Have you ever wished for a personal assistant you could summon with a word? Thanks to recent advancements in voice assistant technology, that dream is closer to reality than ever before.
Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand voice commands and perform tasks. They learn from experience and get smarter as time goes on.
With nearly 70% of small business owners so busy at work they skip meals, and many overwhelmed with administrative tasks, are voice assistants the answer to a prayer?
Americans may joke about “robot overlords” taking our jobs, but when it comes to voice assistants, we’re embracing them with open arms. More than half (52%) of U.S. adults use voice assistants on their mobile devices, and Juniper Research predicts use of voice assistants will only continue to grow.
Many consumers use voice assistants via “smart speakers” at home. Amazon's Echo Dot, pictured below, was the top-selling product on Amazon over Black Friday weekend last year. Juniper Research also predicted that a majority (55%) of U.S. households will have a smart speaker device as soon as 2022.
While they can't drive you to work, give you a shoulder rub or prepare lunch while you work at your desk, voice assistants can do quite a lot of things for you hands-free. This enhances productivity, since you can type and call out voice commands at the same time.
Voice assistants are also a boon to people with physical limitations, like carpal tunnel syndrome, who can’t use their hands for long periods. According to Invoca, 58% of people with voice assistants now use voice interactions to accomplish tasks previously done by typing or swiping.
Here are the most popular things Americans use their smart speakers for:
Of course, these are consumer uses, but many of them could be just as easily applied to business purposes.
Here are some ways a voice assistant can help make your life easier.
1. Start your day off right
Get an overview of your day by having your assistant read you your upcoming schedule, weather, reminders, top news stories or whatever you choose while you enjoy your coffee.
2. Control your smart office or smart home office
If you have smart devices such as thermostats, lighting or locks in your home office or office, you can set up voice assistants to control them. For example, you can lock and unlock the office door, turn on lights, start printers, change the background music in your store, or adjust the temperature in your office without getting up from your desk.
3. Handle banking and payments
Use voice commands to check your bank balance and send money to vendors or suppliers through apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Square Cash.
4. Manage your calendar
How much easier would it be it to talk to a voice assistant and ask them to schedule a meeting than to go through endless games of phone tag or “reply all” email chains? Link a voice assistant to your email and calendar and it can schedule meetings and even notify people you've invited.
5. Set reminders
Tell your voice assistant to remind you to do something at a certain time or when you are in a certain location (“Remind me to call Jenny when I get in the car.”) Microsoft Cortana automatically suggests reminders when it's connected to Gmail or to Office 365.
6. Manage emails and text messages
Have your voice assistant send emails or texts while you're driving or walking without worrying about accidents. Set up your assistant to read your texts and emails to you, then dictate answers for the assistant to send.
7. Navigate traffic
Use your voice assistant to get directions to that client meeting, find out what type of traffic to expect and get estimated travel times.
8. Manage travel arrangements
A voice assistant can order an Uber or Lyft for you, make hotel, flight or rental car reservations, and see if your flight is on time.
9. Make phone calls
Tell a voice assistant to "call Steve" or dial into your conference call number for you — no more need to look up numbers or dial-in codes.
10. Make lists
Use a voice assistant to dictate and manage to-do lists.
11. Get information
Ask your voice assistant to research a prospect or competitor. For example, Cortana can pull information from LinkedIn to give you an overview of all the participants in your upcoming conference call.
12. Do math
Need a quick calculation done? Now you don't even have to pull up your calculator app: just ask your voice assistant to multiply 3,482 x 9,565 for you.
13. Use apps
Voice assistants can open apps for you, but they also integrate with other apps, such as IFTTT (If This, Then That) that you can use to set up rules and shortcuts.
Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are the four major contenders in the voice assistant world.
1. Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, is built into iOS devices and computers, as well as Apple’s smart speaker, the HomePod.
2. Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, is tightly integrated with Windows and Office. It’s built into Windows computers and devices (however, you can also install it on iOS and Android devices) and powers Invoke, Microsoft’s smart speaker.
3. Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, is built into Amazon’s Echo line of smart speakers. Alexa has “skills” similar to apps on your smartphones (use SkillFinder to search skills).
Over at Business News Daily, Mona Bushnell conducted a user test of all four voice assistants for business purposes. The results were often hilarious:
“When I asked Google Assistant to find a specific restaurant, it did, but when I asked it to book a reservation for me, it inexplicably took me to DisneyWorld.com.” “When I said, "I need help finding a restaurant," Siri responded with a list of Google results that were literally instructions on how to find a restaurant.”
To decide which of the four is right for you:
This is an exciting time for voice assistant technology. All four platforms mentioned are undergoing rapid development, adding new features, and partnering with third-parties to offer more functionality to users.
AI-powered technology like voice assistants can help level the playing field for small businesses, making it easier for them to do battle with bigger competitors. But voice assistants aren’t the only form of AI that can make small business owners’ lives easier. Lead generation software can serve as a “personal assistant” to your sales team, automating reminders to your salespeople to reach out to leads, setting up appointments, and sending follow-up emails or text messages. If you’d like to explore further, here are five features you should look for in a lead generation solution and tips for comparing lead generation tools.
As AI becomes more available to small business owners, take advantage of its many applications—from voice assistants to lead generation software—to help you run a better business.