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Chatbot in de woonkamer

How chatbots are going to win the battle for our living rooms

How chatbots are going to win the battle for our living rooms

For some years now a battle has been raging for consumers and their living rooms. From smart appliances which are always connected to the internet, to countless services and digital assistents. All of these trends meet in our living rooms. And the savest bet as to which innovation will carry the day? The chatbot.

A few years ago, the living room seemed to be losing its pivotal position in our homes. The rise of smartphones and fast wireless internet meant it was no longer necessary to gather in one space around the radio, television or computer. Suddenly, we could watch, listen and be online anywhere, and at any time. But research has shown that technology has actually led to a reinvention of our living rooms and their function. The living room has become the central space where families gather,  equipped with extra screens if so desired, to live – in both senses of the word . Or as it has been jokingly put: Home is where the WiFi is.

The most direct customer contact

It follows that the most customer value for businesses is found in our living rooms. When customers interact with your products directly from their most cherished private surroundings, the data generated is of enormous value. A question like ‘What are our customers doing’ may be answered more directly than ever before. It is hardly surprising that the media-industry, among others, takes this potential extremely seriously.

Television manufacturers are falling over themselves to produce SmartTV’s, hoping customers will use as many available apps as possible in an effort to gain more insight into viewing behaviour. In 2013, Microsoft unveiled its Xbox One gaming platform, emphasising its potential as a multimedial device which is about a lot more than just gaming, as part of a strategy intended to make the Windows-platform a central presence in our living rooms. A great variety of on-demand services have sprung up, offering people the possibility to build up their own television, radio, or digital library. The thinking behind these services is to create a natural spin-off effect: by getting customers to use your products, you gain better insight into customer behaviour, allowing you to offer even better services, attracting more customers to your products, and so on.

But increased interest in our living rooms is not just limited to media companies, far from it. A simultaneous, parallel trend is that of the internet of things (IoT). Meaning: connecting household devices and appliances to the internet to offer ‘smarter’ products. Think of a refridgerator which reminds you by app when you need to buy fresh milk, or a thermostat which knows when you leave for work each day and when you come back. All self-regulating appliances designed to make life easier. Name any household appliance, and chances are someone has spotted an opportunity to turn it into a ‘smart’ machine.  Occasionally, a manufacturer might even get a little carried away – like dishwashers which won’t work without an internet connection.

Voice recognition

The third technology trend we’re seeing concerns a long-held expectation finally redeemed. It’s also a trend which is going to affect the other two trends spoken of. This is working voice recognition. After years of marginal and unsatisfying products, we’ve finally landed on the right side of the line. Voice recognition can work, and figures show that customers have embraced this particular technology wholeheartedly. 25% of all searches on search engine Bing are voice queries. Google mentions 20%. Talking to your phone, or rather, to a device, is no longer a novelty. By 2020, half of all search queries are expected to be voice queries.

In reality it is only a small step from spoken search queries to using voice recognition to control your whole living room. Google and Amazon have made great strides in the development of voice recognition technology, and, rather than waiting for other companies and/or devices to catch up with their technology in terms of integration, they’ve introduced the voice-controlled assistents Home and Echo. Assistents which can be asked about the weather, the current traffic situation, how much a ticket costs to your favourite band’s next gig, up to the price of tea in China. And these devices are rapidly gaining ground: Amazon’s Echo was the Christmas gift of 2016 in the United States, with sales nine times as high as the previous year.

They’re awesome gadgets doing something never seen before. They’re versatile all-rounders, letting customers do things which were until now deemed impossible. However, Google and Amazon are without a doubt still in the experimental stage. Google messed up with some very unwelcome advertising, and stories continue to circulate about unintentional Amazon-purchases.  In the end, the devices are only as effective as voice recognition technology is at this time, but by now, it should be obvious that the possibilities will soar in the near future.

Convenience and agency

It’s obvious smart and/or IoT-devices benefit tremendously from good voice recognition technology. Maybe you’ve got them too: a collection of remote controls lying around your home. One for the television, another for your set-top box, another for the radio, and maybe even one to control the living room lights.

All of these could be replaced with voice recognition, but it would have to go beyond a few basic options. You should be able to talk to your devices: they will have to be chatbots. When you ask your digital assistent for Twilight it would come in handy if it could ask you to specify whether you mean the teenage fantasy blockbuster, or if you simply wish to adjust the light intensity in the room to a more intimate level for poker night.

A silly example maybe, but it does demonstrate the kind of savvy no single unconnected device can be made to operate with, and why voice recognition software alone is not enough. A means to give the customer control, along with a focus on growing along with their needs instead of imposing or expecting certain behaviour, that is what’s going to decide the battle for our living rooms. And (good) chatbots are all about giving their users agency. It’s like having your own digital butler trying to cater to your needs.

In terms of the development of simple voice recognition to truly understanding speech, there’s still a long way ahead. The battle for our living rooms is far from over.  The first move has only just been made, and we’ll have to wait for the digital trends to finally meet. The next step is a standardised living room environment, where the consumer experiences complete control by means of voice recognition, and is understood.

This is where the chatbot’s bright future lies. Once voice recognition has been standardised in our living rooms, the need for enhancement will rise. Consumers will start to expect more from a chatbot than just recording their favourite movie or TV series or operating a dimmer switch. Specialised chatbots capable of helping consumers at any time with the needs of the moment are no longer just a possibility, but a certainty.

From helping you do your tax returns, to looking up healthy dinner recipes and ordering the ingredients, to reading out step by step instructions for putting together a Swedish piece of furniture: you name it, there’s a chatbot waiting to be built to make life in your living room easier and more pleasant. This future is already on the horizon, even if the chatbot – as any good butler should – might still have to wait a little while for the right moment to step in and take over.

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