Among the most memorable lines in “The Graduate” was the one word career advice given to young Benjamin Braddock: “Plastics.”
If the film were re-made today, that word might well be “Voice” instead. Like plastics in the 1960s, which were becoming part of almost every manufactured product, voice today is poised to become part of every application across mobile, vehicles, and devices we haven’t yet even imagined.
As companies build those apps, a lot of people in the industry have wondered when voice will become monetized. After all, we’re three or four years into the first phase of the voice revolution, and nobody is making any money on things like voice skills for smart speakers. That’s not for lack of trying; Amazon keeps working at it, and Google (which earns billions from ads related to search results) has experimented with linking ads to voice search results.
That’s unlikely to change. Where companies are going wrong is in attempting to monetize voice directly – to focus on the voice part and not the experience. Selling premium skills or voice-based “upgrades” to standard mobile apps is just not going to create a broad, lucrative market. While a few lucky companies may do well that way, for just about everyone the way to make voice technology pay off lies elsewhere.
Voice is an Ingredient, Not a Product
While the line about plastics was social commentary in 1967, not science, plastics did begin to be common in everyday objects at about that time. Plastic made possible lots of what were revolutionary products at the time that we take for granted now.
But companies didn’t try to monetize plastic itself. They used plastics as an ingredient to create products that offered consumers a different experience – everything from more colorful and durable household items, to lightweight parts that increased vehicle fuel economy, to the flexible contact lenses worn by millions.
Voice is no different. The way to monetize voice is to use it as a component of a reimagined user experience – to make it possible to use technology in new ways and to change how we go about our daily lives. Think voice-enabled banking apps.
Two Roads to Voice Monetization
Companies will find they can monetize voice technology in two principal ways.
The first is through significant improvements in business efficiency. Voice is a far better way to enter data than typing because we speak far faster than we type. As voice recognition gets even more accurate, that shift will become universal and reduce data entry time by about two-thirds.
To think about what that means to a company, consider how much time a delivery driver, sales rep or customer service agent spends typing every working day. Even if that’s just three hours of each eight-hour day, going to voice gives those workers back 10 productive hours a week, more than 500 a year. For professionals who spend most of their time typing – programmers included – the recovered productive time will be far more. That’s a very different “user experience” than people have today. The typing that frustrates a delivery driver will disappear, so not only will they be more productive, they will be happier on the job.
The same efficiency will extend to the customer service operation, where voice interaction will save time as well as “read” incoming callers to understand their problems and their moods and direct the highest priority callers to exactly the right agent.
Extending the Experience
The second way voice will lead to monetization is augmenting the consumer experience, adding value and differentiation to how we do things now.
Take something like Ember’s Bluetooth-enabled, rechargeable mugs that keep hot beverages at a set temperature. The user interacts with their mug via a mobile app that lets them specify a numeric temperature or a named “preset” like “green tea” or “coffee.” A user needs to have mobile phone in hand, open the app, and then tap or slide their finger to set that temperature.
Adding voice control to that app would simplify the process. Like Captain Picard on Star Trek asking for “Earl Grey Tea, hot,” an Ember user could do the same with the mug already knowing what temperature “hot” means for that individual. This isn’t something for the future, either; there are household products on the market now where you can use voice via a smart speaker to control similar settings. For example, there is an Alexa skill to choose the temperature of a Dyson space heater, or change the settings of a Coway air purifier.
Those are just simple extensions of existing controls made easier by voice. As we “voicify” every experience, and add visual responses, we’ll be able to do things around the house (or in the car) that we can’t do with today’s apps. That is where the real money is: making voice an essential component of every app, as ubiquitous as plastic.