Newsletter, August 2012
Meet Nina: A Q&A with Nuance’s Robert Gary
Mobile empowers us to manage our lives and get advice and information when we need it most. But it's voice that removes all the obstacles, allowing us to get more done, faster. Rather than scroll, click and use traditional search, people can ask their mobile virtual assistants to lend a helping hand. Clearly, the advent of personal assistants, like Dragon Go! has created a customer expectation for increased convenience. It turns up the pressure on all companies everywhere to follow suit. To help enterprises respond to growing customer demand, Nuance has unveiled Nina, a comprehensive solution that equips companies with everything they need to voice-enable their mobile customer service apps. We catch up with Robert Gary to discuss the details of Nina and how enterprises can leverage it to improve customer service.
Q: Nina is your mobile virtual assistant product targeted at your enterprise customers to help them integrate voice capabilities in to their existing mobile apps. What sets Nina apart from other offers on the market?
Robert: Nina really understands what a customer means and what they want to accomplish, and it also has the in-built ability to know who the customer is. This is unique and enabled via our own voice biometrics technology, which addresses both security concerns and delivers on the customers’ requirement for convenience.
Q: Let's move to the business side of the equation. How can Nina help the enterprise, and what challenges do they face?
Robert: Enterprises across the board have been rushing into mobile as the next big opportunity. They all know they have to have a presence in mobile, which is why almost every company has an app. When you look across the landscape, some have done a good job, and some have not. Overall, mobile is in its infancy and companies are still figuring out what their mobile strategy will be as a function of their overall multichannel strategy. Against this backdrop, the Web as the dominant self-service channel is under pressure because people prefer to get things done using their mobile devices. They want to do what they need to do the minute they think of it, rather than wait to get to their PC. So, it's not just about simply adding speech to mobile apps. This is about solving a bigger business problem around delivering ideal self-service the way customers want - and demand - it.
Q: It seems that you are saying this is not about speech technology, although that is a big part of it. It's really about a shift in our behavior...
Robert: People are relying more on their mobile device, which means businesses have to start to deal with the fact that eyeballs are leaving the traditional Web and coming to mobile. Since people desire to get more done using their mobile phones, companies need to put the functionality into a mobile device that gives people what they have on the Web. Of course, that's an extremely difficult design problem given the form factors and limitations of our mobile phones. Nina allows you to do is to abstract from that complexity and make it possible for people to simply ask their phone a question and get a result. That result could be something as simple as navigating the user to the proper place within the application to get things done, saving the hassle of visually navigating, clicking and scrolling through multiple levels of menus and tasks.
Take the example of paying a bill. If you want to pay a bill through a traditional mobile app, you have to choose to pay a bill, you have to choose the account you’re paying from, choose the account you're paying to, how much and when. With Nina you can accomplish all that by saying a single sentence. Something like: "I want to pay my electric bill of $100 on Friday out of my checking account." Nina will give you a confirmation. You say: "Done." It's that simple.
Q: In a nutshell, Nina provides the enterprise customer with all the parts and support to build this capability in their mobile apps from the get-go. Please detail precisely what Nuance is offering and how it all fits together.
Robert: Enterprises today are putting their apps out on the Android Marketplace and on the iTunes App Store. We provide the enterprise with an SDK they can integrate into their mobile appl. It's then served by Nuance's Nina Virtual Assistant Cloud Service, which offers the enterprise access to Nuance’s speech recognition, Text-to-Speech, voice biometrics, advanced dialog and Natural Language Understanding technologies and capabilities. All they have to do is update their app in either Marketplace or App Store. When their customers download the updated apps, they are immediately enabled with this technology.
Essentially, we’re giving the enterprise the opportunity to leverage this technology and make it their own by applying their own look and feel. This allows them the creativity and flexibility to define the customer experience. They deliver what they want with the power of our whole speech and NLU back-end behind it. We have purposely made it a flexible canvas where the enterprise can innovate to deliver the best possible customer experience — but we have removed the complexity that goes into equipping these apps with speech recognition and NLU.
Q: In other words, you have productized speech technologies, which pave the way for companies to launch speech-enabled virtual assistants with their brand and look. What role can voice biometrics play?
Robert: The expectation is high, and growing, that businesses will provide customers a compelling mobile experience. But then there is the challenge around authentication. How can companies ensure security and still keep it simple so that a person can verify their identity when they use a banking app, for example. And that's where voice biometrics comes in.
If the customer doesn't use the app everyday - and we know from industry reports that people download many apps but only use a handful on a regular basis - then how does the user remember the credentials, such as a password or a PIN? They don't use the app often, so they are bound to forget these credentials. So, using the app can become a hassle and a waste of time, which is exactly what customers won't tolerate when they are trying to save time in the first place. The biometric play is critical here because it means people can just say something to the app, the voice biometrics technology in the background hears the voice, verifies the individual, and - bang - you're in the app looking at your secure information.
Q: How does this tie back with what customers want?
Robert: If you look at the data from Flurry and others, you see the amount of time people spend on mobile is going up relative to the Web. But the length of the session is not really growing. This tells me that people want to do things and they want to get them done quickly the minute they think about them. They're not dedicating the time to get a lot of things done in batch any more.
Research shows people are 'snacking' on mobile. In the beginning, people access content in bit-sized chunks, and now it's about getting stuff done in short bursts of activity. Before enterprises could deploy apps on mobile, if you were crossing the street and remembered you needed to pay a bill, your mental process was to make a mental note that you need to pay the bill the next time you're sitting at your PC. Now that might be at lunch or at home later that day. You couldn't pay the bill the moment you thought of it.
With apps you can pay the bill the minute you think of it by firing up your app. Done! Fifteen minutes later, you might realize you need to do something else, and you can start up the app to get than done, too. It just goes on and on and on. With mobile and apps people can deal with these tasks in real-time. It's fast, it's easy and it's the way to get things done.
Q: You have launched Nina to serve the enterprise. Are there specific verticals that are more in need of these voice technologies than others?
Robert: Banking and financial institutions top the list, followed closely by insurance, travel, retail and telecommunications. These are companies that are dealing with large volumes of calls and requests coming from people using their mobile devices. In other words, we're seeing the most focus and activity there because that's where customers are already using their phones, and their apps, to get things done.
We're also seeing a lot of activity in retail driven in part by the increase in mobile shopping. And we're just starting to see interest from folks in shipping and freight. That's really interesting because this is the sector that has to offer a lot of value on the application. That's where voice comes in to make it easy and fast. But it's more than that. Since people may not ship a package every day, voice - specifically voice biometrics - also comes in to replace a PIN or password as a means to authenticate the customer.
Q: Moving ahead, it's not just mobile. What impact will the advance of tablets and other connected devices have on apps and experiences?
Robert: I think creating consistent and reliable experiences - experiences that bring together mobile, Web, voice telephony and potentially even social - is where we’re going to see huge innovation and activity.
Let me give you an example using Nina. You use your mobile phone and have a dialogue with Nina to get what you want using your voice. If you move to the Web, then there should also be elements of that Nina persona as part of that online experience to ensure a consistent experience across all the channels. Let's say I engage on my mobile phone and I'm trying to accomplish a task. Then I stop and I access via a Website to continue the task. There should be awareness of what I was doing on mobile. It should know that I want to finish the application for the mortgage that I started to fill out using my mobile device. In other words, it shouldn't just greet me with 'Hey, what's new?', as if it had no idea what I was trying to do on mobile. And the same goes for my interaction with the agent in the contact center.
This is all about a cross-channel experience that allows customers to move freely and use the channels they choose. At Nuance we think this is very important, and the first step we'll probably take is to integrate mobile with the voice channel. We have significant expertise in delivering automated customer service, with over 3,000 deployments and automating over 10 billion calls each year. That in combination with our extensive mobile experience puts us in a unique position to leverage the capabilities of Nina, and bring them to the TV, automobile and doctors, to name a few.
Removing Authentication Hurdles with Voice Biometrics
When it comes to customer service, consumers are taking charge. When they pickup the phone they want to get answers - fast. But are consumers really getting the results they want the way they want them? A recent consumer survey of attitudes around present-day caller authentication systems shows this stage of the customer journey is neither quick nor convenient. To the contrary, the majority of respondents are frustrated with today's automated authentication approaches. But it's not all a bad news story. The same survey highlights where companies can - and must - make improvements.
Give your customers what they want? It's the number one thing businesses have to do to drive positive results and create lasting loyalty. But companies don't have to jump through hoops to delight their customers. A good customer experience is one that keeps it simple, removing all the obstacles that waste people's time or tax their patience. Success is all about delivering convenience every step of the customer journey.
Customer service is a critical stage in this journey, and one where companies can do a lot to remove the roadblocks that prevent customers from achieving what they set out to do in the first place. Whether the customer picks up the phone to ask some basic information, or just wants to connect with a 'human' to resolve a customer care issue, it's the company that can remove the friction that is best positioned to delight - and keep - the customer.
Providing good customer service is key, but there are many ways to achieve this goal.
In an effort to streamline the process after a caller contacts the business many companies have implemented automated systems. The purpose of these speech-enabled IVRs is to identify and authenticate the caller quickly and effectively before routing the call to the right resource.
While these caller authentication solutions may tick all the boxes, the bigger question remains: Do they truly satisfy the customer? In May Opus Research, in conjunction with Nuance Communications, commissioned Coleman-Parkes Associates to find out.
Easy does it
The research firm surveyed 1,000 individuals who had recently used their telephone for customer care to assess their attitudes toward speech enabled systems for authentication and gain insights into the features and functionality customers would consider ideal.
Among the findings, a whopping 85 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with today's automated authentication systems and approaches. "It's not that customers don't understand or appreciate the requirement for a system that verifies who they really are," explains Dan Miller, Opus Research Senior Analyst, Conversational Commerce. "They do indeed want a high level of security, but they also want an authentication process that is effortless."
By way of background, most authentication systems require the caller to provide some sort of identifying information, such as a PIN, password or other personal information such as birth date or hometown.
Miller argues that this approach is flawed on two counts. One, the information the caller customarily offers is has "little real security value" - and consumers know that. "Identity theft makes people feel vulnerable." On top of this feeling is the realization that personal information is easy to take from computer records or just by connecting the dots in what people say in their social networks. "This creates a real requirement for a more secure authentication systems."
Two, these systems put the pressure on the caller to remember his or her password, pin or personal information. "The problem with this approach is the burden it puts on the caller to remember and recite this key information," Miller says. "It's human to forget and, in the case of passwords, people prove all to human."
And that leads to another almost emotional issue respondents have with current authentication systems.
Forgetting the information, which respondents said often happens, sends them on a trip around the system that costs them even more time and patience. "People are most peeved at this point because they have failed to authenticate on the first attempt - and people generally don't like to fail," Miller observes. Adding insult to injury, the caller is now moved on to an alternative authentication method that often requires the caller to provide a live agent with additional information or answers to security questions. "And this is largely regarded as a waste of time."
Get to the goal
Each shopping journey may start on a mobile app or Internet website, but when customers get to the point that they want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, they mean business. As Miller puts it: Callers understandably have little patience with "obstacles on the road to successful task completion."
Interestingly, it's the youth that have the most issues with current authentication methods. Specifically, callers across the 18-24 age group "show the least patience and the strongest desire to get to an agent - and get things done," Miller says. Older respondents also have problems with authentication schemes that put the burden on them to provide PINs or other forms of personal information. "As people get older, they are more prone to forget important information. So, they, too, want a process that is easy and effortless."
So, what do customers really want out of their customer care experience? The survey results provide some important clues that Miller says should be used in designing secure and convenient authentication systems in the future.
"Respondents told us they want frictionless, speedy service," Miller explained. This is where voice biometrics can come in to deliver simple and secure authentication, saving customer the hassle of having to provide personal information because their individual voice - not what they know - verifies who they are.
In Miller's view, the advantage of voice-based authentication is that it can help people accomplish their goals in "a way where their security is assured and they can also be sure they aren't wasting their time in the process."
And companies shouldn't take the customer requirement for a simple yet secure method of caller authentication too lightly. According to the survey, respondents already indicated that they were prompted to provide a PIN or some other form of information for 83 percent of the calls they made.
That number is sure to "skyrocket," a development that should force companies to rethink their approach to authentication now, rather than later. The advance of mobile and services such as mobile commerce, mobile banking and healthcare will further increase the demand for simple and secure authentication. In fact, it is recognition of this mobile-megatrend that Opus Research has renamed Miller's area of subject expertise "Conversational Commerce."
Moving ahead, Miller is convinced that strong identification is key to trusted communications. And, since services such as commerce will take place on mobile devices, it follows that there will be a significant increase the conversations that take place between people and companies. "Customers want - and will demand - simple and secure services that accommodate their needs and schedules, not just those of the vendors."
Customer Service To-Go: The Rise of Voice-Enabled Mobile Assistants
Smartphone adoption continues to skyrocket, with 78 percent of the U.S. adult population owning a smartphone according to the latest Flurry report. Meanwhile, consumers increasingly say that they prefer self-service options when interacting with a company. Put those two trends together, and they highlight the value of voice-powered customer service apps.
Today, with nearly 80 percent of customer service calls originate from a mobile phone. But even when a smartphone has a big screen, a physical QWERTY keyboard or both, many people don’t want to type their customer information and query. And when they’re driving or walking, typing is even less of an option.
But with a voice-enabled customer service app, people can simply speak their log-in information and question. Thanks to the popularity of voice-powered mobile assistants such as Siri on the iPhone, Google Now and Samsung’s S Voice, consumers are increasingly comfortable talking to their smartphone when they need information - voice-enabled customer service apps leverage that familiarity.
The key to a great user experience is selecting a flexible, feature-rich speech platform. The ideal platform goes beyond the table stakes of speech recognition to provide Natural Language Understanding (NLU), which uses sophisticated algorithms to determine not only what the person is saying but also the intent.
NLU is particularly valuable when customers don’t use a narrow, rigid list of industry terms. With NLU, an airline’s app can understand what a caller wants when she asks, “When does my plane leave?” and provide the right answer right away. NLU enables the app to understand words and phrases even when the platform has never heard the person’s voice before. This lets users speak to the app as naturally as they would if they were talking with a live customer service agent or a friend.
Without NLU, the app would struggle to find a match in its database because she didn’t use industry terms such as “flight” and “depart.” The app then would frustrate her by providing the wrong answer or by asking her to repeat herself. If she gets frustrated enough, she’ll probably try to reach a live agent, thereby eliminating the cost savings of self-service for the airline and eliminating the convenience of self-service for her.
The ideal speech platform also enables customization, easily controlled by the business that wants to align a user experience to their brand. For example, the platform should provide best practices in human-machine dialog with a visual display – ideally as source code - that the business can use to create a custom persona that matches its overall branding strategy.
The platform also should include a software development kit (SDK) so it’s fast and cost-effective for the business to add virtual assistant capabilities to its existing smartphone apps. That architecture eliminates the expense and lead time of building new apps in order to add speech capabilities. It also eliminates the disruption of customers having to download and learn a new app. Instead, the speech capabilities can be simply pushed out as an update.
The SDK should include a broad selection of pre-designed templates and tasks so the business can quickly implement capabilities such as bill pay, account information and change of address. This selection also should include industry-specific templates and tasks, such as for banking, travel, insurance and retail. These pre-designed templates and tasks can be particularly valuable for organizations that want to add speech capabilities quickly in response to changing market expectations and conditions, such as a competitor’s mobile app launch or upgrade.
When businesses, government agencies and other organizations decide to add NLU to their interactive voice response (IVR) systems, they’re increasingly choosing cloud-based NLU rather than on-premises solutions. One major reason is because as NLU’s capabilities and benefits increase, so does the complexity of implementing and operating an NLU platform. With a cloud-based NLU solution, organizations avoid that complexity – and the overhead costs of specialized staff – but still get NLU’s bottom-line benefits, such as increased automation, and qualitative benefits, including the ability to meet customer preferences for self-service.
Those benefits are driving many organizations toward cloud-based solutions for speech-enabling their apps as well. Another motivation is access to the latest and greatest speech technologies, which vendors often make available to their cloud customers months or quarters before they’re offered to customers with premises-based platforms. That availability gives cloud customers a competitive advantage because they can add innovative speech features to their apps as an additional market differentiator.
Fifteen years ago, organizations began to recognize the power of the Internet for enhancing customer service. Five years ago, they recognized the power of mobile apps for customer service. Today, speech is the new must-have technology for meeting customers’ self-service preferences. It’s a must-have because if your organization doesn’t offer it, chances are good that your competitors will soon.
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