The rapid increase of voice enabled speakers and voice assistants is hard to miss. A recent survey from Multiscope mentioned 500.000 smart speakers in Dutch households already! But what does it take to create your own voice assistant? And what should you pay attention to when developing a voice assistant? In this article I’ll share 5 key success factors for developing a voice interface.
Exploring voice assistants
Voice enabled services, like the well-known voice assistants Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Microsoft Cortana are all part of conversational interfaces. They are a piece of technology that processes human speech as input and - before responding - tries to make sense of it using a synthetic voice. Read ‘The inner workings of a voice assistant’ to better understand how they work. But in short, it's a buddy you can talk to and that’s always there for you.
This introduces new challenges and opportunities. We have to think about what makes a new product or service actually valuable for the voice channel. The availability of a new channel, such as voice, takes time before great use cases are delivered. Take mobile apps, they went through a similar maturity cycle. Initially everyone tried to squeeze their entire website on a smaller screen often resulting in a terrible user experience. Over time, better use cases were created and nowadays mobile apps play a crucial role in the total brand experience. The development of voice services and the technological abilities today are - although far from being fully developed – already very promising. New interaction patterns and new ways of tackling services for the voice channel is an ongoing journey which entices many of us to keep on exploring.
Learnings of Voice UX development
If you are already exploring the voice channel, or are about to start exploring it, take some time to research and read about starting points, best practices to follow, and pitfalls to avoid. Apart from having great fun, the importance of team spirit and the confidence in your team to deliver great value, I’ve made some other learnings while realizing voice services for our clients that I’m happy to share with you.
1. Know your end users and understand their context
In current day and age there is no way of knowing where your users will be and what they are doing while they are using your services. Although obvious, it does play an important part in thinking about which services you are offering. Knowing your users and understanding the context they are in helps in tuning the right kind of services. Do people need their full attention and privacy to get in touch? Or is it more informative and open? How long do they need to interact? And do they need to share certain information? If so, either guide your users step by step through this process or allow enough shortcuts are affiliate services in case they haven’t got everything at hand. Also counter in the fact that your users may not be as patient as you think they are, so be concise. All things to consider while designing your voice service.
2. Be clear upfront about what you have to offer
Most online services are one directional. Your intended user has all the time to explore, think, deviate, pause, switch thoughts and get back on track again, before they make a decision to act, like browsing to a different part on a website. Voice services are much more bi-directional, where you need to act within a short timeframe after the voice assistant asks for your response to the question asked. You could of course list all the options up front and ask them to choose one of the options. This is very much similar like IVR (Interactive Voice Response) as used in telephone menus when you contact your service provider. In my opinion those are only beneficial if the list of options is short and one-dimensional, otherwise your users will get distracted with the amount of options. Dependent on the purpose of your voice assistant another approach is to naturally guide your users by asking specific questions to filter towards your desired end state. So by all means make sure to provide context to the end user about what you are offering through your voice service. Think about how frustrating it is if you navigate through several layers and then find out what you want isn’t available! So avoid frustration by explaining the routes someone can navigate to.
3. Allow for imperfections and variations
Needless to say, you want to deliver something that people will like, find amusing, enjoy or value in any other way. So it makes perfect sense to make sure whatever it is your creating is absolutely perfect, spot-on and without any flaws. But when is it perfect? Consider having a normal conversation with a colleague or a friend. Do you stumble upon words or repeat the same line? Do you pause, use words like uhm, sure, hmm or any other stop words? These kind of imperfections are needed to make it more likeable and natural. Allow for this kind of content creation, in fact, stimulate it! Writing response copy in perfect formal language, can have the tendency to becoming too sterile or neat. Also create variations of a single response. Hearing the same kind of response again and again is just too perfect. So make sure you provide multiple spellings for each response to ever further improve the likeability of your service. Finally also make sure you provide different routes towards the same result. Think about shortcuts if the user understand things already, or a more elaborate route for those that do require more guidance.
4. Take time to deliver high-quality work
As with the development of any service, quality matters. Of course, when you create a prototype to test a certain hypothesis or test run a technological feature, you want to get that outcome quickly and you won’t invest in high-quality code aimed for long term stability. However, if you have a serious ambition to deliver valuable services that represent your brand, it goes without saying that you need to focus on qualitative creation and delivery. Make sure to incorporate all the basic quality assurance patterns your team strives for. Ask them about how to create a stable, high-quality platform that is fit for change and ready to scale and mature.
5. Test thoroughly
No matter how good you think your voice dialogue is, people will typically use it in a different manner, ask questions you haven’t even thought of, or are not understood properly. You never know up front how people will use it, the only thing you can do is prepare for it and train profoundly. Take a look at best practices provided by some of the vendors, they offer great insights and can also help to get your assistant approved more quickly in case it needs to be submitted for review. Also involve people outside of your team to test your service; they will use an unexpected choice of words, use a different tone of voice and understand your conceived intentions differently. Have a talk with those in your team that understand about user testing and discuss which methods, which audience, how often and where would be the best way to do proper user testing. Learn from the outcome and retrain your voice engine. Make it part of your delivery process and test often.
Like many, if you could use a bit of help kick starting the voice channel, or even if you are only wondering about what conversational interfaces could mean for your business, don’t hesitate and just give it a go. At Mirabeau - A Cognizant Digital Business, we have already created many different experiences for the voice channel for our clients. We can assist your business from start to finish or in case you just want to explore some ideas. Together we can facilitate anything from single day workshops to extensive design sprints, and in case you have already set your mind to having a specific voice service we can also help tune your ideas, build and integrate it within your existing infrastructure and test and publish the solution to make sure you can offer the best possible experience to your users with your brand new voice service!
Do you want to know more about Conversational Interfaces or Voice assistants? Drop us a line! or get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.