Text-to-speech (TTS) technology isn’t exactly new – but the way it’s shaping the future certainly is. From smart speakers to voice assistants, TTS is increasingly paramount in day-to-day interactions between brands and end users, leading to enhanced brand experiences and better business outcomes.
Up until recently, TTS was confined to a specific use case: voice-enablement of written content to make computers ‘speak’ to those with visual or reading impairments. TTS technology was based on utility and a need to make screen-related content accessible. As such, synthetic speech was traditionally digital-sounding and marred by poor audio quality and speaking style. However, with advancements in voice technology overall causing an explosion in the deployment of TTS across numerous industries and applications, achieving a ‘human’ touch through new and creative applications is advancing what’s possible through the human-device interface.
The TTS opportunity
Personalisation, convenience, seamlessness and efficiency are top priorities for today’s companies and their consumers, and TTS is being used to innovate and exceed expectations across touch points. Brands are already seizing the opportunity presented by today’s TTS technology and are at the vanguard of a new standard of experiences that position them ahead of competitors and in the forefront of consumer consciousness.
The retail industry rises above the noise with custom voices
Digital experiences have become a battleground for the attention of today’s consumers, and to claim victory, retailers are embracing the voice economy to create superlative user experiences and reach their wider customer bases.
Hearables and wearables
With the advent of hearables and wearables, people are interacting with brands through AI-powered earbuds, watches and eyeglasses. Using conversational AI in tandem with behavioral data gleaned from these devices, retailers are serving interactive voice ads that engage customers anytime, anywhere and in response to their real-time activity.
Interactive voice ads can receive and react to spoken user questions and respond accordingly with product information or in the form of product photos delivered to the users’ phone or watch–all in advance of a voice-confirmed purchase. In this way brands are interacting with consumers, both pre-sale and during the sale, all because of an ability to serve their immediate need with conversational AI powered by lifelike TTS.
Custom TTS voices
Custom TTS voices have become key vehicles for expressing brand identity and driving conversion. Bol.com – a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize, one of the top 15 retailer groups in the world – recently launched its own branded voice experience on Google Assistant. Because the company is committed to delivering highly personal and conversational ecommerce experiences, it needed a customised voice to stand out in the crowd of other default, off-the-shelf voices used on the Google platform.
Bol.com entrusted ReadSpeaker with creating its exclusive, lifelike TTS voice for Google Assistant. Consumers can say the sentence “Praat met bol.com”, or “Talk to bol.com”, to engage the bol.com assistant for both sales and customer service requests. The assistant answers customer queries, delivers daily offers and updates consumers on their previous requests. With this AI-driven, TTS-enabled customisation, bol.com’s familiar core values are instantly communicated to consumers when they interact with the assistant through any Google device.
Interactive voice response (IVR) and emotional TTS complete the sales cycle
Interactive voice response (IVR) is a traditional segment when it comes to TTS. In fact, TTS has defined the call centre experience for decades: the end user calls a customer service number and interacts with recorded responses that provide specific, prescriptive answers. However, recent advancements in conversational AI and new TTS technology have transformed the call centre into an opportunity for businesses to more efficiently manage call volume and more effectively meet the needs of customers.
Emotional voice and call centres
Call centers handle a massive volume of calls and, while prescriptive call trees help alleviate some pressure on call agents, it’s often at the expense of the customer experience. Customers respond better to natural, personalised voice interactions and, while agents are trained to use an empathetic tone when responding to requests, it’s not always easy to respond kindly to an agitated or frustrated caller. To help alleviate concerns effectively and in the least possible time, without putting more strain on agents, businesses are turning to conversational AI and emotional TTS instead of hiring and training more human capital.
Voice-enabled IVR can analyse the qualities of an end user’s voice to understand if they are happy, angry or stressed. The technology then adapts the tone of its own responses to match – every time. For instance, if an end user chooses a voice assistant to contact an airline, the call could go in a variety of directions. If the user is booking a vacation, their tone will likely be neutral or happy. If they are calling due to a flight delay, however, their tone will be quite different – likely frustrated or angry. AI-enabled voice assistants can detect the difference and trigger the TTS-enabled emotional voice that matches the situation. As a result, the voice assistant avoids using tone-deaf responses for both happy and frustrated callers.
Welcome to the next phase of digital voice
Digital voice technology is increasingly penetrating, improving and modernising the sales cycle while creating opportunities to innovate customer experiences and expand reach. As the world becomes more mobile, less dependent on screens and more on-demand, personalised voice experiences backstopped by custom TTS will bring brands’ experiences to their audiences in more compelling and more expedient ways. If they haven’t already, brands should introduce voice technology to their brightest minds and hear how they can create the latest and greatest offering to transform their business or industry.