THE VOICE: the lost treasure of operators
Voice is a subject that operators have long mastered but whose value has decreased dramatically since the arrival of the Internet. In France, everyone remembers the tariffs at the beginning of the 2000s at 59€ per month containing 3 hours of calls to be used 7 days a week and an unlimited number of calls (generally in the evening from 10pm to 8am and on weekends). However, the arrival of 3G will have shifted all operators’ flat-rate ranges towards the valuation of Megabytes rather than call minutes, first 100MB and then 500MB up to 100GB today. On the other hand, the voice did the opposite, making 3 hours of calls, unlimited on weekends, then in the evening, then all week long. Few tariffs today do not offer unlimited calls and icing on the cake, international is now included at the same price!
If the consumer (and we, the authors of this article), are delighted with this price evolution in our favour, the operators on their side have enough to bite their fingers by having lost part of their profitability. Indeed, ARPU decreases by an average of €6 between 2006 and 2012 and has been completely eroded since the arrival of Free in 2012 and the price war on mobile packages (source: Next Inpact).
Despite the decreasing interest in voice over the last ten years, new opportunities have recently emerged around innovations such as Podcast or Voice Assistants, but they de facto exclude non-technophiles and monetization opportunities are in the hands of the major web players. Operators are thus put aside, both with regard to users and their new habits, which are and will be disrupted by these gadgets, and with regard to brands that will no longer use their services.
LEGITIMITY: Why do operators always have a role to play on the voice?
Operators always have a good shot to make since they have control over their audience (which always needs to communicate and therefore uses the operators’ infrastructure) and the different multiple channels available to reach this audience. Adding to these two factors the fact that voice was their core business some twenty years ago, operators are perfectly legitimate to position themselves on these subjects.
Audience is the main strength of operators. Each French operator has around ten million mobile subscribers, with pricing offers containing the vast majority of data. These customers are representative of the French population according to the law of large numbers and we find there ultra-technophiles profiles as well as others less at ease with technologies.
If we see that most operators offer voice related functionalities on their Internet box remote controls, on their mobile applications, it would seem that all projects are oriented around Internet user customers, because this is where the majority of customers reside. This unfortunately excludes from services, and therefore from monetization, 25% of the population who do not have a smartphone (source: 2018 Digital Barometer on https://www.arcep.fr/ downloadable here). And since all the recent voice players are digitally backed, there is still 25% of customers they cannot address and for whom operators are the preferred interlocutors!
The other strength of operators is multi-channel. Whether through the quadruple play offers including the mobile device (Smartphone, Feature Phone), Internet box, TV set-top box or fixed telephone, the operators’ own contact points are numerous and some are strictly inaccessible to other players. SIM cards are a good example. This operator-specific communication channel can be used to offer services on SIM cards. This was the case with the SIM Toolkit, which has already been available for some operators for a few years, but it is possible to go even further by offering voice content on the SIM cards phonebook: the customer then calls a service offered by the operator and starts consuming voice content.
THE FUTURE: what are the next steps?
If the audience seems receptive and distribution allows it, everything seems to be in working order for operators to start building up the use of voice and enhancing it. To do this, we share with you our vision of this construction by distinguishing several types of voices:
1. Mobile Voice Services
This is the most basic interaction via the voice channel: the user listens to content, searches for a service using voice as an interface and as a channel. This is the case, for example, when you launch a voice command on your phone, when you listen to content. The simplicity of access for all customers, the simplicity of service consumption and the ease of monetizing this value-added content are the simplest, fastest and most effective way to recreate value with voice today. For more information, see our article “5 Steps to Setup Mobile Voice Services“.
IT IS ESSENTIAL TO PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE NOW, BUT WE MUST NOT FORGET TO TAKE CARE OF TODAY FIRST!
When the user consumes his or her favourite content exclusively by voice. If monetization is still in its infancy today, CPMs on some French podcast shows with highly qualified listeners can be negotiated over €8 and it is likely to explode in the coming years (source: Les Echos, September 2019 here). This represents a double advantage for operators: the distribution of their enriched and exclusive content in a new format (when the operator is backed by a large media group producing content like news flashes, sports news, etc.) and the ability to monetize everything via their own advertising agencies directly and without intermediaries.
3. Voice Assistants
Although some operators have begun to work on the subject by forging partnerships with GAFAs or trying to develop their own solution, the difficulty lies both in the distribution of content (the proposed channel does not easily highlight its content compared to the competition) and in the extremely difficult monetization (the purchases made are often not for the benefit of the operators, not to mention the margin of the Vocal Assistants manufacturers). Everything therefore seems to indicate that the future of Voice Assistants as we know it today is only a first step towards what Jean-Christophe Israel (Calvista) calls the “Voice and Display”, where, as in a science fiction film, the voice mixes with a screen for both vocal and digital interaction.
PREPARING: how to start building the use of voice?
If we must prepare for the future now, we must not forget to take care of today! Depending on the operator’s objectives (profitability, customer education, innovation…) several solutions are possible. At The Mobile Concept we recommend starting with the simplest and most efficient, on a project that does not require a lot of financial resources or time dedicated to launching the project.
Then each operator should start asking questions about the voice interface and the added value it intends to bring to its customers:
- Choice of channel and added value for both customer and operator
- Definition of a voice interface (UX and UI Voice)
- Definition of service for the customer (relevance, utility, frequency of use, monetization)
- Definition of a voice brand (finding a voice that embodies the brand, its values, and speaks to all customers)
While planning all these topics requires the setting up of project teams with a substantial budget, it is first possible to set up Mobile Voice Services that already meet all these criteria and which constitute a springboard towards the future of voice.