Amazon's new Echo with Alexa, 2017

Today’s brands and retailers know they have to meet their customers where it’s most convenient, and due to the incredible adoption rate of smart speakers, this now means voice assistants. While some brands are heading to Amazon’s Alexa to reach customers, recent reports have suggested that brands may be losing out to Amazon’s private label when consumers utilize the Alexa voice platform or other digital assistants to purchase an item.

Why is this occurring? Because digital voice assistants are still relatively new channels of communication, and brands are still learning how to use these kinds of platforms effectively and with the best results. But that is not to say that brands should stay away from the likes of Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. Instead, it’s up to the brand to make its voice heard and embraced by consumers on this new channel.

Voice is not going away anytime soon. According to several analyst reports, we are only at the beginning of consumer adoption of digital assistants. Recent consumer research by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that “50 percent of respondents have made a purchase using their voice assistant.” Of those consumers surveyed, the majority have yet to utilize the full scope of their digital assistants for higher-level tasks, such as shopping for more complex items, citing “limited knowledge of the device’s full breadth of capabilities” as the number-one reason.

This points to an opportunity for brands to not only educate their consumers on the advantages of digital assistants, but to also create a way to connect with their consumers in a new and more personal way and stand out above Amazon’s private label products. This can begin with customer service and evolve into creating a distinctive customer experience. The key is for brands to get their own branded voice established on these platforms, and not rely on the platforms themselves to get connected with consumers. Here are three steps to take when working to find your brand’s voice in the age of digital assistants.

Step One: Customer Service

Providing customer service in a physical store or conventional communication channels is a straightforward initiative. Doing so in the digital assistant space is more complex. Voice has yet to become a natural place to ask about returning a product or inquire about other intricate customer service details. But this is the exact place where brands can utilize digital assistants to differentiate themselves.

First and foremost, let your customers know that you are available to service them via voice. If your customers are utilizing your web site, customer service phone number or even going to your physical store for a customer service inquiry, let them know they can connect with you via voice and access the same great service and additional perks by connecting with you through that channel. The most effective way to connect with consumers on voice devices is to offer them the option for updates on their order immediately after they have purchased something. With concrete value available, many consumers recognize the convenience, and from there, continue to build the habit.

You can also use voice for more advanced service combined with upsells. For example, if you offer your customer the ability to use a voice platform to reorder their favorite lip gloss, protein powder or diapers, you can take it one step further by letting the consumer know that, as part of that service, they have the option to also access a free trial product, or a complementary product they could add to the order. The experience is helpful, useful and quick and can educate the customer about the advantages of using voice to connect with their favorite brands.

Step Two: Offer a Unique Blend of Marketing, Sales and Service

Leading customer-focused brands recognize that there’s more they can offer their shoppers today via voice assistants. By using voice, they’re capitalizing on the opportunity to combine what are often separate, fragmented experiences into something smarter and more natural, while also creating huge benefits in terms of revenue, retention, customer satisfaction and reduced costs. Currently, consumers are putting voice assistants in their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms, and the real showstopper here is that marketing, sales and service can converge on these devices when it’s done right.

For example, let’s say you own a brand that focuses on selling home decor goods; what can you do for a big holiday such as the Fourth of July? For added value, you can offer consumers recipes and advice on how to host the perfect BBQ, tips on decorating or a Fourth of July music playlist, all accessible via voice. This way, you not only connect with customers via their purchases, but also offer relevant, experiential ways to engage with your brand as part of their daily routines. Along with these experiences, you could offer special products and advice about how to use items they have purchased.

Step Three: Create Convenience Above All

Today’s consumers are pressed for time and seek shopping experiences that offer convenient results, which is why voice is seeing a continuous increase in adoption, as its very nature allows consumers to verbally express what they want and get results quickly. Therefore, as brands look to communicate with their consumers, they should make it as convenient as possible for them to find the product or service they are in search of as quickly as possible. This may include being able to ask questions to help the consumer and ensuring that the AI behind the voice application has a deep understanding of the products and of the customer’s order history. Voice is a new kind of medium, one where all the heavy lifting needs to be done for the consumer, to give them the fastest and most convenient experience possible.

As retailers seek more autonomy over their brand’s voice to truly connect with their customers in a more personal way, brands can create a great customer experiences on voice platforms that are true-to-brand and don’t lose customers to Amazon or Google. With the right steps, brands can also work to build loyalty and keep customers purchasing in the future.

A majority of consumers that have bought voice assistants say there’s no way they would want to go back to their life before voice. The opportunity is real, but only for brands willing to step outside their traditional mind-set. Customers are ready and willing to build new habits and will be delighted by the services that can be offered through these familiar devices they use each day. The biggest brands recognize this, and that’s why they are investing in voice and chat, with a focus on putting the customer first. The new era of digital assistants is here, and it’s time for every brand to find its voice.

Luke Starbuck is the vice president of marketing at Linc.

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Think Tank: Looking Beyond Conversational Commerce

Think Tank: Creating New Revenue Streams with Chat

Think Tank: Focus on Consumer Centricity

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