Move Over Siri, Lola and Nina Are Making Waves in Customer Service: Guest Post by Ashley Furness

Move Over Siri, Lola and Nina Are Making Waves in Customer Service 
Siri wasn’t made for customer service, but her release inadvertently revealed a huge opportunity for companies to develop the future support channel of choice.
This opportunity is the ability to accomplish two things at once: provide human-like interactions with customers that don’t involve additional payroll, and feed the consumer’s need for an instant response. Customers hate sitting on hold, wading through IVRs and agents with a bad attitude. Siri-like technology solves all of these issues.
Two companies have already started to capitalize on this opportunity, including the original Siri innovator SRI International. Here’s a sneak preview into how two company are paving the way to the next generation of support technology.
Meet Nina
Customers typically face two common annoyances when they access self-service offerings on a smartphone or tablet. One, they have to type login information and search terms on a tiny keyboard. And two, they have to dig through FAQ or community forum pages to find the answer they are looking for.
Speech is the perfect vehicle for addressing both of these issues. Even though traditional customer service applications might only require tapping through a few pages, that’s enough to stop many consumers conditioned for instant gratification.
“Mobile is this really interesting space where customers now carry around a microphone and a screen in their pocket all day,” says Andy Mauro, senior manager of mobile innovation for Nuance Communications.
His company released in August new mobile customer service technology that capitalizes on this idea for voice-enabled self service. They created a Software Development Kit (SDK) called “Nina” that enables companies to add speech recognition and NLU into an existing mobile application. The result is an app that converses similar to Lola. “[Apps built with Nina] enable faster, more convenient navigation using your own phrasing,” Mauro explains.
Lola Gets Personal
Spanish banking giant BBVA had one goal when executives approached SRI International, the research and development organization that developed Siri.
“They wanted to build the Internet bank of the future,” recalls Norman Winarsky, Ph.D., vice president of SRI Ventures, the venture, license development, and commercialization arm of SRI International.
SRI decided to create a mobile application that emulated the kind of conversation a real-world service agent named Lola delivered. This conversation was meant to be nothing like Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems that require prompted keywords to deliver answers. Instead, Lola uses sophisticated NLU algorithms and decades worth of speech recognition data to determine the context and intent of the question, no matter how it’s asked.
For example, a banking customer could ask the application, “What was my balance yesterday?” Lola would recognize that “balance” refers to the dollar amount in the bank account and “yesterday” means to exclude transactions from today.
Lola also remembers the context of the conversation. Continuing the previous example, the customer could then ask, “What about the day before?” Lola understands that the customer is still referring to their account balance, and that “the day before” means to exclude transactions from today and yesterday.
The Future of Customer Service
These technologies have clearly tapped into an unmet need in the customer service market: better, more enjoyable self service. So, do these apps have the potential to become the service channel of choice as customers need for instant response grows? Tell us what you think by commenting here.
Ashley Furness is a CRM Analyst for research firm Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal.

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Ashley Furness
CRM Analyst
Software Advice

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