Amazon Echo – are you listening?

Amazon Echo is the latest attempt by the online retailer to embed themselves in the fabric of family life.

The contemporary looking new device is a snip at $99 for prime users and clearly designed to make it an impulse purchase for the early adopter consumer. As they get more familiar with using Echo, so will their less techy friends and family, and before long everyone will be “chatting” to cylinders in their homes and can’t imagine what life was like without them.

In fact, it’s quite conceivable that once the whole family is registered with this “gatekeeper “ device, they can all buy things from Amazon without going near any tech at all.

Amazon is clearly investing heavily in trying to broadly establish a consumer behaviour. While Apple, Google and Microsoft are aggressively pushing aspects of this as well, it is only in the relatively comfortable areas of phones, tablets and internet browsers. Echo is undoubtedly aimed at bringing on-board the less tech savvy.

Compared to Siri or our natural language app,  Echo is fairly simplistic. It’s not particularly chatty, we’ve yet to see any examples of a continuous conversation. Primarily it’s command and control; convert a sound based input into a trigger that fires an action. That action might drive the need for more input until the task is completed.

The focus of the Echo at the moment appears to be the refinement of the engineering required to give the acceptable level of responsiveness such as picking out different voices, filtering out ambient noise, converting the sound into an actionable input etc. However, this will reset people expectations of what and how they interact with all enterprises.

“Why do I have to click through an app or hunt for a service if I need anything from my mobile provider or bank, can’t I just ask?”

The proliferation of connected devices in the last 5 years has meant that consumers are already connected, but they are constrained by the practices of online businesses that were developed 20 years ago. Instead of an interactive experience, all consumers see are lots of shiny shop windows that push content at them whether they want it or not. And worse still, a medium that buries the content they really need.

Amazon Echo, and other devices where natural language is the primary interface, will eventually make today’s “click & search”, navigation based websites irrelevant as consumers demand a more intelligent response to their questions.

There is of course another reason Amazon is pushing so hard. They get access to unfiltered, consumer generated data. Who can tell what they’ll be able to discover from the millions of interactions that users of Echo will generate? They will learn something though, and that something might be reflected in a change of service or a new product or a new strategic alliance, taking Amazon into a whole new area of business.

The opportunity for enterprises is that they can step up now. Start to provide consumers with highly personalised, consistent, dialogue oriented customer service on the devices they use today. Or they can sit back and wait and see how the market develops like many publishers and book stores did when Amazon launched the Kindle.

Forward thinking CIOs are engaged now, looking at ways to leverage this impending change in consumer behaviour. Don’t let your customers migrate for a better experience, start delivering it yourself today.

For more information about why Natural Language technology will become the next Mission Critical technology for you Enterprise please contact Artificial Solutions.

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