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 equips companies with everything they need to voice-enable their mobile customer service apps. We catch up with Nuance’s 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…

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?

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 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.

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.

To see Nina in action, check out the demo here.

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.