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How COVID-19 Will Accelerate Conversational Tech Part 3 - Voice First Interfaces

Paul Sweeney

Voice First interfaces such as Alexa and Google Home are being experimented with more and more as people are staying home and looking for more things to do after they have watched everything on Netflix.

Studies show Americans are consuming more News/Talk radio during this Coronavirus Crisis. It is reported that Americans are listening to 29% more radio. Maybe because that's to add some variety to their media or just where they now go to get up to date local news, as radio remains a trusted and relied upon medium for news and entertainment, and right now, local is what seems to matter most. This shouldn't surprise us too much as people have been looking for all things local when they do voice searches on their mobile phones for a while now.

Conversational Assitants at Home and at Work

But interestingly, on the other side, report in a recent post that nearly 35% of US adults have a smart speaker in their home and 50% report using it daily. This rise in the use of voice assistants is growing and in the current climate with the need for 'hands off' or distant social interactions these assistants can come into their own. Aside from one or two large scale implementations in US hospitals though, we haven't seen the escalation of adoption in the workplace that might have been expected. Webio has always believed that the adoption of the Voice First technologies in the enterprise will have to be very business process and context specific with clear performance KPIs.

One such example is Moscow airport where recently launched a voice assistant to handle customer service. The AI-powered voice is connected through the airport's existing helpline and is already handling 30% of their inbound customer queries.  More of the same at Charles Schwab in the financial services area who have also integrated Voice AI into their phone system.

What has maybe been surprising is that during the pandemic all the major platforms have cracked down on who exactly is entitled to be giving out information about the virus. Instead of a web like "free for all" there seems to have been a decision taken to only enable the official authorities, not just any developer with an opinion. The Covid -19 response of all these official authorities has not always been amazing but the communications have largely been consistent.

Many of the platforms also released conversational packs that make it easier to deploy conversational chatbots to respond to Covid-19 queries. Personally, I like the idea that for certain types of conversations, the conversation has been tested, and approved by some authorities, especially in highly regulated industries and where inaccurate information could cost lives. I think we could see this spread to other industries as "sharing approved library elements" becomes a thing.

Conversational Interfaces Part of the Daily Routine

Given the amount of time people are now spending at home, I am not finding any real talk about the benefit of home automation. Perhaps home automation, and the conversational interfaces you need to control them, are a convenience product and not the necessity you require when getting food to your home is the priority and getting paid is your main worry. Bret Kinsella of makes a great point though when he points out the bedroom is now the main usage hub for smart speakers and that there was also a rise in the use of smart speakers in the bathrooms of the home. He points out that this may indicate that the devices may now be tied to evening and morning routines and if this is the case, then that is very good news for the makers of smart speakers.

While streaming music through a smart speaker continues to be the most popular use case the main "winners of the pandemic" so far are the on demand content companies, everyone from Netflix and Disney +, to audiobooks and podcasts are having a surge moment. That, and the food delivery companies but again, I'm not seeing a lot of information out there about the use of conversational interfaces and food delivery.

Overall, I think what we are seeing at the moment is a general awakening to the potential of conversational interfaces to inform, diagnose and direct the user in a time when volumes of digital interaction have gone through the roof, and where the ability of the employees of companies to respond to this, may have actually gone down. Customer service continues to be an early adopter of these technologies and the pandemic maybe just the accelerator.


More Posts

How the COVID-19 Will Accelerate Conversational Tech
Part 1 - Instant Digital Transformation

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