Close the sale, Alexa!

Voice control has come a long way and will be a key element of future smart homes, so salespeople need to hone their skills and show customers how it can benefit their everyday lives, says T21 managing director Paul Laville

“Xbox, on.” Nothing. I clear my throat, try again. “Xboxon!”

Still nothing. “Xbox… ON!”

People around me shuffle awkwardly. They check their Apple Watches in case anything more interesting is going on there.

There really isn’t.

“Xbox on?”

I try it again, many times; louder, quieter, using different inflections, different accents.

At some random point in my tirade the console makes a ‘p-plink’ noise and a nice graphic swooshes into life on the telly. Well, that was easier than pressing a button, wasn’t it?

So began and ended my one great demonstration for the kings of Silicon Valley not so long ago.

Needless to say, my Xbox Kinect now props up a wobbly table in the garden. Actually, someone else’s garden.

Voice control

Never mind, we’ll get there one day. In fact, that day could be upon us sooner than we think. The global market for speech and voice recognition technology is estimated to reach a value of $11.9 billion by 2022. It was $3.73bn in 2015, so that’s a lot of growth being forecast. And no one was pushing numbers like this when 3D TV came out, so let’s all agree right here that voice-control technology is no passing fad.

Until recently, it’s been a market driven primarily by the integration of digital assistants in our phones. But with the launch of Amazon’s Echo earlier this year, and now Google’s brand new smart-hub Google Home, voice-control technology is set to go mass-market.

The difference between Home and Echo, and Xbox Kinect, is that the new devices are far more useful to many more people than a plastic house brick aimed at a small percentage of hardcore gamers. This is important because a product’s usefulness and real-world practicality is, at least in my opinion, one of the best ways to distinguish between gadgets of generous gimmickry and something that is likely to bed down into the roots of peoples’ lifestyles and become ubiquitous. Like a smartphone.

But of course, not every customer gets it right away, so it’s down to you to ‘join the dots’ for them. Which is easy, right?

Take the digital assistant in your phone. Even if your customer only used Siri once to find the nearest Starbucks, they know what it is. So the idea of using voice for search commands is nothing new. The other great thing these hubs do is they cast content around the house, different tunes to different rooms, which again is something to which more people are becoming accustomed. And even if they haven’t done any of that themselves, at least they know about it.

We’re also used to the idea of apps. Echo calls them skills because they’re designed to evolve and make the technology more personal, but they’re apps nonetheless, and it won’t be long before Google Home has access to everything since the dawn of time. The point is, when you’re demonstrating, you don’t have to explain the idea of apps, simply find the ones that are most beneficial to your customer and show how their lives will change for the better.

So most of the hard work of ‘selling the idea’ of a voice-controlled smart hub has already been done, a lot of the technology, in principle, is not so new – it’s the application of it that has evolved. All you need to do is demonstrate that it really is much easier to use your voice than press a button to cast your music, change your lighting, ring out for a pizza and grab directions for tomorrow’s journey.

Questions

But don’t just demonstrate the same thing to everyone. Unless you’re pitching to a crowd in the style of a carnival showman, remember to ask questions of your customer first. Uncover their lifestyle needs and find those little areas in their daily routines where the technology fits seamlessly. Remember that open questions will prod customers to reveal information about their needs. Imagine you’re asking Google Home or Alexa where the best pizza comes from. You don’t just ask “Is it from Domino’s?”

As both ecosystems battle for dominance and other players join the market, each will make its competitor better, which is great for the consumer, so imagine where it will all be when the market reaches saturation in space-year 2022. Frankly though, I’m there now, because if all I have to do is say “OK, Google, I want Lady Gaga and pizza in my bedroom right now, lights on super low, temperature frosty,” while my hands are full, then it’s happy days as far as I’m concerned.