The Conversation Economy: Voice Is Making A Comeback

Conversation is back. More than a cultural phenomenon, it’s an opportunity for marketers to answer the call.

The Conversation Economy: Voice Is Making A Comeback

Something unexpected is happening in the digital age: Voice communication is making a comeback.

It appears that people have a hunger for voice in a way that digital interactions—with all their clean, modern convenience—just don’t satisfy. Businesses and investors have taken notice, pouring money into technology that facilitates conversation, either through phone calls or smart tools that “talk back.” Look at the momentum that’s been building around conversation technology: Not only is Twilio (APIs for voice and messaging) rumored to be on the verge of an IPO, call-based companies Unmute, Aircall, and Pindrop raised $100 million in the first month of this year alone.

It’s not just startups that are investing in conversations. Apple, Google, and Amazon are making major investments in smart assistants like Siri and Alexa that communicate through speech. As I opened Google Docs to begin working on this article, the tool alerted me about the new option to “type” using my voice.

The market is quantifying something many of us inherently understand: Digital screens supplement conversation; they don’t replace it. Here are three reasons why we’re seeing an economy evolve around the interaction of technology and conversation.

When It Matters, People Want To Talk

When people need advice, face a major purchase decision, or have big news to share, they want to talk.

In a recent survey, Invoca asked 2,000 U.S. adults how they’d choose to relay a major life event like getting engaged, divorced, or announcing a pregnancy. The majority chose to call (over options like email, SMS, social media, messaging, or video apps) in every situation.

There’s an important business lesson here as well: Companies win loyalty and sales when they act as a resource and make it easy for customers to reach another person. A recent Google report found that 61% of mobile searchers said that the ability to call is “extremely/very important” in the purchase phase of the shopping process. The previously cited Invoca survey also found that 68% of people will only search for two minutes or less for a company’s phone number on its website before moving on to a competitor. It pays to make your phone number easy to find.

Mobile Experiences Are Ready To Evolve

Businesses have caught on that people use their phones for everything and are now differentiating on the mobile experience as a result.

Phase one of this transition involved mobile-optimized landing pages and websites. Phase two will involve fully integrating phone calls into omnichannel marketing strategies. Say, for example, you’re doing research for an upcoming vacation, and you place a call to learn more about the package you’re considering—an all-inclusive Mediterranean cruise, with family-friendly activities and nightly, live music. Assuming you don’t book the trip on the call, you should receive a personalized email and retargeting ad within the next day, referencing the specific criteria you mentioned during the previous day’s conversation and prompting you to complete your booking. This connection between online and offline data is the next frontier for mobile marketing.

Voice Trumps Clicks For Insight And Connection

Now that we’ve moved past the honeymoon phase of digital marketing, it’s time to recognize its shortcoming as well as its capabilities.Clicks don’t create an emotionally engaging experience for customers. A website can’t read your emotional state, interpret what you’re saying, proactively address your concerns, or make you feel heard.

A recent Forrester report illuminates the business opportunity posed by conversations with customers: “The tone, pace, or word choice used by a caller provides better evidence of their emotional state than digital behaviors can … One major bank used speech analytics to identify disgruntled callers and target particular offers and agents to them in order to get them to buy.” It’s commonly accepted now that businesses need to capture data around customer behavior online. It’s time we apply the same standard to offline conversations as well.

The conversation economy isn’t just coming—it’s already here. We can speculate about whether this trend is due to philosophical forces—conversation is a key part of what makes us human—or practical ones, the result of always having our phones nearby. Regardless, this shift represents a force that will have major implications for how businesses interact with customers and how marketers prioritize their spending. The savviest “digital marketers” are discovering that the phone is a key part of their omnichannel strategy and that conversations are the best way to turn customer touch points into emotional connections with brands.

Conversation is back. More than a cultural phenomenon, it’s an opportunity for marketers to answer the call.