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Continued progress in reinventing the relationship between people and technology.

People really do like their virtual assistants (some love… but more about that later)

We set out with a goal of better understanding smartphone users’ feelings in terms of conversational interactions with virtual assistants. A survey was conducted to shed light onto the demographic, frequency, and feelings of consumers in regards to companies’ virtual assistants. We also gathered data on the most common tasks virtual assistants are utilized for. Results suggest that overall consumers want engaging, conversational virtual assistants.

Yesterday I noticed that my five year old daughter was speaking with someone on the second floor of my house. I found this strange, because the rest of the family was on the first floor in the dining room, and to my knowledge, we didn’t have any visitors. Was my daughter on the phone? I decided to investigate, walked to her bedroom and noticed she was speaking to… Siri! She was having a conversation, which she was enjoying so much that she told her daddy to leave her alone. Feeling somewhat upset by the fact my daughter would prefer to speak to her phone than her father, I thought about how far the virtual assistant has come. With personal assistants like Siri, S-Voice and Dragon Mobile Assistant, it’s easy to envision a world where people engage with technology and applications by default through voice. Star Trek portrayed this vision in a very sci-fi manner, but Hollywood has caught up to the fact that we’re already engaging in conversations with technology – though we’re not yet traveling throughout the galaxy in spaceships (turns out space travel is more challenging than speech technology, who knew?).

The movie “Her,” due out this Fall takes the concept of the virtual assistant beyond the boundaries of what is possible today, and probably beyond what most people would consider as a healthy relationship with technology. However, it does highlight that people are conversing with virtual assistants today. We know this to be true with our Nina Mobile technology, which powers applications from some of today’s largest brands like USAA. But we wanted to better understand what people think about these conversational interactions,  so we commissioned a survey. The study was conducted in the United States with over 1000 participants – all SmartPhone users who were at least 18 years old.

While reviewing the survey results, the first key finding that hit me is that 83% of those surveyed agree with my daughter – they prefer a two-way, conversational interaction with their virtual assistant over one-way communication. In other words, people want their virtual assistant to talk back to them. What’s more, 89% of people would like their virtual assistant to be proactive with information of interest and deliver reminders, meaning that people want their virtual assistant to engage in conversations proactively, without being solicited to do so!

If you think this is crazy, and have uttered at least once the following words: “Who would want to speak with their phone?!?” you are probably not in my daughter’s age group. Another key finding of the survey is that there is a direct correlation between age and virtual assistant usage. See the table below for the results to the question “Do you use a virtual assistant such as Siri or S-Voice on your SmartPhone”:


I suspect that if we had expanded this survey to the teenage group, we’d see an even higher usage of virtual assistants than the young adult 18-24 group. However, it would be a mistake to position virtual assistants as technology geared for a younger generation – the fact that almost a third of those in the 55-65 age group use virtual assistants is a clear indication that the technology is delivering value across generations.

Usage on its own is only one piece of the puzzle; the other question that we were curious about is how frequently do people use virtual assistants? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 98% of those that use a virtual assistant, use it on a regular basis, be it on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. Periodic use is the most powerful indicator of value – you don’t do something on a regular basis unless it’s of use to you.


You may be asking by now if we asked to what degree people like their virtual assistant experience. Well we did, and the results are quite encouraging – 99.8% had a positive experience. The bulk of respondents, 55%, responded that the experience was “good,” which indicates that there is still a lot of work to be done to deliver a “fantastic” experience to everyone. Nevertheless, the data is clear, people do like their virtual assistants!


Another set of data points that I think are of interest, are what tasks people believe are more easily performed using a virtual assistant than via a traditional interface. What surprised me is that ordering a pizza was selected by the most respondents, following by searching for a product. This is a clear indication to me that the virtual assistant technology needs to be deployed at the application level, to enable users to order a pizza or shop for their next pair of shoes, which is very encouraging news for Nuance’s virtual assistant for the enterprise, Nina Mobile. Nina allows enterprises to add virtual assistant capabilities to their apps. For more info, please visit the Nina page.


Finally, and perhaps most compelling, we found that a majority of people – 86% to be exact – already use a mobile app to engage with a company or service provider. And here is the piece that really jumped out at me – 90% of people said that a positive experience with a company’s mobile app makes them more likely to continue doing business with that company. What a huge opportunity for companies to really differentiate in a stiff competition for brand allegiance. If companies can start to introduce these more engaging, conversational personal assistants into their apps, they stand to lead when it comes to customer experience innovation.

What do you think of your personal assistant? Have you had a great experience with a company’s personal assistant?  Let us know in the comments below.

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Brett Beranek

About Brett Beranek

Like you, CX and biometrics expert Brett Beranek – Director Product Strategy, Enterprise – is fascinated by transformative technologies that have a real impact on our lives. With over fifteen years of experience in the customer experience and biometrics space, Brett brings strategic and tactical insights to organizations wishing to deliver a better experience to their customers via innovative security technologies. Prior to joining Nuance, Brett a technologist and entrepreneur by education and passion, successfully introduced several disruptive technologies to the health-care, IT and security markets, including as a partner of facial recognition firm Viion Systems and member of Genetec’s management team, a security firm that transformed the video surveillance market. Brett also currently serves on the advisory board of high-tech healthcare startup GaitTronics. Brett earned a Bachelor of Commerce, Information Systems Major, from McGill University as well as an Executive Marketing certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Brett loves travelling the globe and discovering new cultures with his three kids, Layla, Rayan and Nora and his wife, Tania.