Published: 06 March 2019
On an episode of NCIS (Season 13), Tim McGee and his girlfriend Delilah Fielding (both computer experts and self-professed geeks) had an argument about moving in together. At one point, they switched to a modified shorthand binary language to keep the details private.
Delilah: 'Honey…00 100.'
Tim: ’11 01 01.'
Delilah: '01 011 1.'
It was impressive.
But the scenario also highlights that humans and machines use language very differently.
Machines prefer binary with its 'no-muss, no-fuss' structure and consistency of meaning. Humans opt for unstructured communications: words and phrases layered with dialect, slang and idioms, not to mention sarcasm and irony, subterfuge, double entendres and mis-pronunciations.
Is it any wonder that humans and machines struggle to understand each other?
As voice technology and natural language processing continue to develop and improve, we’re taking steps toward better understanding each other. And brands are vying to capture 'share of ear’ across a seemingly endless parade of channels: websites, mobile apps, chatbots, smart homes and cars, wearables and beyond. Customers embrace technology that makes their lives more convenient, their time more efficient and their tasks easier. Mobile technology can tick all those boxes while the addition of voice technology takes the experience to a new level. As is so often the case with disruptive technology, the travel industry is at the forefront of the movement. Below we look at a few of the recent trends with voice and travel and then look at how travel marketers can keep up with the pace of change.
Recent trends in voice technology and the travel industry
‘On average, travellers use 10-12 apps throughout the searching, booking and travelling parts of their trip’ according to Travelport’s 2018 Global Digital Traveller Survey of 16,000 travellers from 25 countries. And over half of respondents said they used voice search to help with the booking process or while they were travelling.
A recent survey of 1,040 adults in the United States discovered that 50% of respondents use voice assistants while in the car to ask for directions and navigation and 17% ask about restaurants in the area. If people are using this technology at home, it’s safe to assume they’re even more reliant on it when travelling to unfamiliar destinations.
The integration of voice assistants as part of the hotel or vacation rental experience is also on the rise, with two areas standing out:
- Bringing the comforts of the (smart) home with them: Hotels are providing voice-powered assistants that allow guests to control the temperature and lights in the room, play music, check the weather, contact room service or housekeeping and check out easily. Marriott has partnered with Amazon in the US and Alibaba in China while InterContinental has joined forces with Baidu in China.
- Driving curiosity and exploration in the local area: New apps and platforms, like Virtual Concierge Service, help owners or managers of boutique hotels or vacation rentals deliver ‘insider information’ to guests about the local area - things to do, good restaurants, hidden gems, local favourites that they may not otherwise have seen through mainstream tourist checklists. This can be delivered through smart speakers or via an app that guests download.
So how can you get ready for voice technology?
Your customer may be interacting with your content in a number of ways:
- They may be speaking their query into a voice assistant like Siri that draws its results from search engines and directs users to websites that they’ll still need to interact with on screen.
- They might be asking their smart speaker for information which has been programmed directly into an Alexa Skill or Google Action and the entire experience occurs without a screen interface. Or they may be using a chat bot on your website or other platforms, like Facebook, where the conversational interface mirrors the verbal back and forth of a human conversation.
It will come as no surprise that data powers the experience, so be sure your data is clean, stored properly and integrated into your digital ecosystem.
Then it’s all about the content.
1. Make a list of all the questions your customers have
You’ll want to perform user research with customer representatives within the business or with customers directly to capture all the questions they have around your subject domain, your product or service and any related topics.
This step is about identifying user intent.
So dig deep and explore the context. Ask yourself, what are my customers looking for that they’re not saying?
Where to look:
- SEO research (Google, Bing, Answer the Public, SerpStat, Question Samurai)
- Internal feedback from Sales, Customer Service, social listening
- Subject domain mapping
- User interviews / focus groups / surveys
2. Incorporate those questions and answers into your content
A useful exercise is to then map the key questions against your typical customer journey - awareness, research, consideration, purchase, use and advocacy.
Are all your questions in one or two specific stages? If so, you may need to do more research to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Next, create evergreen content specific to that position in the user journey and be sure that you're answering the questions your customers are asking.
- Awareness / Research: high-level destination guides, inspirational content, customer stories, FAQ cotent
- Consideration / Purchase: product/service information, comparisons around price or quality, staff stories
- Use: local recommendations, cross-sell / up-sell opportunities, loyalty programme
- Advocacy: user-generated content, testimonials, refer a friend
Be sure you’re optimising your copy for the device and use question words in subheads where appropriate.
3. Write in plain language and use structured data
Cut out the jargon and technical terms and use conversational phrases and words that reflect the ones your customers use.
In the same way that featured snippets and schema markup can help your results appear at the top of the search engines, they’ll provide the direct answers that voice search interfaces are looking for.
By using structured data and considering natural language processing, you’ll make it easier for the machines to interpret your content and know when to show it to the right customer.
4. Remember the four Cs of conversational interface
Purna Virji, the senior manager of global engagement at Microsoft, gave a presentation at Brighton SEO in 2018 that outlined four principles for building more effective conversational interfaces. These were:
- Clarity: Pose short, clear questions to the customer and give them options or examples rather than open-ended questions that they have to spend time thinking about
- Character: Customers expect voice assistants and chat bots to have personality, but be sure you stay on brand and professional. And never pretend that the machine is a human or you risk losing trust.
- Compassion: While we’re not pretending machines are human, we want to ensure the experience retains a sense of empathy and compassion that a human interaction would have.
- Correction: It’s inevitable that there will be misunderstandings or incomplete data sets. Find ways to get back on track quickly that don’t irritate or make the situation worse.
5. Put stories at the heart of your customer experience
A final point to consider is that as voice technology becomes more commonplace there will be an increasing demand for high-quality audio-based storytelling.
For travel marketers, this is fertile ground. Start thinking about the customer stories that your brand makes possible and map this into your content strategy now.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how you can get your digital experience ready for voice technology, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch on 0208 070 7820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.