Alexa’.

Take, for example, the growth of Clubhouse, an audio-based social media platform with invite-only users. It is another platform that brands and leaders are adapting to cater to audience trends. Its ten million users show interest in the audio-only platform and opened the way for other similar innovations from tech players: Facebook Live Audio, Twitter Spaces, and an upcoming Spotify feature for live audio conversations, to grow its podcasting catalog

According to a PWC survey, delving into the world of voice-led eCommerce is the way forward. The survey found that 50% of respondents have made a purchase using their voice assistant, and an additional 25% would consider doing so in the future. They see voice assistants as a smarter, faster and easier way to perform everyday activities.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many of us now default to asking Alexa, Nest or Siri for help – rather than looking at our phones. It is estimated that by 2020 there were 4.2 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices around the world. Meanwhile, by 2024 the number of digital voice assistants is set to reach 8.4 billion units – a number higher than the world’s population.

Facebook is also investing in its own speech recognition engine that combines 51 languages in one model – a feat as most automatic speech recognition (ASR) models work with a single language per model, requiring multiple models for multiple languages. As the tech giant continues to collect voice data to train for voice recognition, it is rumored that a Facebook voice assistant is on the way. These types of developments are having a major impact on consumer behavior and expectations.

In short, people want to speak, listen and be heard. Any business that doesn’t want to play catch-up in a year’s time, needs to think very carefully about their customer experience strategy early on in 2021. In many cases, a new pillar for voice communication needs to be implemented. There are ways businesses can seize the voice opportunity, from launching podcasts, or converting written content to audio for on-the-go consumption and optimizing marketing strategies for voice searches.

But to get closer to customers it’s time to start innovating with new digital channels that combine the best of messaging and media capabilities. This adds a whole new layer of functionality to devices – enabling customers to browse while moving through the home, check the weather on the go and change the music without getting up. But what can it do for your business?

Tapping into the audio trend and providing customers with their preferred mode of customer experience is priceless.

Communication habits are quickly developing as phone calls move over to give space to digital channels. Young generations, in particular, are embracing online conversations and now that digital space is embracing audio.

Photo Credit: Twenty20

The future of communication is not just about the contest between voice versus digital but rather concerning the combination of the two. Voice and phone used to be limiting in customer service: you had to wait, to repeat information. Even though the phone remains a frequently used form of contacting support teams.

Now, voice is coming in several forms, combined with digital. It allows voice to be used for the most significant parts (situations requiring empathy through tone of voice, assistance for urgent issues, real-time technical assistance…). On messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, users are increasingly using voice messages. The appeal of voice messaging is largely attributed to its convenient and personal nature. Its asynchronous form also makes it more instant to communicate instead of an email, without having to spend too much time formatting text for the tone of voice.

Another way is through call deflection, allowing to alternate between digital and phone during a single conversation, so customers only talk to agents when it’s really adding value.

The opportunity for business innovation is endless as we teeter on the edge of a voice revolution. It’s time for businesses to start thinking outside the box and consider how voice technologies can add value to their operations. From marketing strategies to customer service and administration it’s time to get talking – and listen up.