A few weeks ago, I was in an airport and watched a woman with a small child in a stroller repeatedly shouting into her phone “Agent. Agent. Agent. Speak to an agent."
Anyone who’s been caught up in a computerized, never ending voice vortex of options in a phone call to a large company may be able to relate.
The woman in the airport was not likely speaking with Nina Mobile, the virtual assistant that leverages speech recognition, speech synthesis and natural language.
The two-year old Nina is a creation of Nuance, the voice recognition engine behind many consumer-to-computer interactions, most noted for its Dragon natural language understanding products and voice technology used by Samsung and Apple for Siri.
Voice is making its way into mobile commerce apps.
Domino’s Pizza recently introduced the Nina-powered voice ordering into its app, allowing customers to speak an order into the app and add items to their cart.
I visited Nuance world headquarters in Burlington, MA, this week to chat with Brett Beranek, senior principal solutions marketing manager at the company, to get some more insight into where voice is heading in the world of commerce.
Both companies and consumers can benefit, says Beranek, noting that adding a virtual assistant can drive more sales and reduce the cost of sales. “But in the end, it’s about the value to the consumer.”
The Domino’s ordering app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, so we’re likely to see how consumers warm to the voice, which calls itself Dom.
What’s getting interesting about voice recognition and natural language is the advancing ability to recognize context and meaning.
For example, in a mobile banking app, a consumer could ask “How much did I spend last month?” and receive a quick reply with the balance. The next question could be “What about last week?” and the system would automatically relate that the person is asking a follow-on question to the first regarding spending, according to Beranek.
Over the years, Nuance has developed a high level of sophistication in translating what is said to what is meant.
From a mobile commerce standpoint, that quick understanding of what is desired to be bought could reduce friction in the buying process, such as eliminating the need to type on a phone screen.
Late last year, Nuance opened an innovation center in Cambridge, which was designed to house more than 150 people, and home to the R&D team dealing with advance voice recognition, which I wrote about here (The Future of Voice in Mobile Commerce).
At that time, Michael Thompson, executive vice president and general manger of the Nuance mobile division, told me that the intent is to make the click-to-buy as fast as possible.
While every mobile app is not necessarily suited for voice, the most obvious targets are those where there is recurring use.
And while the masses may not immediately gravitate to voice in apps, 60% of sought-after millennials use them, says Beranek.
The next logical step for voice-empowered apps like Domino’s is to extend the capability to other smartphone-powered devices.
Don’t be surprised if you see someone introduce the capability to order your next pizza or movie tickets through a watch.
And when they do, it will likely be by talking to a voice powered by Nina.