How Voice Technologies are Making Customer Experiences More Accessible


To determine the role of voice technologies on customer service and experience, including information on how voice technologies are making customer experiences more accessible.

Despite the growing number of smart speakers and virtual assistants sold every year, consumers are still adapting to voice-based technologies. Most consumers still use these devices for simple tasks, such as playing music, but tech giants and marketers are optimistic they will soon become essential marketing channels. For now, consumers are skeptical that voice technology can accomplish complex tasks and are concerned about privacy and data security issues. Users with disabilities report high satisfaction rates, which shows the technology’s potential to make experiences and services more accessible to all consumers. Conversational AI is a megatrend, impacting both marketing and customer service/experiences.

1. Personalization

  • Research from Google shows that not only 52% of voice users would like to receive info about deals, sales, and promotions from brands, but 48% would also like to receive personalized tips and information from brands to make their lives easier, while 42% would like to receive info about upcoming events or activities from brands and 38% say they would like access to customer service or support. In the hospitality industry, a growing number of hotels use “voice technology to improve personalization with experiences like virtual concierges.”
  • Sixty percent of consumers say they connect with brands “that help them save time and money, making their life incrementally easier and more enjoyable.” Voice technologies enable brands to provide natural, seamless, and helpful experiences by being convenient and educational. For example, Diageo’s Johnnie Walker made a “bid for visibility on Alexa with its Happy Hour Skill, which lets consumers enjoy guided whisky tastings at home by helping them make cocktails and even find a nearby bar.” Meanwhile, Whirlpool has created a “line of intelligent and voice-activated appliances that can converse with customers, answer questions, and even provide guidance on what ingredients to buy.”
  • Despite many consumers not using or thrusting voice technology to enhance their shopping experiences today, they are optimistic they will use it in the future, with 97% saying that in five years (2019 survey) digital assistants will be able to provide real-time relevant information based on their personal interests. Microsoft advises brands “to pay attention to how each of the digital assistants and voice technologies pull their recommendations to make sure that they don’t get left behind. It’s a new mindset that redefines shopping, repurposes the functions of a physical store, minimizes time and stress for consumers and maximizes the importance of personalization and brand loyalty.”



  • Adobe noted that several brands are employing successful personalization by encouraging users to authenticate on the voice app to collect data and drive engagement. However, not all consumers are willing to authenticate, and brands may have to provide further incentives. Microsoft notes that consumers are willing to trade their data to receive special pricing and rewards.


  • Localization, and personalized and target ads are increasingly important, as 46% of voice search users search for local businesses daily. Google and Apple are planning to improve local languages support, and voice localization is considered a future game-changer for global brands.

2. Accessibility

  • Users enjoy voice-based assistants, and most say they save time and improve their quality of life. However, over half also say that voice technology is not intuitive, with “49% saying they sometimes don’t know where to begin accomplishing a task.” Overall, 70% are satisfied with its ability to carry on conversations, but 50% said voice recognition is a pain point.
  • According to the Harvard Business Review, the future holds a much bigger purpose for these technologies: “empowering the people who need it the most.” Voice-base technologies are helping people with mobility impairments, such as helping with muscular dystrophy adjust their bed, as well as those with mental disabilities, like presenting people with dementia with a “non-judgmental way to help with medication reminders, as well as with answering the same questions over and over without having to ask their caregiver, who may already be emotionally exhausted.”
  • Researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Washington conducted a two-part analysis on how voice technologies can improve accessibility, reviewing 346 Amazon Echo reviews from users with disabilities:
  • Out of the 346 reviews, one third were written by the person with disability, and two-thirds by people with close ties with the user, such as “son or daughter (in-law) (36.6% of the 232 third-person reviews), spouse (26.7%), parent (16.8%), other family member (11.6%), or friend (4.3%).” Disabilities include “visual impairment (37.9% of reviews), motor or mobility impairment (30.6%), speech impairment (13.6%), cognitive impairment (11.8%), and hearing loss (4.6%). An additional 18.2% only mentioned disability in general.”
  • They discovered that “although some accessibility challenges exist, users with a range of disabilities are using the Amazon Echo, including for unexpected cases such as speech therapy and support for caregivers.” Overall, 85.6% of the reviews were positive. Users with disabilities gave the device higher ratings than third-party users (4.6 versus 4.3).
  • Ease of use was “commonly brought up as a positive, arising in 23.4% of reviews. The voice-based interaction, which allowed for control from a distance and without the need for visual output was valued.”
  • The researchers concluded that the “new paradigm offered by voice-controlled IPAs offers tremendous potential for inclusive, accessible interaction.” At the same time, the currently limited functionality of the device and unexpected use cases of speech therapy, learning support, and memory support point to potentially fruitful avenues of future work.”
  • An article published by the Wall Street Journal shows that the accessibility provided by these devices go beyond disabilities, helping the less educated people go “online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy.” For example, Babajob, an Indian online job portal with a simple, voice-enabled interface, has reached over eight million job seekers in the country. One Indian voice user stated, “Life has become better. Life has become faster. I wish I had it earlier. We wouldn’t be so backward.”
  • However, research suggests that voice-based technologies still have room for improvement, as speech recognition has race and gender biases. Researchers discovered that “Google’s speech recognition is 13% more accurate for men than it is for women.” Meanwhile, Scottish English has a 53% accuracy rate. These accessibility issues are detrimental to the user experience.

Consumer Trends

#1: Voice-on-the-Go

  • When discussing voice-based technologies, most people still refer to smart speakers and their widespread adoption. In-car assistants, often forgotten devices, have “nearly as many monthly active in-car voice assistant users as there are total smart speaker device owners,” and some estimate they now have greater consumer reach than smart speakers, losing only to smartphones.
  • In-car voice assistants have a captive audience since drivers “do not have the freedom to use extensive touch navigation or view content on a screen.” In this use case, voice is not just a “complementary convenience while driving like it may be on a smartphone.”
  • Consumers are increasingly making a habit of using voice assistants while driving. For example, between September 2018 and January 2020, the number of US users increased by 13.7%, while monthly active users rose 8.7%.

In-car assistants

  • Not only is adoption rising, but these assistants are becoming a factor in consumers’ car purchase criteria, with only 36.9% of US consumers saying that voice assistants do not influence their car purchase decisions.
  • Use varies by type of assistants, with 33.2% of consumers using an embedded assistant, 30.5% using a smartphone through Bluetooth connection, 26.7% using Apple Siri/CarPlay from the dashboard, 7.5% using Google Assistant/Android auto, and 2% Amazon Alexa. However, preferences vary according to age bracket.

In-Car Voice Assistant Use by Age

  • One important factor driving the trend is consumer satisfaction, as most consumers (49%) stated that “using voice assistants in cars has improved over the past two years compared to about 3.5% that say they have degraded.” Furthermore, 47% plan to use them more in the future, 46.8% expect to use them the same, and only 6.2% plans to curtail their usage.
  • When it comes to use cases, in-car assistants show different patterns than smartphones and speakers. For example, a rising trend is consumers using these assistants to ask information about restaurants and place food orders.

Use cases

  • In August 2020, MasterCard announced a “voice-enabled drive-through solutions that deliver low-touch, high-engagement experiences for quick service restaurants (QSRs) and their customers.” Some expect the solution to continue to “accelerate the adoption of more in-car ordering options.”
  • Like other voice-based technologies, consumers are not entirely aware of how to use all its tools and capabilities, with only 31.9% saying they fully understand the car’s voice assistant capabilities, and nearly “45% of users said they would use tutorials that would expand their knowledge how to use the services to the greatest effect.”
  • J.D. Power reported that consumers (76%) would prefer to own the same brand of in-home voice assistants on their next vehicle and 59% would be more willing to buy from a car company if the in-home assistant is available.
  • Capgemini forecasts that by 2022, 74% of consumers “will be extremely comfortable using voice to book appointments and will prefer to use the in-car voice assistant to help.”
  • In September 2019, General Motors announced that “millions of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac owners the ability to add convenience and productivity to their daily drives through a new in-vehicle Alexa experience coming in the first half of 2020. Leveraging embedded available 4G LTE connectivity and GM’s updateable embedded app framework in the vehicle, GM will make Alexa available on model year 2018 and newer cars, trucks and crossovers with compatible infotainment systems.”
  • During the 2020 International CES, there was a “notable crop of announcements when it came to cars with new voice assistants this year.” For example, Amazon announced that Alexa would be a part of several new cars, such as Lamborghini Huracan Evos, and Honda debuted the Honda Personal Assistant.

#2: Voice Biometrics

  • Bain & Company named voice biometrics as one of 2020 Customer Experience Tools and Trends, calling it “next-generation customer care.” Voice authentication provides two benefits that appeal to customers: safety and convenience.
  • Consumers are unhappy with the wait times and the repetition that surrounds call center experiences. They want faster, safer, and more convenient customer service. As reported by Cisco, consumers “quite like the idea of using voice biometrics for identification and verification.”


  • Another survey discovered that 68% of global consumers (78% in the US) already feel comfortable using voice biometrics.
  • According to Deloitte, “bolstering security using tools such as biometric is paramount.” Financial services have been at forefront of these efforts. For example, ANZ customers can make payments using Voice ID technology alone.
  • Voice biometrics, especially when associated with contextual intelligence, can help companies reduce the friction involved with users’ authentication process that often compromises the customer experience.
  • Voice biometrics can also be used to increase personalization within contact centers by creating a speaker profile database, enabling companies to “contextualize the current call historically, based on the reasons for previous calls as well as their outcomes. It also permits companies to automatically augment a caller-specific profile that contains the complete history of the customer’s contact center interactions. Such profiles can have a considerable impact on the appropriateness of the products or services that companies market to individuals, enabling them to make recommendations based on those individuals’ interests.”
  • In 2019, Santander partnered with Nuance to provide Voice ID to UK clients. The technology was deployed within the bank’s Contact Center to authenticate customer calls. Deutsche Telekom also integrated Nuance’s “voice biometrics into Deutsche’s existing customer service hotline, which is already powered by Nuance conversational AI-based technology.” Seventy-five percent of the bank’s customers said that authentication is much easier with the technology.
  • Barclays Wealth have achieved a “score of 90 per cent or higher with 93 per cent of their customers following the deployment of voice biometrics. 97 per cent of clients that have been offered the voice biometrics service have decided to use it as their means of identity verification, leading to a 60 per cent reduction in customer complaints and 60 per cent shorter calls.”

#3: Conversational AI

  • Conversational AI could fit in multiple facets of the expansion of voice-based technologies, from customer service to marketing efforts. According to Gartner, “40% of users will primarily interact with new applications that support Conversational AI. By 2022, it’s anticipated that 20% of all customer service will be handled by Conversational AI agents.”
  • According to Deloitte, “Conversational AI is the next wave of customer and employee experiences.” Forbes calls it “A New Wave Of Voice-Enabled Computing,” while Gartner stated in 2019 that conversational AI “remains at the top of corporate agendas spurred by the worldwide success of Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and others.”

Conversational AI

  • Conversational AI is a “programmatic and intelligent way of offering a conversational experience to mimic conversations with real people, through digital and telecommunication technologies.” It has eight technological components:
    • Natural Language Processing (NLP): it can read and understand sentence structures instead of being triggered by keywords.
    • Intent Recognition: it understands requests, even if phrased unexpectedly.
    • Entity Recognition: it understands that “some text refers to informative abstract categories (entities) such as “February 2″ = Date.”
    • Fulfillment: it has the ability to “pull data from web services or databases using APIs, run conditions and inform the Dialog Manager.”
    • Voice Optimized Responses: it has the ability to “engage in conversation in a human-like manner and show emotions to deliver an optimized experience.”
    • Dynamic Text to Speech: it can convert “written text to natural-sounding speech, supporting various languages, voices and accents.”
    • Machine Learning: it learns how to respond by analyzing responses, which is necessary to better improve intent recognition.
    • Contextual Awareness: it can follow “conversation history, translate, recall and memorise information over conversations,” which are all necessary for natural and human-like conversation.
  • It enables personalization as interactions with customers are “context-aware and informed by past interactions.” Bain & Company explains that the rapid adoption of “voice interaction platforms and engagement, with intelligent virtual assistants through voice or text, suggest that the ability to deliver conversational experiences to customers will soon become a high priority for companies,” showing that voice is taking a more significant role in the evolution of digital interaction models.
  • Some estimate that with IoT providing connections to multiple devices, the “potential and functionality of AI-powered conversational advertising will only improve. It’s already being deployed as voice bots by Amazon and Google, and it’s only a matter of time before it makes its appearance in a wide-ranging variety of other apps and devices. As with all advertising and marketing, the customer experience is the key factor in determining success.”
  • Overall, the Conversational AI market is expected to grow by at a 30% CAGR over the next years. Tech giants are investing in potential challengers. Apple, Microsoft, and SAP all acquired Conversational AI companies in 2019.
  • COVID-19 is driving interest in Conversational AI among financial services as a way to “ease the pressure on call centers and improve the digital experience.” For example, Bank of America’s digital assistant Erika saw an uptick in users and queries between March and May.
  • Conversational AI is also being used to train and assist human agents. LivePerson’s Conversational AI is “helping companies get more out of their human reps. The machine-learning-infused service routes incoming queries to the best agent, learning as it goes so that it grows more accurate over time. It works over everything from text messaging to WhatsApp to Alexa. With Conversational AI and LivePerson’s chat-based support, the company’s clients have seen a two-times increase in agent efficiency and a 20% boost in sales conversions compared to voice interactions.”
  • Conversational voice bots are also being used beyond marketing and service purposes. The Colombian government employed these bots to diagnose COVID-19 cases. The bots had “personalized conversations with each citizen and asked them about symptoms, pre-existing conditions, and possible viral exposure. The VoiceBots were optimized with regional accents, and used neutral, straightforward language that all Colombians could easily understand. The answers given by each individual were automatically captured, and any potential high-risk cases were sent to the Colombian team for further action.” While the human outreach campaign received a 7% response rate, the bot campaign achieved 75% rates, outperforming humans on an 8 to 1 scale.
  • Conversational marketing “stemming from virtual assistants is coming in strong as a trend for the short-term.” Advancements in Conversational AI and Natural Language are expected to cause a shift in the paradigm as “brands will no longer force consumers along a predefined path; they will use conversations to understand context and personalize experiences in customer time.” As conversational systems advance, content will be “highly personalized, independent, and conversational.” Furthermore, Conversational AI provides real-time personalization and a differentiated consumer experience.


  • As adoption of conversational interfaces increases, “so will opportunities for marketers to utilise them to better meet consumer needs.” Conversational AI allows branded voice experiences, conversational advertising, and conversational commerce. It also enables quick responses and evolution. The voice bots deployed by the Colombian government had seven versions before reaching 75% of consumers, each version adapting according to users’ responses.
  • According to Capgemini, “Conversational AI is one of the key areas that offers potential to drive significant business value for companies worldwide,” as the technology allows more contextual dialog between consumers and brands, building a more intimate and relevant connection. Furthermore, it is a key focal point for those hoping to leverage voice-based personalization and behavioral analytics.

Marketing Trends

#1: Voice Ads

  • Consumers are increasingly more open to voice ads. In February 2019, 38% of consumers surveyed by Adobe stated they found voice ads less invasive than those on print, social media, websites, or TV. In July 2020, that percentage had increased to 58%. Additionally, 52% said that the ads were more engaging, and 57% said they were more relevant to their needs and interests.
  • In July 2020, 51% of consumers reported “having heard an ad on their smart speaker, up from 25 percent in May 2019.” They may also be more effective, as 51% of consumers said they found it easier to remember the brand associated with the smart speaker ad than other ad formats, and 53% said the ad drove them to make a purchase, up from 39% who said the same in 2019.
  • Vivek Pandya, analytics and insights manager for Adobe Digital Insights (ADI), explains that the trend is connected to the previously mentioned NPL, stating, “Natural language processing has made great strides—especially over the last few years. This is the primary reason that voice technology usage is gaining so much momentum. Consumers demand frictionless experiences, regardless of the platform.”
  • Brands recognize this potential, with 66% of business decision-makers strongly agreeing that “voice can help drive conversion and increase revenue; 71 percent see it improving the user experience.”
  • Associated with AI technology, voice ads have the potential to replace the “passive, often irrelevant and unwelcome ads that listeners are accustomed to,” resulting in greater engagement and conversion.
  • Peacock, an OTT ad-supported streaming service, debuted “on-command” ads powered by consumers voices. The new format allows “brands and consumers to interact in a unique way and gives viewers more control over the ads they watch. Viewers can speak a phrase and receive a reward.” The first ad encouraged users to say “save with Suave” to receive a $5 discount coupon.
  • Pandora also incorporated voice-enabled ads into its services. After a series of tests with focus groups, the music streaming service reported that consumers are more likely to remember engaging, funny, and simple ads (71%).
  • Alexa’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial followed by an interactive campaign that “allowed users to step into the story and use their own voice and Alexa commands to more successfully control a virtual International Space Station” resulted in 144% surge in purchase intent.

#2: The New Consumer Journey

  • An article published by the Journal of Services Marketing proposes that AI takes convenience to a new level, enabling consumers to “outsource their decisions to algorithms, hence give little attention to traditional consumer decision-making models and brand emphasis.”

Voice Search

  • An article published by the Journal of Services Marketing proposes that AI takes convenience to a new level, enabling consumers to “outsource their decisions to algorithms, hence give little attention to traditional consumer decision-making models and brand emphasis.”
  • Consumers are increasingly willing to trust algorithm-driven hyper-personalized recommendations from voice-based assistants. As reported by Cognizant, when consumers “can interact using a voice interface to get advice or a recommendation, they seem even more compelled to trust machine-generated guidance.” Forty-three percent of consumers surveyed by the company indicated that “they’d be likely to purchase from a brand they’d never heard of based on recommendation of their voice-based personal assistant.” This proportion is higher among Millennials (49%) and Gen X (48%). For reference, 50% of consumers said they would buy a product based on the recommendation of a social media influencer they follow.
  • The main reasons why consumers may choose to delegate shopping to voice bots are convenience and ease of use with voice, feelings of control with voice, and positive emotion with voice. Consumers tend to embrace convenience without ever thinking about it, often putting it above other attributes. Service scholars argue that “convenience is at the forefront of customer and user evaluation of service experiences and should play a key role in marketing theory and practice alike.”
  • Voice technology works differently from screens and tactical controllers because it uses a single temporal dimension instead of a two-dimensional surface. Consumers are presented with one choice; if they dislike that choice, they could ask for a second one but are not likely to ask for a third option. For example, Amazon’s private label products are expected to benefit from voice commerce, as consumers often fail to specify the brand they are requesting when making small purchases.
  • Early research has shown that recommender systems have a “strong and manipulative effect on consumer preferences,” capable of altering preference based on the AI interaction and recommendation. Recent research maintains the same point, showing that consumers are willing to pay 7-17% more when exposed to AI-driven recommenders.
  • A repeated point made by Microsoft, Adobe, and other insiders is that voice technologies in the consumer and marketing sphere are still in its early days, comparing it to the rise of smartphones. For now, consumers are still skeptical of voice-based devices’ abilities to handle complex tasks and afraid of how their data is being handled. However, as technology evolves and companies earn consumers’ trust, voice technologies will likely change the consumer’s purchase path, especially for small items.
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