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Customers Are Engaging with Speech-enabled Personal Assistants

January 08, 2014

It’s conventional wisdom that few people like talking to a machine. The fact that it’s a staple of comedic movies – a character becoming more desperate as the machine ignores or misunderstands their voice input – shows us how little consumers like the previous generation of voice interaction solutions.


But when the voice interaction becomes more personal and human-like – think of a speech-enabled interface like the Siri personal assistant on newer models of iPhones – the opinions start to shift. It may be the proliferation of mobile devices we have to thank for this. When there is a full-sized keyboard at the ready, customers may still prefer to type. But when dealing with tiny screens and even tinier keyboards, more and more customers prefer the natural interaction of voice.

A recent survey cited by speech technology solutions provider Nuance found that 83 percent of customers say they prefer having the option to converse with their personal assistants on their smartphones. These preferences are beginning to carry over to all Web transactions. The same study found that 71 percent of consumers would prefer the human-like interaction that virtual assistants deliver on a Web site as opposed to static pages.

It may be that we’re getting more used to personal “virtual assistants” such as Siri. The technology has improved rapidly in recent years, and more customers are feeling comfortable interacting with them. Nuance, of course, offers its own personal assistant in the form of Nina, a voice technology that allows iOS and Android developers to bring speech recognition, text-to-speech, and voice biometrics to their individual applications. (Nuance was, in fact, instrumental in the development of Siri, so the company knows its business in this technology area.)

According to Nuance, which is demonstrating some innovations in conversational customer service experiences at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) event, says it’s about boosting customer engagement.

“How brands choose to engage with their customers has never been more important,” said Nuance’s Robert Weideman in introducing the innovations. “In fact, 90 percent of consumers note that a positive experience with a company’s mobile app makes them more likely to continue doing business with that company. Competition to keep existing customers, attract new customers, and build brand loyalty is fierce today. A key differentiator is the type of experience that brands can provide to their consumers – is it conversational, interactive, convenient?”

Weideman notes that it has been proven that consumers will engage more often and deeply with a business that is able to deliver a more personalized experience, and a voice-driven personal assistant is a strong component of the goal of doing so.

If customer engagement is the goal, then the methods used to get there need to include providing them with a way to interact with a company using the most natural interface – their voice. Speech-enabled virtual assistant technologies allow companies to get there without doubling the manpower in the contact center. 




Edited by Ryan Sartor

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