Businesses are bullish on the future of voice technology like Amazon, Apple and Google’s digital assistants, with consumers relying on the contactless tools more than ever during the pandemic, according to a study by professional services company Cognizant.

Exclusive local data shared with Which-50 from Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work shows Australian brands lead the region in voice strategy but still face privacy and skills challenges.

For its Future of Voice report, Cognizant surveyed 1,400 senior executives across APAC between May and July, including more than 200 from Australia. 

More than one in five Australian businesses report having a formal voice strategy in place, more than any other country in the survey. Preparations helped when the pandemic struck and voice technology boomed, according to Cognizant.

Voice booms

“Future generations will no doubt look back on COVID-19 as the moment in human history when voice moved from a gradual journey, to a sudden adoption,” said Manish Bahl, Cognizant associate vice president, Center for the Future of Work, Asia Pacific. “Voice will trigger a lifetime change in the way we live, work and play, fundamentally changing the brand landscape and how consumers are influenced to make decisions

Around 2.6 million Australian households have a smart speaker, according to research by Telsyte, with Google claiming 61 per cent of the market, followed by Amazon (17 per cent) and Apple (four per cent). Factor in phones and other smart devices and the potential market is nearly every Australian household.

When COVID-10 stuck this year brands scrambled to integrate with voice services. Amazon, for example, reports use of Alexa Skills was up 65 per cent worldwide in April and May, a period that saw “a huge increase in the use of voice in the home”.

A study by online safety body Internet Matters found children and new working from home practices are driving a boom in smart speakers and the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of technology in the home by “three to four years”.

Bahl says the Australian market is adopting smart speakers at a faster rate than others, including the US, and brands are realising “a voice strategy is no longer optional, it is essential to remain relevant and competitive”.

Australian voice strategy

Local organisations are particularly confident in the staying power of voice technology, according to the Cognizant study.

93 per cent of Australian respondents believe the shift from touch to voice will only accelerate further in the future and 78 per cent view voice as important or extremely important for their brand’s future success.

While Australia leads the region in adopting a formal voice strategy, respondent indicated their are serious concerns around privacy and integration.

Data privacy (87 per cent), a shortage of required skills (84 per cent) and developing a “voice personality” (80 per cent), are the top three challenges companies face or anticipate with voice technology.

And most aren’t confident (61 per cent) in their ability to integrate voice technology into existing processes and only 27 per cent say their IT infrastructure could cope today.

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