The launch of the Dutch-language version of Google Assistant on 26 July is an important step in the adoption of voice assistant technology in the Netherlands. At Mirabeau, we have been developing solutions for voice interfaces for a long time, including for companies such as Transavia, Qmusic and Vacanceselect. We recently organized a hackathon to prepare Vacanceselect for the adoption of voice.
During the hackathon, a team consisting of a consultant/researcher, an analyst and a developer from Mirabeau, in partnership with a product owner and content manager from Vacanceselect, developed a mini-prototype of Vacanceselect's own voice assistant and tested web content optimizations for voice within a very short timeframe.
“Until now, marketing and development teams have mainly seen voice through the prism of content and IT, but the biggest change is in the findability of the brand,” says Irene Smit, senior product owner at Vacanceselect. “In the future, consumers will no longer consciously choose a brand – the devices they use for searching will do that for them.” According to Smit, the hackathon has shone a light on this topic within the company, including – and especially – among teams such as brand and customer service. “It all starts with an awareness of the importance of, and knowledge about, the subject.”
Six steps to ensure your organization is voice-readySpeaking to a voice assistant is fairly new and still a bit unwieldy for many, especially when it takes place in public. But it is also fun and useful to become acquainted with the possibilities of voice and to create awareness within your company, for example by introducing a smart speaker at the office. So how do you ensure that your organization, too, is voice-ready? Simply follow these six steps:
1. Look at user intentIt is essential that you examine where, when and how consumers use the new technology and what impact this has on the touchpoints in the customer journey. For example, the use of Google Assistant via mobile, often on the go, is different than via Google Home.
The first step is to talk with your target group and study their needs and behavior. What do your customers want to ask your brand? Would having your own voice assistant add value for them and what can it represent for the business?
In our first exploration with Vacanceselect, we involved developers, content managers and product owners as well as people from its customer service. After all, customer service professionals are well placed to know what is going on among customers. This showed that voice can be of value to the target group during the inspiration and orientation phase.
2. Recognize the limitationsAt the same time, it is important to understand the limitations of voice. For example, a voice assistant cannot (yet) give the right answer to every question. In other words, you have to manage user expectations by clearly communicating the limits of the application. Designing a strong conversation flow ensures that users are asked the right counter-questions in response to their input.
Just like when you’re speaking to someone personally, make sure that the voice assistant doesn’t give too many options at the same time in its answers: remember that people can only handle a limited amount of spoken information at once.
3. Validate and optimize the conversation flowIf you choose to develop your own voice assistant, like Vacanceselect, take the time to analyze clients’ intentions and the context: where do they get stuck, what is the response time and when do they give up? Based on the answers, you can optimize counter-questions and answers from your assistant.
Allow experts, such as analysts, optimization specialists and/or user researchers, to validate your proposed solution in advance. It’s often possible to do this directly with the tools in which you develop the dialogues. We use tools such as Chatbase to gather as much insight as possible about malfunctions and successful conversations, conversion rates and user retention.
4. Enrich the conversation with different data sources and devicesTo successfully apply voice, you have to be innovative. How can you give the most relevant answer by combining different data sources? We are dealing with smart speakers, clever applications that can offer more than unidimensional answers.
For example, if someone says she wants to book a short trip over the coming weekend, you can add the weather forecast via an API. If that works well, you can also link to other devices at a given moment in the customer journey so as to offer an expanded experience. You can give customers visual inspiration by letting them continue the search for their ideal weekend trip on a television, for instance. The main benefit is that the content you need for this type of activity often already exists.
5. SEO for ranking position 0Another characteristic of voice is that users only get a single answer to their question, as Irene Smit indicated. When optimizing your site content for an application such as Google Assistant, it is particularly important to have a strong brand. Ensure you start from a position of authority.
This requires that questions be answered with relevant, rich content. An example are Q&As and inspiring content which highlights the most useful results – for example, the best campsites. It helps if you ensure that the data is well structured using markups in the code, for instance by dividing your content into headings, paragraphs, question-answer structures or lists.
All this results in optimization for ‘featured snippets’, the so-called ‘position 0’ in Google, which Google Assistant often uses as its answer. Recently, established news sites have even been able to indicate which sections of a news item are most relevant for the Google Assistant to read out.
6. Search intent researchIn addition to keyword optimization, research into user intent is becoming more and more important. Your keyword research increasingly deals with longer, naturally used sentences with a greater variation in wording. You should group these for similarities in a smart way. All this is part of a continuous analysis and optimization process, which is certainly necessary in view of how quickly technology is progressing.
Apart from this, fast performance by your site may be even more important than it was with mobile-first as people will expect quick answers or counter-questions even if the assistant indicates that it is still loading.
Hackathon shines a spotlight on voice within VacanceselectVacanceselect found that there was added value to having its own voice assistant that provides more targeted assistance to consumers in the orientation process. Using a strong conversation flow but without burdening users with countless filter options, we easily guide them to the perfect holiday destination. This is an interesting and workable first idea, which can be streamlined through a broader research phase.
“We start by making our content, image and text better suited for voice search,” Irene Smit explains. “Since the hackathon, we have had our own Google Home smart speaker and can use the prototype of the Vacanceselect Camping Expert with it. This makes the whole thing very practical and accessible and helps the employees think.”
What does she see as the best place to start? “Listen carefully to your customers. Look at the patterns and the ways in which the applications add value for consumers. Use the resulting knowledge to take a fresh look at your content strategy for all phases of the customer journey.”
Start now with voiceNow that voice assistant technology is appearing specifically for the Dutch market, this is the right time to investigate whether this technology has added value for your brand. Make sure you are voice-ready!
Do you want to learn more about voice interfaces? Contact Edgard.