Although there were so-called “virtual assistants” before Siri, consumers had only limited experience with them and may not have even realized what they were dealing with at the time. United Airlines’ “virtual agent” Alex is one such automated assistant, though it doesn’t use speech and currently doesn’t work on mobile devices.
At least a dozen companies have created enterprise-focused assistants, based on “artificial intelligence,” which today are mainly used for customer service online. However increasingly they extend into mobile and seek to offer Siri-like capabilities. Siri has become the model.
A partial list of these companies includes a bunch of names you’ve probably never heard of:
- Artificial Solutions
Speech services provider Nuance is also in this group. Nuance provides the speech recognition for Siri and has a voice-search app in Dragon Go. The company has just launched its own assistant called Nina.
Nina will inevitably draw lots of Siri comparisons — it’s very Siriesque — but Nina doesn’t compete with Siri. Nina is specifically designed to be integrated into enterprise mobile apps. Think banks, credit cards, cable TV, telcos, hotel chains and airlines, among others.
Nina is intended to be transactional, enabling consumers to transfer money, pay bills, make reservations, buy things and so on. Because it’s part of a single app and can be deeply integrated, Nina extends beyond what Siri can currently do. There’s also Lola (from Siri creator SRI and Spanish bank BBVA), which claims to be a “next-generation” version of Siri.
Nuance’s Nina offers developers an SDK and a set of APIs to integrate Siri-like conversational capabilities into their apps immediately. As part of this suite of capabilities Nina also enables voice biometric password authentication. That means you can speak your password (or have a spoken password) in lieu of painful manual email/username password entry.
As enterprises adopt mobile for improved customer (self) service Nina has the capacity to provide something much better and richer than what’s currently available through traditional customer service channels. Delivering good customer service is essential for enterprises and increasingly impacting brands (mostly negatively). With a few exceptions most consumers have very painful customer service experiences.
For example, Nina offers the capacity to replace horrible IVR phone trees and reduce costs associated with live agents. It’s really a win for everyone — though not overseas call centers — offering potentially better customer care experiences at lower cost with less frustration for consumers. According to Nuance Nina is the “first mobile virtual assistant to understand what is said – and who said it.”
Nina can be entirely customized for each enterprise, including the voice. The first company to adopt Nina is USAA. It will launch a pilot program this month with a broader roll out planned for later. USAA was also the first to adopt mobile check deposits.
For all its real and perceived imperfections Siri is revolutionary because of the way it changes our interactions with mobile devices and the way we obtain information. Nina extends that paradigm to mobile apps and has the capacity to be equally revolutionary, if widely adopted, for enterprise customer service and the overall mobile user experience.