Changing customer expectations is the top future challenge for small businesses. Can the rising popularity of voice-activated virtual assistants help you better understand – and even exceed – your customers’ expectations. We think so.

If you’ve purchased a smartphone in the past few years you have likely experimented with one of the virtual assistants, using simple voice commands to perform tasks within your phone. Like calling Sally or checking the weather.

More recently, consumers have started investing in ‘smart speakers’ for the home that allow them to do everything from turning on the lights and adjusting the thermostat to looking up recipes and buying products online – all using voice command. At work, there are similar voice-activated technologies too.

While you might not be using these tools directly, as voice command becomes more common, it offers some interesting lessons in what makes for a great customer experience.

If you take a moment and think of yourself as an ethnographer, studying the habits and behaviours of people using voice commands, you can learn what works and what doesn’t in customer interactions. These learnings can then be applied to the more traditional communication channels a small business might lean on to serve customers every day.

Having to shout is frustrating for customers

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” is the response some virtual assistants give users, even when the user is holding their smartphones a few inches from their face. It can be a source of frustration when you have to ask or make a command more than once, or slow down and enunciate in a way that feels unnatural.

The same applies to customer service operations in a small business. When a customer has a question or problem, they want to be able to connect with you right away – and to the best source of expertise.

Providing accurate information is crucial

Because smart speakers and virtual assistants are connected to the internet, consumers naturally think they should be able to find what they’re looking for. But when their virtual friend offers up the wrong information, consumers are likely to give up and start hunting on a search engine themselves – disappointed.

The learning here is that, whether it’s a customer support agent or a sales rep, small businesses need to make sure their teams are providing accurate, up-to-date information.

Answers need to be quick

How long is anyone willing to wait for a voice-activated virtual assistant to respond? A minute? Less than 10 seconds? Even though this is a relatively new user interface, it’s surprising how fast we expect the tools to perform.

Now think of your customers. What happens when you tell them you’ll have to go away and look through a set of spreadsheets that have been buried in a desktop folder somewhere? Do you even want to admit you recorded sales or service information on a sticky note that got placed on someone’s monitor? CRM and similar applications are the best way for small businesses to respond to their customers at the pace they demand.

Customers don’t want to be bombarded

Can you imagine if Siri or Alexa started nagging you to buy things? “Hey, want a pizza? How about now?” How annoying! You’d turn your phone off and be too scared to turn it back on.

Businesses need to be equally considerate in how they make offers and pursue their customers. Marketing automation can help by tracking what kind of content customers and prospects like, and then nurture them with content based on real interest and sent by preferred communication channels.

Stay one step ahead

Voice technologies are gaining popularity because they mirror a natural communication style, but also because the technology remembers and anticipates what users want.

While you may not be able to read your customers’ minds, by using artificial intelligence tools, like Einstein, you’ll be able to look at patterns and trends among your customers, and stay one step ahead of what they are likely to want or ask for in the future.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a customer is standing in front of you, talking on the phone or communicating through some other channel. With a combination of respect, expertise and quick action, small businesses have the ability to establish and evolve some of the best customer relationships imaginable, and meet a new standard of customer expectations.

Are you prepared for changing customer expectations? Find out by downloading the Small & Medium Business Service Trends Report.