Nuance aims to tackle consumer chatbot concerns
Nuance aims to tackle consumer chatbot concerns

Nuance aims to tackle consumer chatbot concerns

Just one in three consumers feel comfortable using artificially intelligent chatbots, according to a survey from research company Ask Your Target Market.

Chatbots are computer programs that users can command using text or speech. Typically, the technology aims to cut out the middle man for consumers – a call center agent, for example – by helping them to perform everyday tasks, such as online banking.

LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, yesterday announced its own chatbot, which will detect keywords in user messages to suggest responses or arrange meetings.

But the findings from Ask Your Target Market’s survey of 425 UK consumers suggests consumer confidence in the ability of these bots to perform basic tasks remains low.

Just a third of respondents said they had interacted with a chatbot before, and of those who do use the technology, more than two-thirds (71 percent) say they only use it to search for news or to play games.

Users remain unconvinced of a chatbot’s ability to perform more complex tasks such as handling utility bill payments or changing their online banking service, news which may be of concern to apps like Cleo, the AI chatbot for managing money.

Despite the uncertainty, 73 percent of consumers said that interacting with an automated system that they could converse with properly would significantly improve their experience.

Industry-specific chatbots

One company that thinks it can help in this department is Nuance Communications. Perhaps less well-known than brands like Amazon, Apple and Google, all of which now have their own intelligent voice assistants, Nuance has specialized in intelligent voice technology for decades.

The company offers a whole suite of voice and text recognition products for both business and consumers, but it believes that its own smart assistant, Nina, is the answer to tackling consumer apprehension.

Nina is an intelligent virtual assistant that can recognize both voice and text and respond with ‘human-like’ dialogue to answer consumer questions. Like most other intelligent virtual assistants, however, Nina currently only recognizes generic consumer problems.

Nuance believes that there is a case for developing a chatbot that has more in-depth, industry-specific expertise. The company has therefore launched what it calls the Nina Starter Pack, providing domain-specific expertise for the Nina chatbot across a host of industries.

Read more: The IoT talks back, chatbots gain voice interface

Beginning with retail banking, the packs will supposedly come pre-loaded with the Nina virtual assistant to make training easier from the start, reducing the amount of data collection needed from customers and organizations. The chatbot can then be trained with industry-specific knowledge to help it understand the customer’s intent from the outset.

Chabot PhDs

“There is an expectation for more intelligent virtual assistants that can not only effectively engage in conversation, but more importantly efficiently address consumer needs,” said Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager in the enterprise division at Nuance.

“By giving Nina a ‘PhD’ in certain domains, we can enable organizations to more quickly and accurately understand consumers’ intents and tailor content from the start. These more accurate and intuitive conversations build brand loyalty, reduce churn, and ultimately help organizations to obtain a faster ROI.”

The logic behind the launch is clear – but whether it encourages users to get chatting to bots in the first place remains to be seen.

Sebastian Reeve, director of product management at Nuance, remains positive, however. Reeve told Internet of Business that “AI-powered virtual assistants are booming”, particularly in places like contact centers or a bank’s call center, where virtual assistants can help with “emotional cases, such as helping a victim of fraud.”

In this scenario, Reeve said, “the virtual assistant would be able to anticipate and assist when a customer had called up to confirm if a cheque has cleared or to guide them through the security questions to unblock their online account.” This should keep consumers happy and relieve human employees of tedious admin tasks, he suggested.

Read more: Data scientists developing doctor chatbots for ‘self-treatable’ conditions