Could voice assistants seduce financial services?

Being seductive means being attractive. It’s a simple formula. However, neither buying more devices with embedded voice assistants nor playing with your settings to customise the voice to try and make it more tempting has resulted in a massive adoption of voice search. In an attempt to prove that statement first hand, we asked some colleagues in our offices about their experience with voice search. The answer was revealing. Around here, people don’t seem to get seduced by devices you talk to. This behavior seems to be driven by common factors.

Before digging deeper into those factors, let’s bear in mind that voice technology isn’t the same as voice search. Widely adopted message apps you likely have on your smartphone use voice technology powered by natural language processing (NLP) but they don’t help you search for information. This type of voice technology is unidirectional, namely, the human talks to the app. Voice search, on the contrary, crawls the web once we ask something, and gives us answers with different accuracy levels. This is a bidirectional interaction. Therefore, when we refer to voice technology, we include several types of apps with voice capabilities or voice-based devices.  

Until we invent something that wouldn’t be possible without voice, we’re just repurposing online content for our ears”, we read, when writing this article. So is technology in itself not bringing a significant benefit to people’s lives or are there human behaviours linked to slow adoption?

Predictions coming from different sources signal a potentially bright future for voice search, but the verb “could” is much more common than the verb “is” when describing how we use it. This article explores behaviours influencing the relationship between humans and voice assistant adoption, the first step for voice search to gain traction. It also sheds light on potential uses of voice assistants in financial services if the technology manages to solve certain setbacks linked to security, privacy, user interaction and value. This can make it more seductive.

Can you hear me? Where we find voice assistants

Basically, it’s almost everywhere. Voice applications are an essential feature of any smart device which, in turn, comes in every shape and size. You have the proof right in front of you, your smartphone.

Under the umbrella of voice technology, there is one that stands out, the virtual voice assistant. By combining voice recognition, natural language processing and speech synthesis it helps users find information or play their favourite song for example.

Voice interactions aren’t that new. Voice bots made their debut back in the 90s in the shape of robocalls, the automated pre-recorded voice messages used for telemarketing or political campaigns. However, the first object we started talking to, was the car. You may have recalled the famous TV series “The Knight Rider” where a crimefighter talked with an artificially intelligent supercar, haven’t you? We did too.

In 2007, car-manufacturer Ford put the first voice-control technology into vehicles. What followed pushed the borders of voice technology to a whole new level. In 2011, Apple added the friendly voice assistant Siri to its devices, making the technology accessible to larger audiences. Amazon and Google joined the voice technology game launching voice-first devices in 2014: Alexa and Google Home.

Within a few years, voice could move from being “the cool feature” to challenging the predominant position of mobile’s keyword-based user interactions. After all, mobile did the same to online which, in turn, stole branch-based interactions’ role as the main point of contact for clients almost 30 years ago.

Speaking is a natural human act, easier than typing on a keyboard. Would computers and portable electronic devices as we know them eventually disappear as they morph into intelligent voice assistants?

Voice assistant, I feel like I love you (once a month)

Before voice technology, whatever shape it takes, could become pivotal to financial services’ customer interactions, we want to understand how it’s influencing users’ habits.

To get some answers, we conducted some research resulting in the report Consumer Intelligence Series: Prepare for the voice revolution, published this year. The findings are quite revealing.

For instance, we learnt that voice assistants are being used largely to help users perform simple tasks like asking for weather conditions. As in the case of other new technologies, young consumers are driving voice assistants’ adoption across a number of platforms, including phones, tablets, computers, among others, along with households with children, and households with incomes of over $100,000.

As the chart below shows, the most used virtual assistant, unsurprisingly, is the one we carry with us at all times: the smartphone.

Turns out that, when using voice search, users request “local” information: a restaurant’s address, the opening hours of a bank, or the train timetable. Try to remember the last time you talked with your voice assistant. What did you ask?

Voice assistant users perform voice searches when there’s a specific need to fulfil rather than searching without any purpose.

Our survey confirms that behavioural pattern. The most popular uses of voice search are “searching for something”, “asking a quick question” and “checking the weather/traffic”.

Another visible common pattern is frequency. Most of the respondents use the voice functions on a monthly basis. Voice assistants aren’t yet part our daily lives.

Listen to me… but in private!

According to our report, younger users are adopting voice technology at a faster rate than their older counterparts, but are somehow using their voice assistants less often.

What’s driving this behaviour? It’s basically an image thing. Having someone staring at you on the street as you talk to your phone might leave you feeling awkward, don’t you think? In fact, younger users prefer to use voice technology in private instead of in public. As they tend to spend more time outside the house, in school or at work, they end up using voice assistants less.

But young users aren’t alone in their preference for using voice in private. Overall,  74% of people (or three out of every four consumers) use voice technology mainly for daily home-based activities, like while cooking, multitasking or watching TV, for example. In this case, users have a preference for standalone speakers than for the mobile.

When it come to smart speakers, the screenless devices you talk to, these are the places where users put them:

Voice assistant, tell me the address; it’s up to me how to dress

Searching for information or sending a spoken message to a friend are among the most common uses of devices with embedded voice assistants. But would you trust your voice assistant to buy that black pair of shoes size 36, or the cool cowboy boots you have craved for months? Well, we actually wouldn’t, and our survey backs our feeling.

There are some habits that are hard to change or even shape. We aren’t yet ready to leave behind the experience of seeing, trying and feeling objects, whatever they are. And, some of us may never be.

It seems like the voice assistant’s role remains informative rather than transactional. It leads users to where the action takes place but it doesn’t help perform the action in itself.

You may know my name, but not my card number

What’s holding back broader adoption of voice assistants?

Although the consistent use of voice technology is timidly growing and the experience when using it is improving, users still aren’t completely at ease with voice assistants. Our report reveals that there are two main concerns limiting broader adoption.

The lack of trust in voice assistance is palpable. One out of four consumers wouldn’t consider shopping through their voice assistant now or in the future. 46% stated that they don’t trust their voice assistant to correctly interpret and process their order, and another 45% confirmed not feeling comfortable sending payments through voice assistants.

Privacy is also a concern. One focus group participant refused to accept the fact that her voice assistant needed to detect if she was alone prior to making recommendations based upon her past purchase history.

Could voice assistants seduce financial services?

As usability, reliability and sophistication increases, voice assistants are attracting the interest of banks, insurers and asset and wealth managers, as well as the technology companies that are both their partners and potential competitors. The chart below lists opportunities for voice assistant applications in financial services. Ideally, they can be the base to trigger new customer relationship models.

In financial services, using continually-learning voice assistants has the potential to improve  customer understanding and customisation. For example, many of the survey participants anticipated that, by 2020, we’ll see the first financial advisory services provided through voice assistants. Voice assistants could also draw on the user profile to make personalised insurance policy recommendations and eventually offer tailored cover.

Other voice assistance advantages are speed, convenience and reduced costs. For customers it translates into no longer having to wait in line for a client service agent, which saves time and effort. They can, for example, confirm invoice payments while driving into the office or get a daily briefing on the performance of their asset portfolio. And with the voice assistant taking care of the basics, financial agents can focus on other, more complex requests.

To our understanding, these opportunities are more linked to end users rather than corporate users, but voice technology is evolving and more is yet to be seen.

According to our report, the main concern among the industry participants is that technology and internet giants whose user base and customer experience approach are powerful assets, can move into financial services. This situation could leave established players at risk of losing their customer to third-party tech giants access and being cut out of the commercial loop.

Integrating voice technology in Financial Services: 6 key considerations
1. Prepare and optimise for voice success

Customer relationships and the perception of brands is expected to change as companies engage with consumers on an individual level. Make voice a priority by driving and implementing a voice strategy. For example, create new voice-based business models to balance diminishing traditional screen-based revenue streams. Or anticipate customer needs using big data and predictive analysis. Then provide relevant, up-to-date information by making the information on your website voice-ready.

2. Build trust through consistency

Consumers are hesitant to try advanced capabilities with their voice assistants. A primary reason is an overall lack of trust in their devices to accurately understand and complete the most basic questions. By being unable to answer questions accurately or at all, users aren’t going to invest time and effort in something that sets them back. Make sure that your voice assistant is 99% functional and operates in a constant way. It’s the key to build trust to allow for a seamless and reliable user experience.

3. Prioritise education and diminish complexity

Users are more demanding as technology continues to develop at an alarming step. However, for users to take the leap and move from using voice assistants to ask “what’s the weather?” to eventually buy “this pair of pants,” businesses must first build trust through proof of concept with smaller tasks and then educate on what’s possible. It’s about showing consumers that voice assistants are safe so they can jump into more complex tasks.

4. Ease into advertising

The advertising landscape on voice assistants is ripe with opportunity, but it needs to be cautiously approached by businesses. There’s a risk of losing customers due to invasive or annoying ads. It’s essential for companies to seamlessly integrate their advertising in a way that doesn’t disrupt the consumer experience. What search engine companies could offer in terms of advertising formats also plays an important role. Look at advertising as an addition to or an extension of the content as opposed to something akin to a popup ad.

5. Understand boundaries to mitigate privacy concerns

“Increased personalisation” was deemed the least impactful benefit of voice assistants, at 46% agreement. We know that consumers value personalisation and services that make life easier. But there is a fine line between being “cool” or “helpful” and being “creepy”. The key is to use personal consumer data in a secure and transparent way to create personalised experiences that the consumer wants and has asked for. Consumers aren’t comfortable with the voice assistant being autonomous. At least, not yet.

6. Be patient

Voice assistants are seen positively by consumers. When compared to everyday devices and activities, they are viewed as being smarter, easier, and faster. They are not always preferred, however. As with any new technology, it takes consumers time to adjust. Once there is a solid foundation of trust and reliability, voice assistants are primed to wholly transform lives everywhere.

We like to summarise these six points by saying that the path toward voice technology adoption in financial services begins with awareness, continues with experience, and ends with trust. To lay the groundwork, consumers must first understand the capabilities and value proposition of voice devices and assistants. Voice capabilities should continue to evolve to the point where they are accurate and successfully meet their consumer’s needs in a unique, customised, and satisfying way. This seamless user experience will help build trust, reliability, transparency, validation, and control. Also, remember to be GDPR compliant. Don’t forget what by protecting the consumer’s privacy you’re also working on building trust and strengthening customer relationships.

What we think
Gregory Weber, Managing Director at PwC Luxembourg

Voice assistance could be a game changer to improving user experience in financial services, and make operations more time and cost efficient; however, it’s still dependent, like all new technology, on the readiness of individuals.

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