Amazon Alexa and Google Home have the same problem: they can do some really clever things that make them feel “real” to us, but the illusion is easily shattered. You might think “So what? That’s Amazon’s and Google’s problem.” But the thing is you need this, too.
Smart Speakers Aren’t All That Smart
I can say, “Alexa, who am I?” She’ll say back, “You told me your name is Chris.” I can then say, “Alexa, my son’s name is Harold.” She will say: “Sorry. I can’t help you with that.” Meaning that the information really has nowhere to go. But this context is important. Let me explain out.
First, Alexa DOES know my voice from other people’s voices. If my son Harold says, “Alexa, who am I?” she won’t be able to answer it. She doesn’t reply that he is Chris.
So that means that somewhere there’s a data “match” to my voice. Meaning, there’s some record stored in Alexa that says “Chris Brogan” is logged into this Alexa unit and I have a matching voice print for what I’m expecting him to sound like. Right?
But why, then, does Amazon need my “voice password” when I order something with Alexa? If she knows my voice is different than my son’s, why does she need a four digit passcode? Isn’t my voice a pretty good passcode? I guess “someone” could record my voice or splice up recordings to sound like I’m ordering them a Bugatti. So maybe that’s why. But I think it’s because Alexa was built to be dumber than we think.
(Note: every single time I’m saying Alexa, I mean Alexa/Google/Siri/Cortana)
And every time I’m talking about these big companies, I want you to think about YOUR place in this, because that’s upon you faster than you think. Voice interaction is here now. Amazon Echo and Echo Dot were the #1 purchased Christmas gift in 2017 on Amazon’s site, and the Alexa app was the most downloaded app on both the iTunes and Google Play store the next day.
Our CRM Needs to Get Smarter
Every company that sells something has a Customer/Client Relationship Management software (CRM). Whether or not they want it, they keep some kind of record of your purchase history tied to a phone number or a credit card or an email address. I suppose in more modern systems we can set the “unique key” to whatever we think will be most permanent. But every system has records of this nature.
But if you look at these, they are often mostly “dumb” data. You bought this thing on that date. You paid with this form of payment. The product was shipped there. All good to know, but not really smart enough.
I’ll tell you a simple one. “Alexa, my son’s name is Harold. Say hi to Harold.”
I want Alexa to be able to store that data record and link it for me. I want to be able to say, “Alexa, did Harold add anything to his wish list last night?” Hell. I want him to be able to say, “Good morning, Alexa” and her answer back, “Hey Harold.”
A lot of hotels are starting to add the option to use your favorite Internet apps there as well. When I check into the Residence Inn, I stick my Netflix (or Hulu or YouTube, etc) account into the room TV so I can binge Peaky Blinders on the big screen instead of my laptop.
Some hotels are adding smart speakers to their rooms so I can ask Alexa everything I ask her at home. (I’m in a hotel room writing this and I’ve tried talking to her about six times so far.) But will those also be tied to my account? And will it know I’m in a different location? And will my skills already be transferable to it?
Remembering is Part of Trust
This is basic, but also deeply true. Ask Jacq. If she tells me something she thinks is important and I forget what it was she told me, it hurts her feelings. She takes every instance of me forgetting (which happens a lot) as a slight against our relationship.
We humans tend to feel this way. We want to be known. We want to be remembered. I told you I’m staying in a hotel room as I write this. I’ve been to this property probably 20+ times over the last year. When I walk through the door, I want pretty much everyone working to give me that “Norrrrrm!” greeting (from Cheers – it was a TV show. Look it up!).
So when chatbots and robots and voice apps can’t remember the absolute basics, it FEELS (and we definitely do feel emotions around these technologies) like someone (your company) has forgotten us. That feeling is massively negative to some and simply negative to many. If you treat me like a first time buyer, it shows me what little value you place on my loyalty or commerce.
Start with CRM
At this point, you might not be building your own chatbots, but what has to come first no matter what is a better way to store and access the data that will make the experience better for all those involved. The ability to capture non-sales-related data and “knowledge” about your customer, I believe, will be the most overlooked competitive business opportunity of 2018 and beyond.(tweetable)
This isn’t massively hard work. Build in some fields to capture some more potential information, when available. Allow it to have flexible labeling sometimes. Because my example was “son” doesn’t mean that someone wants to add in “dog” and “stepdaughter” and “crazy uncle.” And then keep working out what other information might be useful to store that benefits both you and your buyer.
I promise that as “smart” speakers proliferate, the novelty phase will wear off quickly. We will not only demand more of companies using bots and voice interfaces, but we’ll gravitate towards those companies who treat us through these artificial interfaces like we matter and like we belong. The gee whiz phase is now. You still have time. Help make the distance between your business and me smarter. Please?