The CX Angle Podcast: AI, Smart Speakers and Virtual Assistants

customer experience podcast series

We are in the midst of a Customer Experience (CX) revolution and customers are demanding an enhanced experience.  In this episode of The CX Angle, itelligence Corporate Communication Manager, Jeremy Cross, and Customer Experience Account Executive, Ryan Kubec, discuss the rise in popularity of smart speakers and voice technology and its current and future impact on customer experience.

Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast.

(Jeremy Cross) Hello, and welcome to another episode of The CX Angle podcast. My name is Jeremy Cross, and like always, I’m joined by my colleague, Ryan Kubec.

(Ryan Kubec) How’s it going?

(Jeremy Cross) It’s going well today. So, today, I want to talk about something that may be a little bit lighter topic. I want to get into talking about AI, and specifically talking about smart speakers, digital assistants, and have a little bit of a conversation here.

This morning when I woke up, I did the following … I said, “Hey, Siri, what’s the weather today?”

(Siri response) It’s currently clear and 44 degrees in Blue Ash. Expect mostly clear skies starting in the afternoon. Today’s high will be 62 degrees and the low will be 44.

So I woke up this morning, and I asked Siri, what was the weather. I didn’t have to search, pick up the phone or open an app. I just used voice search and used the app to ask what was the weather today, and that allowed me to get ready.

And, so, we’re going to talk digital assistants today, we’re going to talk smart speakers, we’re going to talk about the technology around voice and AI. And what really brought this about was that as Ryan and I were sharing some articles, I shared an article with Ryan that predicts that the smart speaker is going to be the piece of technology that hits 75% U.S. adoption. Faster than the smartphone did, or TV, radio and the Internet, mobile phone, computers, the telephone. It is the one piece of technology that is going to permeate the market faster than the others – that’s what’s predicted.

Now, Ryan and I come from two different points of view on this. I am a Google household, and Ryan is …

(Ryan Kubec) Yeah. We are 100% Alexa.

(Jeremy Cross)  And, so, we just wanted to sit down and talk about what has been our personal experience in implementing these things into our lives, then, really, where do we see the future going when it comes down to smart speakers. And then maybe even getting into, how are companies going to engage, and looking at it from that perspective.

So, Ryan, tell me. You are an Alexa household. Why is that?

(Ryan Kubec)  So, honestly, when – I don’t know, a few years back when the commercials were coming out for them, I thought those seem cool, but I don’t really need one. This is just excess. And — I guess this is something I never really thought about until just now – but those things sell themselves when you are at someone’s house and they have one and you see how they interact with it. And that’s how it was with us.

My wife and I went to visit a friend of mine from college, and she had one in her kitchen. And she’s like, “Alexa, read me the news.” She said, this is what I do in the morning when I’m making lunches for my kids. And, “Alexa, play another song,” or “Alexa, add milk to the shopping list.”

And I’m like, “Whoa!” And she said, yeah, when I go to the store, I pull up my shopping list. And my neighbor at the time had one, and he said, yeah, when I grab the last juice or I grab the last cheese stick, they know to add it to the shopping list, so that way it’s always there. And from there, I thought we would actually use this; and we use it, honestly, for our shopping list, my wife listens to music on it a lot, we get the news from it, we check the weather – what’s the weather going to be like this weekend – and it’s convenient because it’s hands free, you can get that information as the thought pops into your head. You know, you’re trying to do math or some type of trivia question; whatever.

You know, yesterday, Jimmy and I were working on a proposal for a company, and he was using Siri, actually, on his phone. He asked, “Siri, how many weeks are in 18 months?” It told him exactly how many weeks it was, so we could build out a project plan.

(Jeremy Cross)   It is interesting how you mentioned – and I think we have the same thing with picking up a Google device – I had one, because I thought it would be neat to have. And I probably bought it first just to have a decent smart speaker. It was just the speaker aspect of it. I have one that sits in our kitchen, and the kids each have a Google mini in their room for their music. My daughter uses it as her alarm clock, she sets alarms on it all the time. Again, they use it for weather, they ask it different pieces of trivia, as well. So it’s having that virtual assistant.

And I’ve noticed it’s expanded. We started with one in our house, and then it expanded to the kids having them, and then it expanded to one that is in our bedroom. It’s sort of blanketing your house with having a personal assistant, and having the voice technology.

My six-year-old, who is in first grade, can type on a computer; he could pick up a phone and probably make his way through trying not to butcher spelling things, but he doesn’t have to. He can just say, “Hey, Google …” fill in the blank … whatever he needs at that moment.

And so it’s interesting that we’ve hit this point from customer experience where we have these digital, virtual assistants that can follow with us anytime, anywhere.

Now, I brought this up to you, and I’m curious about what you think about this. The issue that I see, and this starts with even just looking at our two households, there’s fragmentation. That no one company has really saturated the market with this. If you look at it, the Alexa devices are the ones that have the most commands that you could give an Alexa device. Google has the best voice technology behind it, and then, from a mobile capacity, Apple has Siri in our pockets where we can then use it through Car Play, connected in the car.

I thought about this, and I had said to you before we started recording, you can look it up. Yes, Apple has a smart speaker, but Apple’s smart speaker costs $300, which is on the upper end of what I’m willing to spend on completing the ecosystem. I have my Apple Watch, I have my Mac, I have my iPad, I have my iPhone. Really that’s all I need, I suppose …

(Ryan Kubec)  You’ll need a black turtleneck …

(Jeremy Cross)  Exactly, I’ll need a black turtleneck, and then I’ll be using Siri all of the time. But I see that as being one of the interesting places as we look into the future of where this tech is going, from a personal use to who is really going to command the market, because right now there’s that fragmentation.

(Ryan Kubec)  Yeah. And it will definitely be something cool to watch, to see do they naturally kind of shift toward what they’re better at. Like, is one going to be typically Amazon Alexa because of all their commands — that’s going to be more controlling the lights and things in your house. And Siri is going to run your life on your phone, and Google is going to do whatever they move into – maybe playing music or just where you’re asking your questions, building your lists, like that. Or, does that technology become so ubiquitous that every single app is going to have its own virtual, voice-activated assistant on it. Or, is it going to be the HD, DVD versus Blue Ray, where eventually there can only be one Highlander.

(Jeremy Cross)  Exactly. That is interesting. I mean, when you think of it, Google is moving into the “you can control your Nest” device now that they own Nest; so you can control your Nest device, you can control your surveillance cameras in your house if you have that, with your hub device, with a screen that you can see.

So I think that the key is – and I think Amazon and Google have gotten this – how affordable can they make it for you to blanket your house with the technology and then be able to control it with your voice. And what has the most integrations. I don’t know what the HD, DVD, Blue Ray … what that little piece is going to be that breaks it. I’m curious to see; I don’t know.

(Ryan Kubec)  Yeah. Or is it going to be we just live with multiple … you know, you’ve got Verizon vs. AT&T vs. Sprint … you pick your brand that you go with and that’s what you have. The cost point, as well. I mean, for me last year it was the gift I got my parents. We got one for a couple of friends that we have in our town, it was just like the Christmas gift where Amazon had a really good sale leading up to Christmas where you buy one and got one free. I was, like, all right, cool, I’m going to get an extra one for my office now, too.

So, same thing, even though you are working with Google and I’m Alexa, our buying behavior seems similar. We started with one, and before you know it, there’s one in every room. And I know I was telling you before when we were talking about this episode that when I drive around I will literally say, “Alexa, what’s this? How do I get to wherever?” And so, I do think that may be one of those things that tips the scale – who can get into vehicles first?

I’ve seen the commercials for Alexa Car or Alexa Auto, but that looks pretty rudimentary. It’s literally something you plug into. Whichever one can get contracts with the automakers or whoever makes the touchscreen devices and say, we want Alexa to come standard on all of these vehicles — that may tip the scale in one favor or another.

(Jeremy Cross)  When I start to think about it, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t have Alexa, because we buy enough stuff on Amazon as it is. I fear how easy it would be for the kids to start to order stuff using the Amazon device.

I’d be curious to see if we receive an Echo as a gift this holiday season. Would I keep it, or would I try to sell it because it just doesn’t fit with the ecosystem that I currently have, even though I’m a split ecosystem between Apple with most things and then Google at home.

(Ryan Kubec)  I guess because people like everything personalized to them. You know what would be great? It probably would be great, just from a competitive standpoint, if devices allow you to say, what’s your virtual assistant of choice? Right. And you could say, all right, on my iPhone, I want to be able to have Google Home enabled or I want Alexa to be enabled and let that be my virtual system of choice so everyone can know. You don’t have to say, well, now I need to go get a Google phone if I want to be able to have my voice assistant on my phone. But making that more readily available.

(Jeremy Cross)  Yeah, I think that it just goes back to this aspect of fragmentation, which we know is going to continue to permeate. We know that voice technology is not going away. We know that it’s going to get smarter. With AI behind it and machine learning, it is going to get even smarter. One of the things we’re going to dive into in a later episode — and we’re not talking about today – we’re really not talking about what it takes for all of this to work:  data.

We’re going to get into a data conversation in the future. But for all of this to work correctly for these virtual assistants, we have to be willing to give data and to have it listen to us and to be able to be smart. And I think that might be a stopping point for some. Some will say, I’m okay with you being my deejay and pulling up music, but I’m not okay past that. And that will be an interesting piece as we look in the future, as well — how will accessibility to customer data influence how these devices continue to grow?

(Ryan Kubec)   Yeah. And it’s interesting, coming back to our podcast focus on customer experience and how is this getting into the business world. As we’re starting to see, we had our episode recently on CRM solutions, and I know our new release of the CRM solution that we work with has a digital assistant, and that’s voice activated, right, where you’re able to do that. And the solution we use now, I can click in any field and use the talk-to-text capability on my smartphone to add my notes on an opportunity that I’m working. So I think voice is definitely taking over.

We’ve heard that from a lot of companies that we’re engaged with; they know this is coming. They want their internal employees to be able to say, “Hey, Google,” or “Hey, itelligence,” or “Hey, whatever.” You know, your new voice-activated assistant’s name is going to be “approve purchase order,” “create a sales order,” “issue a credit to X, Y, Z customer.” So being able to take some of those components that you’re starting to realize.

Like I said, I never thought I would really use it in my personal life. And the longer I’ve had it, the more I realize how convenient it is to trigger something. You know, I use it all the time when I’m cooking. I’ll go throw a chicken on the grill, tell Alexa to set a timer for 12 minutes so I know when to go flip it and I don’t forget about it, and all of that.

And so how is that going to translate into the business world? And I think there’s a lot of companies that we’ve worked with who have an idea of how they want to use that. But the technology’s evolving so quickly and this is happening so fast that it’s going to be interesting to see the applications that it takes on.

(Jeremy Cross)  And even from a marketing standpoint of how do you market in a world where voice technology is rapidly taking over and how does that work? How do you market if I don’t need to have a screen in front of me, and I’m instead interacting with a digital assistant. For example, what if your Alexa or your Google Home device were able to monitor prices at your local grocery store and then be able to tell you such-and-such is on sale, and would you like me to add it to the cart for this week?

(Ryan Kubec)  Yeah. Or have access to pricing. So you could say, “Hey, Alexa, how much is whatever at Walmart or Kmart or Best Buy,” or wherever you’re shopping and have it do that price check for you. So it can build your list, tell you where are the best places to go.

And that’s where I think what we’ve seen in the smartphone area is once general people are able to start building their own apps, I think if that is the direction that these smart speakers go, as people are able to start building out their own skills, that you can enable where the intelligence behind it is built, that’s where those may be able to take off.

I mean, we’re trying to kind of predict the future here and just talking off the cuff about just cool nerdy technology things, but I think that’s one way that can go.

Likewise with advertising, right? And that’s where I would kind of be sad to see it go, but I could definitely see it going this way, where Amazon owns Whole Foods. So maybe they have their specific store brands, so when you say, “Alexa, pull up a recipe for how to make X, Y and Z meal,” and instantly it’s pulling up all of the stuff that are only Whole Food ingredients that you can buy. So it’s promoting its own products. And then maybe Google signs a contract with some other large food producer or something like that. So I wouldn’t like to see that. I do like that it’s more agnostic right now and you don’t have that influence where you feel like you’re being marketed to with your own stuff.

(Jeremy Cross)  Yeah. And I think it should remain. You know, the value if you had a personal assistant would be that your personal assistant provides you feedback in the areas where you want, where you need it, and it’s elicited. But then also there’s the hands-off capability of it. I mean, think of how quickly my children are learning and can utilize this technology so much more quickly than they could if it had just even been straight-up computers on the Internet. I mean, at an earlier age. So even my 3 year old will shout and say, “Hey, Google.”

So we’ve shared some of our insights, some of our experience with regard to this technology. We’d love to hear from you, so we’ve included our e-mail address here in the show notes. Feel free to shoot us a message. We’d love to share your story with our listeners on a future episode. We’d love to hear from you, as well. So, again, email is located in the show notes. Shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks again for listening. We appreciate the support.


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