speak2web Brings Voice AI to WordPress
Minnesota-based speak2web is looking to bridge the gap between voice assistants and online shopping. The company has debuted a new WordPress plugin enabling people to search and shop by voice on websites, mobile apps, and smart speakers.
A Voice in the Web
The Simon AI technology speak2web developed can be integrated into websites and mobile apps to make them accessible by voice. The voice assistant has complete access to all of the indexed data on the website, so users can search for information or complete transactions with a conversation instead of needing to type and click.
“Just as you’re used to every business having a webpage, every business will also have a voice assistant,” speak2web CEO Walter Angerer told Voicebot in an interview. “It’s a completely different experience for retail when you add the virtual assistant. People don’t expect a microphone button on a website, but we hope to change that.”
Voice assistants capable of understanding and parsing human speech are only beginning to be used for commerce. An estimated 31 million Americans will use smart speakers to shop this year, compared to the 270.1 million Americans that will buy online in one form or another. Connecting voice to the bigger world of e-commerce could change that equation.
The Word is WordPress
A little over 34 percent of all websites run on the WordPress content management system (CMS) through either its open-source software or a hosted service provided by Automatic. speak2web’s new WordPress plugin is its first play for that enormous market after operating in stealth mode since it was founded in 2018.
“We’ve been focused more on the enterprise side until now,” Angerer said. “With the release of the WordPress plugin, and bringing a bit less expensive version to market, we can reach more of a broad market than we have.”
There are very few options for voice interaction among the more than 50,000 plugins available for WordPress. Most voice plugins are for translating text to speech and back, as opposed to making the website a conversational partner. While the big names in voice assistant technology are continuing to urge companies to make voice skills connected to their platforms, there hasn’t been a WordPress plugin like speak2web’s until now. The WordPress plugin makes the setup quick and simple because of how much is already baked into the existing system.
“In the past, when you wanted to have well-done integrated voice assistants with all the features, you needed a completely custom solution,” Angerer said. “We needed a front-end that captures your voice and displays content. The [plugin] is a much broader solution, a little more limited solution than when its custom, but it can be deployed quickly. WordPress has a lot of infrastructure, so we don’t need to touch it at all to make it turnkey.”
Voice All Around
Despite the prevalence of WordPress, speak2web is deliberately platform-agnostic. The same integration that goes into the WordPress plugin can also be applied to other website platforms, as well as mobile apps. For the plugin and other non-customized systems, Simon AI uses the IBM Watson AI as a base, with speak2web’s own custom natural language processing system layered on top of it. When people talk to the AI, it can use clarifying questions to narrow down the potential answers, but the actual interface is irrelevant.
“The front-end can be any kind of web portal that can engage with a user. The layer we built masks the complexity of the process, and what we have built works on every platform.”
speak2web charges on a per-call basis. It costs 15 cents for a website to have the voice software take a call from a user, but the price drops if they pay a monthly fee. The company, which has around a dozen employees, is working on an aggressive marketing and growth strategy. There are also already plans to extend the family of plugins to more niche purposes, making them even cheaper as part of the long-term goal of making voice a universal feature of e-commerce.
“We have simpler plugins, focused on things like search, that we plan to release,” Angerer said. “Everything is changing [in e-commerce]. Getting very specific with straightforward sentences online with voice assistants is something every business should do.”