How Smart Assistant Companies Can Innovate and Improve Their Product

Aug 22, 2019

The verdict is in: Smart assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant make consumers’ lives easier and more convenient. The devices accomplish tasks that would otherwise take too much time or effort for customers to do on their own. And entertainment options, like playing music and movies, adds value for the whole family. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. There are definite pain points that need to be addressed if smart assistant companies want to expand their customer base.

When we set out to understand the customer journey for smart assistants, we learned a whole lot about how consumers decide to purchase a smart assistant and how they use it throughout the day. Our online respondents gave us candid answers that revealed what worked, what didn’t, and what they wanted to see changed or improved.

So the logical next question is, what do smart assistant companies do with this information?

Especially in burgeoning arenas like artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and connected homes, consumers are forming complex and nuanced impressions of the new devices and technologies available in the market, and they’ll increasingly demand that these technologies be aligned with their exact needs. With all the talk out there about the importance of product development and innovation, at the end of the day it all stems from a deeper understanding of the customer and being able to truly experience what they experience.  

So let’s take a deeper dive into another aspect of our smart assistant research and discuss the thought processes and pain points consumers revealed around buying and using their smart assistant. We’ll also talk about what smart assistant companies can do with this information to innovate and improve their products.

Sales opportunity: “What does it do for me?”

Nope, it’s not just a question vaguely reminiscent of a Janet Jackson song from the 1980s. It’s a question that consumers are asking themselves when they first become aware of smart assistants via television, print, or online ads. And while an ad can’t do much in the way of showing how a smart assistant actually works, an in-store demo can.

After the seed of awareness is planted for consumers, they’re doing a lot of research, comparing brands and features and talking to friends and family members who already have a smart assistant. All kinds of factors come into play, including ease of use, price, how convenient it is to buy, and the biggie: how well the smart assistant can be integrated into their daily life. So it’s imperative that potential customers get as much useful information about the smart assistant upfront to help them confidently make a purchase decision.

What companies can do with this knowledge: Smart assistant companies can leverage the consumer’s research phase by providing in-depth online resources that clearly lay out how their product will improve a customer’s life. Remember: easy integration is a key consideration among consumers. Companies should also think about providing in-store demos of their products to help draw in potential customers and let them really experience the product for themselves.

Pain point #1: “She doesn’t understand me!”

Is that your teenager talking? Oh, wait. No. That’s just you ranting about your smart assistant.

Without exception, the largest dislike expressed across all smart assistant users, regardless of brand, is that the device doesn’t always understand what the user is saying or else mishears them, leading to misinformation, frustration, and wasted time when trying to accomplish tasks. If the purpose of smart assistants is to make life easier and more convenient and allow users to multi-task, then frustrations with the voice recognition feature is job #1 to resolve.

One respondent’s lament pretty much summed it up: “Sometimes she doesn’t understand my requests and starts talking about things that are in no way associated with what I have asked her. Frustrating at times!”

What companies can do with this knowledge: No surprise here: Smart assistant companies should improve the voice recognition feature so it can more intuitively interact with the user. Again, going back to the integration factor, if the voice recognition feature could be customized and personalized so that the user doesn’t have to unduly alter the way they speak or how they ask questions, then smart assistants could fit more seamlessly into consumers’ lives.

Pain point #2: “I wish it was compatible.”

Second only to problems with the voice recognition feature is compatibility with other devices, or the lack thereof. The consumers who are purchasing smart assistants often have other devices in their homes that they’d like to connect their smart assistant to and vice versa, even across competing brands, but so far this is proving to be difficult. 

Since more devices, not less, is our likely future, some level of interoperability has to be built into smart assistants today. In fact, recent Pew research found that a third of U.S. households now have three or more smartphones, and one in five are “hyper-connected,” or have at least 10 devices that include smartphones, laptops, streaming media devices, and others. Eventually, if not already, cross-brand compatibility will have to be figured out.

One of our respondents, who has Apple’s Siri, laid it down in no uncertain terms: “I wish it was compatible with my Amazon Echo that I have at home.”

What companies can do with this knowledge: Competitive concerns aside, smart assistant companies should find a way to offer more compatibility across different brands’ smart devices and apps. It could mean being able to plug one smart assistant capability into another brand’s product if that capability is more developed or fine-tuned — say, searching the Internet, for example — to enable a greater level of usability and customer satisfaction all the way around.  

The ideal smart assistant

Why not shoot for the stars? If money, time, and resources were no object, how would consumers build the ideal smart assistant?

It’s actually pretty straightforward: The optimal smart assistant would have a better understanding of users’ voices to eliminate miscommunication and frustration, and users would be able to personalize and customize it to accommodate voice, language, and request nuances. The smart assistant would also be able to continually learn and evolve based on the conversations users have with it. And it would be compatible with other devices so users have many more options in how the smart assistant can be used.

Our respondents in their own words:

  • “My main focus would be on improving Siri’s understanding and processing requests more successfully and consistently.” (Siri user)
  • “I would add some more customization to make your own commands. Currently you’re allowed to do simple things like make Alexa say things or set routines, but I’d like to have some form of an app builder built into Alexa’s interface to make more customizable experiences.” (Alexa user)
  • “I would just add additional features and downloads to enhance the experience and make life even more convenient. Also, seamless interaction with other smart devices is essential.” (Google Assistant user)

As the next generation of smart assistants makes their way out of the manufacturers and into the homes of consumers, it’ll be interesting to see how the customer experience will evolve. For now, smart assistant companies can use this information to begin to really zero in on the capabilities consumers are looking for today and then iterate on the products already in the market. 

Check out the full Smart Assistant Customer Research report to see more detailed learnings on how consumers’ feel about smart assistants and their customer journey.

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