Voice assistants: from servants to storytellers

Jake Strong

by Jake Strong

One in five Alexa owners in the UK use the cutting-edge technology to help them boil an egg. From this we can learn two things1. Firstly, yes, culinary prowess did indeed bypass the British Isles on its way to France. Secondly, we may not be making the most of voice assistants. Research conducted by VentureBeat suggests that the two most popular uses for voice assistants are to play music and check the weather. Right. We’re almost certainly not making the most of voice assistants.


That’s not to downplay the value of convenience. If you live in a windowless cave, the ability to ask Alexa whether you’ll need a raincoat or not is no doubt helpful. But what potential do voice assistants have outside of skipping tracks and predicting downpours? Let’s find out.

Generational acceptance of voice assistants

“Turn that thing off, it’s spying on us!” and similar sentiments were pervasive when voice assistants first began to gain traction. A recent survey by Clutch revealed that people are concerned about voice assistants storing personal information (31%) and recording conversations (30%) without their knowledge2. A separate study suggests that 40% are worried that their voice assistants might start talking to each other in a language we can’t understand3. Probably swapping boiled egg recipes.

Jokes aside, concerns over privacy and data misuse continue to circle around the tech industry, and with good cause. However, despite this, it is estimated that there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 20234. How else will we know when are eggs are done!?

The children, would somebody please think of the children!

A generation of users is growing up completely acclimatised to Alexia, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant and the like, which means voice assistants are set to become a very familiar part of our lives. It is estimated that 15% of parents use their voice assistants to entertain their children5. Dutch eCommerce site bol.com inventively capitalised on this trend with the release of a story-driven voice experience built on Google’s Dialogflow platform.

Dialogflow enables businesses to build engaging voice and text-based conversational interfaces like voice apps and chatbots. Customers can interact with these apps and bots on your website or mobile app, as well as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, and more.

Bol.com’s experience was targeted at young children in the lead up to the festive season, leveraging the Natural Language Processor (NLP) included in Google Dialogflow, as well as user location and weather information to create an emotive, personalised and interactive narrative experience driven by user responses6.

My Dutch colleague Mark tried it out with his child and loved it!

“Hey Google, what’s next for voice?”

Bol.com’s narrative experience proves that the potential of voice assistants extends far beyond simple tasks and information requests. The opportunities for businesses to create emotive, personalised experiences using voice assistants cannot be understated. And with the emergence of  a new generation of users who are both accepting of and receptive to voice assistant technology, there's a ready market for these experiences.