We visited Google and they really wanted to talk

Voice assistants are growing in popularity and a majority of mobile users seems to embrace talking to their phones. Just a few days ago, the WSJ proclaimed “The End of Typing”. But at one of our recent exchanges at its headquarters in Mountain View, Google said despite their strategic focus on this, it is still early days: “We are still working on the right greeting!”

by Samuel Mueller

2016 marked the first year that google registered higher traffic on mobile than desktop. The mobile first mantra has been a major pivot for Google. The change in the company strategy meant Google had to re-skill their engineers. “And the moment we got close to completing it, the pivot towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) started.”

Voice and AI are the next steps in the evolution that started with mobile websites and apps. Google says more than 20% of search queries on mobile are done by voice. This climbs to 30–40% for users under 25. Accuracy has improved to over 90% and the algorithm is getting smarter thanks to machine learning. And yet, Google says this is early days for assistant platforms.

Business model exploration is in the pre-phone-app-store stage

Exchange at the Googleplex in Mountainview

For companies, there are two ways to think about assistants at this stage: You can build an assistant into your service that will be vertically optimised (for example for your own website or app). The other way is to build something that will also be available inside of Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa.

At the moment, Google suggests that it’s probably good to think about both. Those multi-purpose systems will have bigger audiences, but the real challenge is to build an experience that lets the user finish actions without having to go and open a website.

Capabilities, like ordering a product or booking a service, need to be built in voice. Google calls them “actions”, Amazon calls them “skills”. They let you interact with the system and go through the customer journey as before but without leaving the conversation.

This puts a premium on well thought out customer journeys; something that we touch on in most of our programmes, taking elements from customer journey mapping, design thinking and other tools that can help companies examine their value proposition from a customer’s perspective.

A completely new experience

The Google Assistant is, as Google itself puts it, “a conversational experience between you and Google that helps you get things done in your world.” A conversational experience is fundamentally different from searching in a browser.

Google engineers saw this when they launched Google Home (Google’s equivalent to Amazon’s Alexa). Users were instantly trying to have a conversation with the device. “And this is not just one guy being funny, this is represented in millions of queries. People are trying to build a personal relationship with a computer.”

And while all of this is in the works, Google is still tinkering with the first seconds of a perfect voice assistant experience: Is it better to be greeted with “Hi”, “What would you like to do?” or is it “Hi, how can I help”? We’ll hear more soon.


Samuel Mueller is Chief Operating Officer at WDHB Strategic Learning

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on October 3, 2017.