With Alexa and KFC being the first to the party, let's take a look at how other brands have been riding on voice assistants to reach consumers.
Today, if you're hankering for some fried chicken all you have to do to place a KFC order is to enable the skill from the Alexa app and just say "Alexa, start KFC", "Alexa Launch KFC", "Alexa tell KFC I am hungry" and you're in for a "finger-lickin'" surprise.
Through Alexa, users can now place a hands-free Cash-on-Delivery order with a nearby KFC. The KFC skill can be experienced across all Amazon Echo smart speakers as well as a range of Alexa-ready devices.
Thanks to this happy marriage of food and technology, KFC India becomes the first QSR brand in the country to associate with Alexa for online ordering.
The global situation:
1. Dominos' Siri-style 'voice ordering' system, developed by speech recognition firm Nuance, features software that sits alongside the brand's virtual assistant 'Dru Assist'.
2. Spirits brand, Patron Tequila, partnered with Amazon's Alexa to bring its 'Cocktail Lab' recipe library to consumers via voice activation.
3. British online supermarket brand, Ocado, released its app for Amazon's Alexa to enable customers to add groceries to their shopping list by voice command.
4. Whirlpool announced a collaboration with Amazon's Alexa that will see home appliances operated by speech.
5. In 2016, PayPal announced an update on its app on the iPhone and iPad to support a new payment transactions service via Siri, allowing users to send and request money in 30 countries around the world by voice.
6. Burger King capitalised on Google Home devices through a TV ad prompting the phrase 'OK Google, what is the Big Whopper burger.
7. Whisky giant Johnnie Walker announced a collaboration in 2017 with Amazon Alexa to create the new 'Johnnie Walker Skill'.
8. Uber also allows users to book cabs via voice command to Alexa and Google Home. On that note, in India, both Ola and Uber allow you to do the same.
Here's sneak peek of some of the other Indian brands that are digitally staying ahead of the pack across categories:
Music - Music streaming service Gaana has integrated its catalogue through an Amazon Alexa Skill allowing listeners to say "Alexa, play party music on Gaana" to get the party started.
Kids - India's favourite hero, Chhota Bheem has launched an immersive game that lets kids help the character explore the caves of Dholakpur and safely bring his friend Kalia back to the village. To start playing one simply needs to say, "Alexa, open Chhota Bheem Adventures".
Entertainment - PVR has introduced its "PVR cinemas" Skill enabling consumers to book tickets and even have a conversation with the lovable 'Bauua' from the movie Zero, available as a Skill on Alexa.
Rahul Vengalil, founder at What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm, is of the opinion that becoming a seamless part of the consumer's life is another way of offering a better customer experience.
"A brand which understands good customer experience (CX) will have to find newer and better ways to integrate their offering into a customer's life and that's what KFC has done," is his opinion.
So, is voice the way to go in India?
Given the fact that our literacy rate is about 70 per cent and the recent report on the quality of education paints a dark picture of reading skills, most people will be comfortable with speaking; an opportunity that voice is now providing to brands.
Vengalil sees this not as an advertising gimmick, but a marketing opportunity. "Imagine the possibility that brands have in rural India as well," Vengalil adds.
Notably, mobile network Jio has already integrated Google's voice assistant with its - 'Video Call Bot'
Many brands can leverage this in a big way. The key is how they are able to trace a consumer's life and where they see the best fit.
Unlike any other mediums, voice gives users the freedom to multi-task. "Other than ordering stuff, be it FMCG, restaurants or e-retailers, imagine the change this can bring to 'home cooking' as a category. Any number of brands or categories can own the space. Alexa is already available on Amazon music, no harm in extending that to a standalone app," he sums up.
So is it the need of the hour for Indian brands to start thinking about how they can become part of daily digital lives beyond the tactile interface?
Let's rewind a bit, to the debut of smart-speakers; sceptics weren't convinced. Weren't online music stations and YouTube playlists enough? But the volume of growth in the category drowned out these voices of dissent, proving that there's always a market for something that is tech-loaded and has the potential to make our lives "easier".
According to independent brand consultant Suresh L, KFC's innovation comes as the next milestone in the evolution of customer service - not entirely unexpected, but a revolution, nonetheless.
While KFC may be the first in India, he feels that others will follow and there's enough evidence to prove that the first mover's advantage doesn't hold in this category.
Today, every restaurant is accessible through Swiggy, Zomato or Uber Eats. Tomorrow, it's possible that every brand could be accessible through a voice assistant.
Suresh doesn't consider these to be existing gaps, but simply opportunities for both brands and customers to take advantage of.
Before apps came along, we were ordering pizza from landlines. "Indian brands have already begun thinking digital; but how they keep pace with emerging technologies, remains to be seen," he says.
"For instance, can we order from Amazon through Alexa? If that's possible, then everything from buckets of chicken to plastic buckets can be ordered via our friendly voice assistant," he quips.
Will the tech-mobile instruction-based service brands take this trend forward in India?
"The reason apps revolutionised the food industry was because, with over 350 million smartphone users in the country, the concept could be implemented on a large scale. India's growth in the smart-speaker category is at its infancy. So, KFC's initiative with Alexa is more like a limited-edition version of a product and is meant for select customer bases," Suresh shares.
"Imagine products and services ordered through a voice assistant from every smart device across the country via voice. When that happens, the role of fingers will be restricted to a good licking after a KFC meal," he signs off.
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