You can listen to the latest Voice Tech Podcast with Carl Robinson the host discussing “Nano-casting”
Alongside almost 100 digital leaders within the City Region Leeds City Council held their Leeds digital summit at ODI Leeds.
Go digital or be digitised
Following on from the opening speech by Tom Riordan the CEO of Leeds City Council Rashid Palmer a distinguished engineer at IBM talked about digitisation. The essence of Rashid’s speech was to learn digital skills for the future economy and future jobs or have the threat of being digitised and losing your job.
A journey towards Leeds becoming world-class at digital
As part of workshops and brainstorming during the day facilitated by Overlap Associates Digital Leaders came up with many ideas around how Leeds could be world class at digital. We have to remember that 75% of the UK economy is the services industry. This industry is most susceptible to digital transformation.
Let’s go digital and not be digitised
If data is the new oil then one thing all delegates did agree upon was the need to skill up our future workforce for new era digital jobs.
Dylan Roberts thought the Digital Summit was good and he went on to say “The key questions is what we going to do next and will the people in the room really join up and collaborate?”. On the note we will have to wait and see what happens next. You can listen to full podcast below.
Now in its 12th year Silicon Valley comes to the UK is an annual event organised by Sherry Coutu CBE and Janet Coyle. Traditionally, during the autumn a group of well-known, well respected venture capitalists and technologists from the Valley descend upon Cambridge, Oxford and London.
Whilst attending Tech Nation on tour in Leeds at the ODI I met Sherry Coutu and she kindly invited me down to London to the CEO Scale Up event at St James’s Palace the residence of the Duke of York.
Travelling south from Leeds I journey down to a few business meetings in Birmingham before arriving at London Euston. When I eventually checked into my hotel not too far away from St. James’s Park I suddenly realise that there was a Voice2 meet up being held by James Poulter at the brand agency VCCP in London’s Victoria. With 20 minutes to spare I walked across to the meet up which was thoroughly enjoyable including Gianfranco Chicco of the Webby awards the equivalent of the Oscars but for the Internet. The agency VCCP also showcased their recently launched NSPCC Alexa skill featuring Geri Halliwell and her daughter talking about e-safety issues. The Alexa skill is called “Parents versus Kids” and through gamification helps educate young people on the risks of the internet.
The morning after the walk from the hotel to the palace was only 10 minutes so I navigated through the beautiful Saint James’s Park with the autumnal leaves. SVC2UK kicked off with a fireside chat between Cal Henderson the CTO of Slack and Sherry Coutu. Cal explained how their failed gaming business was shutting it’s door and making staff redundant. Whilst developing their Game Neverending they create an internal communication tool called Tiny Spec later to be know as Slack. Slack has gone on to be the fastest growing enterprise software of it’s type creating a whole new business software category.
Cal spends a lot of his time hiring and Slack’s values are important in the hiring process. Slack like people who are smart, hard-working, humble and collaborative. Now with 8 million users and 3 million paying users clearly Slack have got something right.
75 scale up companies with an average growth rate of 418% were represented in the workshops at the palace. The first workshop was on internationalisation and was chaired on our table by Kate Dutton of GBX a British consultant who now lives in the Bay Area. GBX is the c-suite community for British entrepreneurs, investors and senior tech executives based in Silicon Valley. One entrepreneur suggested having a presence in a market by paying a representative on demand by the hour. This would ensure you kept costs to a minimum whilst portraying a local presence on the ground. Many tech startups these days start global because software on the internet is not constrained by international borders unless it’s the great wall of China!
In the second workshop mentor Mark Blair discussed issues around business funding and talent management. Mark had spend the last 20 years scaling up businesses in Asia Pacific and had just returned to the UK from Australia. Currently, Mark is an international Vice President at Brightcove a leading Video platform. Quite a lot of time was spent discussing the idea of advisory boards. In order to have an advisory board shadow shares can be paid for equity and a stake in a business. In return it’s important that entrepreneurs front load the expectations when appointing senior executives. Clarity for the accountabilities and cadence of advisory input needs to be agreed. Some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs simply don’t have the time to advise so it was suggested entrepreneurs might get coaching from tier two mentors.
On the issue of talent management Saul Klein Partner at VC LocalGlobe discussed that we should watch out for the small things. When interviewing a candidate do they open the door for people, do they say please and thank you. Keep an eye out for the small things that make all the difference. Susan Alzner of shift7 had a more brutal way of ensuring the company values are lived. Susan spent eight years at the United Nations building out teams and she had a rule for when staff crossed each other’s path‘s and didn’t play as a team. Susan would simply fire people at the first instance of this happening and would therefore set a very high standard on her expectations. A little extreme perhaps but I guess this is how important teamwork is if you’re going to build world-class organisations. Not everyone will agree with a zero tolerance policy like this but what all people were agreed on was the need for the living of company values to maintain a winning business culture.
All attendees where given a copy of Reid Hoffman’s scaling up booked called Blitzscaling which I have just finished reading and would recommend people listen to. Finally, I met author Jeetendr Sehdev who wrote the “The Kim Kardashian Principle” and is based in Los Angeles. Jeetendr is originally from the UK and was a student of both Oxford and Harvard. The Kim Kardashian Principle talks about the need to be authentic, when promoting yourself, a product or brand. Consumers prefer people who are imperfect and people who show themselves to be themselves connect better with their social media audiences. Kim Kardashian must be doing something right with 60 million followers on Twitter and a global following.
Silicon Valley comes to the UK again didn’t fail to disappoint. 8 years after my first visit to SVC2UK at Queens College Cambridge, St. James’s Palace London provided an opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs to meet people who have made it. After all, Sherry and Janet want entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses and then become philamprothists hence giving back to society by mentoring the start ups of the future. We hope the connections gained and insights given will help Sound Branch on it’s journey to scale up.
Our first Voice Summit was held at Home House London. The history of Home House is fitting because Anthony Blunt a former Russian spy lived there between 1947 to 1974. Blunt was given immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession. After extensive restoration work Home House became a private members club in 1996.
Home House was a fitting venue for Voice Summit. Just as Anthony Blunt listened into conversations Amazon Alexa and Google Home are listening and waiting for their wake word. The issue of privacy was mentioned at Voice Summit but the majority of the speakers stated that this would become less of an issue when the massive gains in conveniences are realised. After all it’s a lot quicker to ask Alexa to pour you a coffee, play the news and heat the car than it is to do this manually.
Charles Cadbury the CEO of Say It Now demonstrated how he and his team had created a chat bot for SEAT for booking a test drive. Instead of the traditional web form or telephone booking appointment Charles took the audience through a series of questions with an Alexa Skill resulting in a SEAT car being delivered to a person’s home for a test drive.
In the telecoms panel including Dean Elwood, Dean Bubley and Chris Lewis, virtual assistants for managing unwanted calls was discussed. Perhaps for unknown numbers a virtual assistant could ask an inbound caller qualifying questions to determine whether the line should be connected. Another idea was when you are on a call with another person the ability in the call to talk to a voice assistant for help. For example on a call asking Siri in the call what is 1 dollar in pounds and getting the answer. The consensus from the telecom experts was that large telecoms providers have been slow to market with VoiceFirst products and services and need to catch up.
John Campbell, Head of SEO at We are Roast demonstrated there are still plenty of opportunities for Alexa Skills and Google Actions to drive leads and enquiries to your business or brand. The reality is voice technology is still in its infancy and every time you ask Alexa or OK Google a question it doesn’t know there is an opportunity to create a skill or action to service that need. Indeed voice search is predicted to be 50% of all internet searches by 2020. A traditional web search brings back many results whereas with voice there is only one result and this is position zero. Adopting a voice search SEO strategy can therefore get you to the top of Google and Amazon search results leading to lower customer acquisition costs.
James Poulter rounded off the day explaining there has never been a more interesting time to be in the workplace. You now have four generations at work all with different social norms and ways of working. This is a real challenge for managers and leaders to get it right as they think about culture in their organisations. Ironically a voice first approach to internal communications can be good for both the silver surfers and the millennials!
In a week where Google launched it’s Google Home Hub and Amazon it’s Echo Show 2 plus a range of devices such as the Echo Auto for enabling Alexa in your car, microphones are going to be everywhere. What remains to be seen is who will control the mic? Will it be Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant or perhaps even Samsung’s Bixby. Will we make our car purchasing decisions for example on the type of voice assistants built in? And finally will voice assistants talk to each other so we have fridges talking to toasters?
When a task is more natural, quicker and simpler with the voice, then a VoiceFirst approach should be adopted. This doesn’t mean a voice only approach as screens starts to become more prevalent in smart speakers and multi modal experiences become more commonplace. What is clear is that voice is here to stay and removing the friction of the keyboard or indeed the touch screen can lead to a more delightful experience for your customers. All of this leads to competitive advantage which will help you on your digital transformation journey.
It was a last minute decision to go to ConverCon now in its second year in Dublin. I left the family home for Leeds Bradford Airport at 4am to fly to the Emerald Isle. The one day event organised by Paul Sweeney of Webio focused on conversational interface design and featured many thought leaders from the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.
WhatsApp now has 1 billion active users and people are more likely in this day and age to message a business than pick up the phone. Approximately 8 out of 10 people sent a message in the last month.
The question is will websites disappear in favour of conversational interfaces?
Think about the billions of pounds spent on branding and packaging each year. If conversational commerce becomes big this will become less important. Brand marketers need to wake up to this fact. The way we interact with voice technology to search and do things means we are moving from brands to intents. Alexa Skills are becoming like verbs as you are always asking them to do stuff.
Who is going to dominate in the intents business?
Microsoft’s Alec Saunders Principle PM for Business AI talked of the future of conversational interfaces. Microsoft is eating its own dog food, building internally facing interfaces. For example, if you send an email to HR the artificial intelligence figures out where it should go and what should happen next. This can be done via email, a chat interface and other ways.
There are some obvious horizontal business processes which you can automate in this way instead of back office people doing this. The benefit is for the business outsourcing bill to be cut. For example, there is a virtual agent who can figure out which Microsoft license you should be on.
Microsoft are finding that chatbots are more popular that FAQs and it gets users to the answers much more quickly. If you add text and messaging instead of voice in the contact centre then efficiency goes up. Furthermore, job satisfaction goes up. There is a huge repetition in asking questions in a call centre or helpdesk. Virtual agents can handle the messy, common questions and humans get involved with more complex issues.
Chatbots are good at handling peaks with a minimum level of service, for example, the annual tax filing or university clearing when call centres’ lines traditionally get jammed. In a talk by Oracle a chatbot was used on the careers section of a website to guide a job seeker into the correct job based on a series of questions on skills and experience.
Intercom, a Russian company specialising in chatbots, is all about making the internet business personal. Websites with use of live chat have users which are 82% more likely to convert. Replying to people on chat is expensive so you need bots. Replying to someone in 5 minutes on live chats means you are a lot more likely to close a deal. Personable replies on chat are about context. Bots must take over the simple tasks and humans can get involved when the complexity is too much for the bot.
How do you handover from bot to human?
You should always be clear on live chat whether you are speaking to a bot or a human. Businesses top reasons for using chatbots are customer experience, cost effectiveness, scalability and compliance. The scope and order of how people talk are complex and random. The context of a conversation is important e.g. their previous experience e.g. their locations. In conversational design, you can give nudges and hints to people based on what they have done previously.
David Low Head of Alternative Channels at Skyscanner says the ultimate goal is for Skyscanner to book a flight before the person realises they need to book one. This can be done with people’s intents, conversational history and artificial intelligence. Seamus White, Founder of Granite Digital explains that once the consumer expectation is there to use live chat and voice commands then the floodgates will open on conversational computing. For example, when mobile apps first came out most people didn’t know what it was but when the consumer expectation became real mobile apps became commonplace.
Clodagh Brenna, Trend Analyst at Foresight Factory gave a talk on personalised conversations and the future of customer interactions. Clodagh stated that 80% of buying decisions are emotional. Empathy is a route to understanding consumers which then leads to greater trust and better experiences. People like sharing emotions and generate emoticons. When communicating with a consumer you need to speak to people’s aspirations as this resonates.
Mitch Lieberman, Analyst at Opus Research followed comparing the customer journey with business processes. The context of a conversation is important e.g. their locations or prior conversations. What questions can not be answered by Alexa is where the opportunity lies.
Your goal is to reach conversations which help reduce friction and the communications mismatch. The hard part is what conversation to have and then how to have that conversation. In conversational commerce, you need the conversation history and context. Keep asking clarifying questions until you get to the answer. How many turns until you get handed off to a human. A small number of intents gives you what most people want to do. You need journey analytics to recommend what conversations to have in the future.
For great conversational design, you need dialogue design. This is best done by using notes on a wall. You must find the voice of the user. You must also cater for the what if, what if, what if scenarios. Further thought needs to be given to if you are happy how would you say it and if you are angry how would you say it?
So will the website disappear? We could be moving to a world of multi skilled chatbots with bots calling bots! The rise of voice first technology and artificial intelligence is only going further towards this endeavour. With over 50 years of artificial intelligence computing, we are now reaching a period of time when science fiction is becoming science fact.
The competition is fierce. Why are the biggest tech companies in the world so focussed on the voice space? What is the motivation of companies? What are the voice assets? A battle for adoption, attention, authority and agency is in play.
Smart speakers are moving faster than the fastest previous growth technology, the smart phone. We have just passed 50 million people using smart speakers in the USA. The number is up 20% from the start of 2018. This is not just a USA phenomena but it’s a worldwide pattern.
It’s going into everything. Microphones will soon be everywhere. The question is what is behind the mic. The big tech companies want to be the voice behind the mic. Two thirds of users use smart speakers daily. Smart speakers are the gateway drugs to voice. People who buy smart speakers do not want to go back to life before. Smart speakers are sticky and have staying power. Once people are using smart speakers in the home people start thinking about using voice commands on their mobile phone. When you use smart speakers in a room with other people, what happens is the technology laggers learn from the adopters.
The founder of Modev and organiser of Voice Summit 18, opened the three day event. The keynote for the summit in Newark New Jersey was Dave Isbitski, the Chief Evangelist of Amazon Alexa. Dave himself had actually studied at New Jersey Institute of Technology in his formative years, so it was nice for him to return and address the audience of two and a half thousand people. The new building that was hosting the main arena for Voice 2018 was the Health and Wellbeing Centre of NJIT, which opened six months prior.
With voice controlled IT, after all, there is less friction involved and we can talk three times faster than we can type. Dave highlighted the explosion of the Amazon Alexa marketplace for skills reaching 45,000 skills to date. Skills are for smart speakers as apps are for mobile phones. The most popular skill on the Amazon Marketplace is a skill which plays sounds for getting people to sleep. There is also a skill for farting, which is quite popular obviously for humorous reasons.
In another talk, Doug Robinson the CEO and Founder of Fresh Digital Group talked about the value of voice data for brands. Voice data is worth three to four times more than ordinary data because it has a person’s intent. Speed becomes a driving factor for consumers in the purchasing of products. Voice is an on demand channel through which users can instantly receive information and complete tasks. This expectation of immediacy surpasses e-commerce across all industry verticals.
There is therefore a race against brand extinction. Instead, customers will move from trusted brands to trusted AI assistants. Brands need to ensure that they can guarantee they are part of your consideration when making purchasing decisions. Businesses need to train users to request your brand by voice in this new VoiceFirst world. Brands also need to think about how their brand sound. Big brands already have sonic jingle and we are familiar with these for brands such as McDonalds but all brands now need to be thinking in this way.
We are on the start of the Voice First adoption curve. With over 100M Amazon smart speakers in US homes, connected cars with wifi and ability for drivers to control technology handsfree there are many compelling reasons to adopt voice. Smart speakers which are used in living rooms and kitchens are controlled by super users who then teach more novice family members how to properly utilise Alexa. People using Alexa in their kitchens with smart speakers then start to use voice on their mobile phones. All of this is helping to drive adoption and educate the consumer. Kids who can’t read are now asking Alexa the time and to play music or even set an alarm and Alexa has had to adapt to this by teaching children to be polite with magic words such as please and thank you.
In the next five years we will be less dependent on the mobile phones in our pockets as we talk to voice controlled devices. We will be less glued to our screens and this will give us more time for each other in our jam packed busy days. Thank you for reading and perhaps you will attend Voice 2019 next year!
PPS If you are interested in conversation as a platform and VoiceFirst please sign up for your free Sound Branch account at soundbranch.com