Voice Tech’s Critical Role in B2B’s Post-Pandemic Transformation

B2B companies have been hit hard by the pandemic and, like their B2C counterparts, have had to shift their business, operating, and digital strategies; forced to pivot away from their tried-and-true methodologies. 

For many, COVID-19 took a painstakingly well-developed, well-oiled, supply chain and riddled it with broken links. In addition to sourcing challenges, dependable customers disappeared overnight and, in some cases, a demand for nonstandard products or services arose from unexpected sectors.   


It took “a perfect storm” to kick-start transformation

This perfect storm of factors has served as a long-overdue catalyst to initiate change, and a universal rallying cry has been issued: Innovate or perish, except on an expedited timeline.

That’s why many B2B ventures spent the spring of 2020 looking for ways to innovate while struggling to maintain their bottom lines, mostly through cost-cutting measures, but also through business model re-imagining. That’s why it’s odd for many of us who study emerging technologies that B2B businesses have, surprisingly, overlooked the application of voice tech. It’s a powerful tool that can drive efficiencies in a B2B environment, and yet its adoption has been markedly slow.


Voice tech as a B2B tool

Voice technology has been accepted readily by consumers who thrill at controlling household utilities like their lighting, heating, and home security devices with simple voice commands. While consumers empower their homes using voice activation, it’s interesting to note that many B2B companies fail to see how the same technology could be used to increase efficiencies in their warehouses and other facilities. 

The reality is, in many instances, voice technology can drive operational, supply chain, and account management efficiencies. It can be a key differentiator, especially when it comes to scaling and sustaining growth, particularly for those looking to make their mark in the coming post-pandemic market.

Whether defined as a B2B or B2C, every company is trying to innovate right now, preparing for the new, still loosely defined, marketplace that will emerge as soon as the health crisis subsides. Each of these businesses is working to create better products and services, streamline processes, and enhance experiences, as UX assumes more gravitas now that it’s been proven to impact revenue growth. Voice tech can help with this process. 


What’s slowing down the adoption of B2B voice tech?

Often dismissed as a novelty used only by consumers to get the local weather report or turn on lights, voice technology actually has the power to transform an industry. While use cases for voice technology in enterprises are often difficult to identify at first (recalling the old adage: cannot see the forest for the trees), it’s pretty clear B2B businesses should be investing in voice technology. Period.

Advances in artificial intelligence and voice recognition algorithms mean voice commands can go from simple to complex and integrate data from multiple sources. Voice tech is currently being used in business for tasks such as dictating notes, reading emails aloud, placing orders, retrieving business reporting numbers (e.g., “What is our gross margin with Customer X in January?”), changing manufacturing lines/molds that have RPA enabled by a simple command – voice holds tremendous potential for employees, enterprises, consumers, and B2B.

Use cases are manifesting themselves across the entire business spectrum. Consider these recent applications:

  • Supply chain management. The pandemic has forever changed consumer behavior. Today, business customers expect more from their online experience, looking for technology to provide the services once rendered by account reps. An AI-powered, voice-based dashboard now gives managers the means to make supply chains more visible and efficient. Now a client can literally ask, “Where’s our order?” or “What’s the status of delivery to our Topeka warehouse?” Voice creates a more natural and easier way to get answers to those questions, faster and more effectively, by removing the friction of dashboards and their multiple clicks.
  • Customer relationship management. Traditional CRM is fraught with inefficiency. Fortunately, platforms such as Salesforce are starting to address that problem with tools such as Einstein Voice for Conversational CRM, which makes it possible for account teams to update CRM records and receive personalized updates faster than before. It’s not just the voice interface that matters, it’s also supplying real-time account updates thanks to AI. SAP provides similar voice-based functionality with SAP Business by Design.

The two examples above represent an important new reality with voice: Everyone thinks about voice as either a small add-on or a (too) big platform. And while the movement and impact are big, the use cases where the capability adds value doesn’t have to be. It is a channel that can live within or atop current applications and digital ecosystems. But most important, is the VALUE this capability provides people: a frictionless way to expedite access and enter information; reduce the amount of time in front of a screen; and reduce the amount of time employees spend on “busy work” to increase focus on what really matters.

And these are just two parts of these bigger business units within a B2B organization.


Overcoming challenges to voice tech

Voice tech adoption faces a number of challenges in the B2B space right now, with a lack of awareness among B2B decision-makers chief among them. While employees are using voice to manage their jobs better, many executives and senior managers fail to see how the technology can be scaled to make enterprise-wide improvements. If they understood the way voice is already being used for functions such as collaboration and productivity, they might become more inspired and confident about using voice for more complex needs — such as supply chain management.

Another challenge is businesses overcomplicating voice. Voice may be a part of a business’ overall digital strategy, but getting started isn’t complicated (as much as businesses might want to make it seem that way). Look across user group journeys and have a solution ideation session focused on voice ideas: What shakes out are some amazing possibilities to help B2B businesses run more smoothly and help your employees and customers readily connect. 

The 20th century and early 21st century were about buying big platforms with one-size-fits-all mentalities to solve IT and process problems, but we’re far past that now, and onto human-centric intelligent products and platforms that provide both the depth and breadth to grow. Creating the use case with a team to ensure what you’re creating is the right strategy for product-market fit for you is where we are today. That is to say, buying some voice thing is not the route to go. Rather, you’ll need to design the right voice experience for your business, customers, and/or personnel needs.


Identifying how voice can change your business

B2B decision-makers can use techniques such as design sprints to quickly create, test, and learn about user interaction with voice-based applications applied to their organization. With design sprints, a business spends four days developing prototypes for how voice can address different needs in a human-centric way and to create value for the business. The potential power of voice technology for your B2B business lies in the ways it can provide instant access to information, entry of information/modifications, and/or removal of small fatigue-inducing (i.e. extraneous clicks) steps for your business.

Mark Persaud headshot

Mark Persaud is head of emerging technology experiences at Moonshot, the innovation arm of Pactera EDGE. Moonshot employs a user-centric mentality and believes in new-age experiences with emerging and immersive technologies like voice, chatbots, augmented reality, and virtual reality. 

  • Originally published January 26, 2021