In 2020, voice is going to make tremendous inroads in a number of ways: and one of them is by helping us live more efficiently. Now, the phrase “operational efficiency” is hardly the stuff of inspiration for futurists or consumers. But making our lives more efficient at work and at home can unlock the power of voice.

Achieving operational efficiency is so important that Salesforce is banking its future on it. At its annual Dreamforce event, Salesforce announced a major expansion of its Einstein voice assistant, which Salesforce introduced originally in 2018 to make it possible for its customers to manage their customer relationship management needs with their voices. According to Salesforce, Einstein is going to power every conceivable way that people in the workplace manage their Salesforce data, for instance:

  • Einstein Voice Skills will empower company admins and developers to build custom, voice-powered Salesforce apps tailored to any role or industry, giving every employee a personalized CRM guide.
  • Service Cloud Voice integrates telephony into a unified agent console, which makes it possible for Einstein to offer recommendations in real time to improve service.
  • Einstein Call Coaching helps managers spot trends within conversational data and provide sales reps with the best practices and insights needed to optimize every customer call.

This news is significant for a number of reasons, including:

  • Salesforce is a bellwether company, with more than 150,000 companies using its product. When Salesforce invests in a technology, we can expect others to follow. As such, I read the announcement as a harbinger for how voice may grow in 2020 on the enterprise side.
  • The creation of customized voice assistants also demonstrates the uptake of voice. Within just a few short years, the voice industry is progressing from just a few players (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft) dominating the creation of voice-based products to more businesses getting involved. Salesforce is not the only company launching and developing its own voice assistant. Recently, the BBC announced the launch of its own voice assistant in 2020.

You might wonder why these developments matter. This is where achieving operational efficiency comes into play. Consider the number of clicks it takes to find information or a report – or even someone’s contact information or most recently contacted date depending on the CRM you use. Now imagine how long it takes you to ask for that information –

“Einstein, tell me the last time we contacted Mr. Jones?” or “Einstein, call Mr. Jones” or “Einstein, email the contact information for Mr. Jones to Ms. Sally Doe.”

As a user, you’ve gone from spending time looking for information to readily taking action – not to mention freeing up your hands to do other things; altogether, users are becoming more productive. Simple, right?!

But operational efficiency is seen in a slightly different light when it comes to consumers’ lives: it’s the business of living. Operational efficiency needs to be considered in terms of what’s relevant to each person’s life (or at least user groups’ lives). Consumer-facing voice assistants have captured the attention of technology analysts and writers for the past few years, and with good reason: people are buying voice-enabled products with breathtaking speed. According to NPR and Edison Research, there are now nearly 120 million smart speakers in U.S. homes, representing 78 percent year-over-year growth.

Now think about consumer operational efficiency and today’s societal demands to get more done. We’ve all heard it before: “there aren’t enough hours in the day.” If there aren’t enough hours, and we cannot create more hours, we must be faster with the things we have to do in order to make room for the ones we didn’t have time for previously. Most consumers are using voice commands to accomplish simple tasks such as checking the weather, setting a timer, or creating a reminder. An app such as Einstein, though, could begin to make people (more) comfortable using their voices to manage complex (or just complicated) tasks/problems in everyday life, which is very intriguing – and ultimately where AI assistants are headed.

Salesforce isn’t the only company going for an operational efficiency play in the enterprise. Amazon has embarked on its Alexa for Business offering. Amazon wants businesses to get more comfortable using Alexa to manage their calendars, meetings, and a host of other administrative tasks. Even so, the use cases on Amazon’s blog focus on managing fairly simple tasks, such as alerting teammates when you are running late for a meeting. This is not to diminish the value of these functions; it’s just that we still have a long way to go in trusting devices to manage more complex business needs.

In showcasing Einstein, Salesforce Chief Product Officer Bret Taylosaid,

“We’re really excited about the idea of voice in businesses — the idea that every business can have an AI guide to their business decisions. I view it as part of this progression of technology. Computers and software started in the terminal with a keyboard, thanks to Xerox Parc moved to a mouse and graphic user interface, and then thanks to Steve Jobs, moved to a touchscreen, which I think is probably the dominant form factor for computers nowadays. And voice is really that next step.”

Those are heady words, but they are not unreasonable. The key is developing the AI to make us trust voice-enabled products with our jobs. If we can do that, we’re more likely to trust voice to accomplish more complex tasks on the consumer side.

It’s going to be an exciting #voicefirst 2020!

Mark Persaud

Mark Persaud

Practice Lead, Immersive Reality