How voice assistants like Alexa can help marketers reach elderly Americans

The baby boomer generation placed smartphones in the hands of the millennial generation and younger generations. As the baby boomers enter the retirement stage of life, they’re not quite up-to-speed on all the great things that technology can do for them.

Part of the reason for that is that they’re just not as familiar with all the things technology can help them with. Elderly people have a low frustration tolerance for learning how technologies work which is a big reason why voice assistants like Alexa are catching on with this audience.

With devices like Amazon Alexa or Google home, they simply speak their request and the device responds. No swiping or clicking required.

Voice-first technology is a game-changer for seniors

A San Diego pilot project conducted by Davis Park, the executive director for Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, set up an Alexa system in a retirement community with 50 residents where most residents were over 80 years old and observed the results.

About 75% of the residents used their smart devices regularly. Instructors focused on helping the residents to connect with the technology. For example, they set up the technology so they could use voice commands to listen to their favorite types of music or watch or listen to their favorite sports teams. From there they were able to branch out and learn how to use the technology to turn the lights off and on, change the temperature, adjust the volume on the music, listen to audiobooks, and get medication reminders using only their voices. 

Voice-first technology quickly generated excitement for them because it allowed them to have greater control and independence, which means they could be less reliant on others. They also felt safer, less isolated, and more connected to friends, family, and the community. In essence, voice-first technology gave them a greater quality of life. 

What possibilities does voice technology bring?

The frontrunners of voice technology in the U.S. are Amazon Alexa and Google Home. There are, however, even more companies that have Voice devices available.  We’re also seeing third party apps on these platforms, built specifically with older Americans in mind.

For example, Alexa has Ask Marvee which is a free service where a senior citizen could send out a morning blast to their loved ones by saying, “Alexa, tell Marvee to send a message saying I’m alright.” Everyone on the list gets a text, email, or both. Seniors can also use Marvee to ask for social visits and get news from their family members. Users can expand their list for a nominal fee.

Another app called ‘Ask My Buddy’ uses voice commands to send an alert via text, call, or email to designated people in times of crisis or trouble. It’s accessible through Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft Cortana. It’s the next best thing to calling 911.

Alexa also works with LifePod, a proactive voice-first technology that initiates interactions based on preconfigured schedules. The app prompts seniors to follow their routines for taking their medications, checking in with caregivers, staying hydrated, getting exercise, or anything else at a scheduled time, including playing music. If the user doesn’t confirm or respond, the app automatically alerts a caregiver. The app also uses artificial intelligence to recognize irregularities in a senior’s condition, behavior, or sleep patterns and alerts their loved ones.

ElliQ is much like a smart speaker that sits on a nightstand or table. It was created by Intuition Robotics with the senior audience in mind. ElliQ will send or play messages to loved ones. If you ask ElliQ to play some music or pull up some photographs of the grandchildren, the app responds accordingly. If a senior is lazing the day away, ElliQ will suggest that they take a walk or get up and get moving. 

The company incorporated robotics technology into ElliQ which is reflective of a human’s body language. When a senior speaks to ElliQ, it swivels its “head” towards the senior. The device also lights up when it’s speaking. These features increase engagement between the user and the device without trying to mimic a human-robot.

The objective is for the device to be a service bot that doesn’t replace a human companion. Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics, states that older adults who are participating in their pilot program are connecting to it. Customers give ElliQ a female gender and classify her as a new entity in their home – somewhere between a person and an appliance.  

Benefits of voice-first technology for the senior population

The goal of voice-first technology is to provide value for the people who use it. By communicating with voice for normal everyday tasks, it’s convenient, saves time, and it’s cost-effective. The value for seniors increases exponentially. For the senior who needs his or her hands to get around using a walker, it’s far easier to ask an electronic app to turn the lights on or off. They no longer need to scour their home looking for a smartphone to call their loved ones every day and tell them they’re doing okay. They will no longer have to put notes up around the house reminding them to take their medication. 

If a senior slips and falls, all they have to do is call out to their app and it will alert someone to send help right away. Photos and videos of close family and friends provide a way to cheer up lonely seniors. With an app like ElliQ, they can see photos or videos of their family members any time they choose, without having to ask someone to dig heavy boxes out of the attic, so they can sort through photographs. 

For family members of aging loved ones, voice-first technology gives them an all-important peace of mind. They can wake up every day and get a message telling them that their loved one is okay and doing well. There is less fear about their loved ones falling and getting injured and not being able to call for help. It eliminates the worry of envisioning them lying helpless on the floor for hours before help arrives. It’s helpful to know that their beloved seniors feel less isolated because they can gain access to audiobooks, music, and television just by making requests out loud. 

How digital marketers can create strategies for seniors by using voice

Do you know what a voice strategist is? Well, I didn’t know what it was either until I met Scot and Susan Westwater, the co-founders of Pragmatic Digital at Global Marketing Day in New York City. When I asked them about how to create strategies for senior care using voice strategy, their first tip was clear – have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and what your audience needs from a voice experience. Once you’ve identified what it is that you want to accomplish, it’s easier to develop different strategies to reach your goal. 

For example, if your goals are safety in the home, it’s important to know what their daily schedule looks like. Do they have a consistent routine? Does their daily routine vary on the weekends? Do caregivers come in one or more days per week? Are seniors capable of taking their own medication? Are they able to reach light switches and temperature controls? Can they see the digits on the thermostat? If they go for a walk, how long would they normally be gone? Are they able to take their medications as prescribed? Are they strong enough to lock their doors at night and unlock them without assistance if someone comes to the door? 

By answering those questions, a digital marketer can help some to choose the right digital solutions to accomplish the customer’s goals. 

Using voice-first technology to address health proactively

In many cases, people would live longer if they could make an early diagnosis based on symptoms in the early stages of a disease or illness. It’s possible for voice-first technology to play a role in recognizing symptoms and recording when they first appeared. Electronic apps could play a role such as giving a call to action such as, “Call your doctor…” making it possible to diagnose issues earlier and treat them before they become problematic or life-threatening. 

How to maximize the potential for communication in the senior population

Communication is an important factor when considering your objectives. I find it helpful to list your business objectives and your audience’s objectives and assess where the two meet. What does your message say? Is it clear? You have to think beyond the message and consider who your audience is. The senior population has very different needs than an active young couple or a busy single mother with multiple schedules to manage.

In my recent interview with Scot and Susan Westwater, they noted that they think of voice-first technology as audience-first technology. If you ask it a question, you’re going to get a direct answer. It’s much more senior-friendly than traditional methods of search, where you type your question and have to click around for answers.

The future of voice-first technology in senior care services

As I consider the future of voice-first technology and how it could greatly improve the senior care service industry, I can’t help but consider the barriers that stand in the way. The first obstacle that digital marketers have to overcome is trying to get the seniors on board with understanding that there is more to benefit than to fear with using voice-first technology. Many seniors live on fixed incomes and they may feel that technology is out of reach due to cost, without realizing how cost-effective it is. 

Finally, there’s always hesitancy when switching to something new. For many individuals, it’s easier to take a wait-and-see approach than it is to be a pace-setter. 

The key to employing technology in the senior care industry is education, awareness, and a focus on safety and well-being for senior populations.

Karina Tama is a contributor for Forbes, Thrive Global and the El Distrito Newspaper. She can be found on Twitter @KarinaTama2.

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