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The 2017 CRM Market Influential Leaders: Toni Reid Thomelin, Vice President of Alexa Experience and Echo Devices, Amazon
The ace behind Amazon Alexa
For the rest of the September 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Toni Reid Thomelin has spent the majority of her career with Amazon, but it’s her recent work as vice president of Alexa experience and Echo devices at Amazon that earns her recognition as one of CRM magazine’s Influential Leaders for 2017.

As the market for voice-assisted technologies and devices heats up, with offerings either available or forthcoming from household names like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung, Amazon is far ahead of competitors with its Echo, a smart speaker that connects to Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information, and acting as a home automation hub for controlling several smart home devices.

Since it became commercially available in mid-2015, the Echo has gone from being a device that came out of nowhere to “one we can’t stop talking about...and can’t stop talking to,” says Brent Leary, cofounder and partner of CRM Essentials.

As a testament to Amazon’s success thus far, eMarketer reported in May that Amazon is “dominating” the voice-controlled speaker market and accounts for 70 percent of user activity, compared to just 23.8 coming from Google’s Home products. Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung aren’t due to release their products for a few more months yet.

Alexa’s popularity comes with good reason, considering its level of sophistication. Alexa just passed the 15,000 skills mark in July, up from 10,000 just months earlier and 1,000 a year ago. These skills cover a range of activities, including allowing users to ask questions about deliveries, appointments, or accounts; order food; or reserve hotel rooms or car services. Some of the most recent skills involve car buying service Edmunds.com, food ordering service Grubhub, insurers Liberty Mutual and Allstate, travel booking site Expedia, and Pizza Hut. The list will only grow as Amazon continues making it easier for developers to add even more Alexa skills to the mix. Key partnerships inked this year with semiconductor provider Microsemi and audio and voice technology providers Conexant, Sensory, and Splice Software are helping in that effort.

CRM vendors have also begun to react by developing specifically for Amazon, recognizing that companies will want to leverage voice-controlled devices to reach large portions of their customers for sales, service, and marketing purposes.

Speech technology leader Nuance Communications announced in June, for instance, that it would bring its AI-powered assistant Nina to Alexa, to give Nina users such as Coca-Cola and Domino’s, among others, another channel through which to provide customer support.

For its part, Amazon has also recognized the great potential of its technology as applied in the CRM space; in late March, it released Amazon Connect, a suite of cloud-based contact center services based on Alexa.

Additionally, Amazon is making the Alexa voice service available to other devices, from its own expanding lineup to those of other manufacturers. Amazon in the past few months alone released Amazon Echo Dot, a smaller version of the Echo; Amazon Tap, a portable version; Echo Look, with a camera; and Echo Show, which features a tactile 7-inch screen that can be used for playing media and making video calls.

With its Echo devices, Amazon “is leading the way to the voice-first economy, with some of the biggest names in tech trying to catch up after falling behind by almost two years,” Leary says. “For that alone, [Reid Thomelin], in her role as a driving force behind Echo, deserves a ton of credit.”

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