Virtual Assistant Technology for Small Business Success

Each year developments in technology continue to alter the way we communicate and conduct business. As a small business owner, some of the most important decisions you make are regards to how and when you deploy new tech solutions in your own company office.

And as the way we interact with the Internet moves further away from the keyboard and touchscreen and closer towards the human voice itself, changes of great magnitude lie ahead for small businesses and small business owners. Digital assistants Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Siri are “intelligent”, voice-controlled softwares with the ability to learn and adapt to your needs and preferences. While this may still sound like the start of a bad science fiction film, when put to practice they can be a great asset to your company’s bottom line.

As these tools gain more users and features, it’s important for all entrepreneurs to consider how they may incorporate voice into their business strategy. From fresh advertising and marketing approaches to new opportunities in efficiency and cost-savings, voice tech is a momentous step forward across the digital communication landscape.

Alexa, Siri, and their cohorts are bolstered by sophisticated Natural Language Processing algorithms. Now there’s much more to do than simply playing your favorite music album or ordering a pizza for delivery - with voice-activated search you can create an entirely connected office environment. The more well known applications for these devices, like controlling thermostats, lighting, and building security cameras, have some clear cost-saving benefits. For example, with a remote app on your phone, you can monitor and control features of your building without being physically present yourself.

But these tools can do more than interact with your physical office environment - they can also take over some of the routine tasks you complete manually each day and interact with customers to set appointments or answer basic help questions. The AI software within these assistants is flexible in such a way that no many what your company does, it’s possible to create new hands-free efficiencies personalized to your unique needs.

Amazon has opened up Alexa's system for independent developers to add "skills", which are very much like new apps for your tablet. Ordering office supplies, checking the weather, or setting reminders via voice-to-text applications requires no more than a simple spoken command. You can also ask “her” to spell a word, or, with the My Translator skill,  even translate languages with near total accuracy. Google Home is working on a similar skill. Twitter has already issued a skill to allow people to tweet via Alexa. And because it is software, not hardware, the same virtual intelligence works with you remotely on your phone that works with you in the office - making for an individual experience no matter where you are.  

Apple's Siri has been on the iPhone for years, and, with an announcement at WWDC 2017 a few weeks ago, the company has promised to update her for home and office management as well. However, Amazon's Alexa has been dominating the pack in sales for the last year, and it appears that, with the opening up of the system to skill developers, it will likely continue to do so. Apple is notorious for closed systems, which has certain advantages, but for mass marketing, freeing up app development can allow more space for visionary leaps and bounds.

There are, of course, the security risks to keep in mind when considering the practicality of voice assistants for business. One excellent suggestion is to mute it when not in use. It is possible to delete all recordings - like clearing your browser history - however it’s more effective to simply avoid speaking sensitive financial or personal information aloud in a public setting. Maintain tight security protocols on your company’s WiFi network, because the more secure your general network, the better off all your devices are.  

We are beginning to see businesses tailor their web services to fit voice technology and analyze data regarding natural questions someone might ask. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how and when to dive into voice tech, but the sooner you begin to consider its potential the more prepared you’ll be to understand the impact of these new tools on your small business.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2019
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