Even if you’re not a devotee of the iPhone, it’s impossible to have missed the arrival of Siri, Apple’s newest recruit. Whilst Siri isn’t going to pass the Turing test any time soon, it does signify that people are now far more receptive to the idea of speech
being the interface between themselves and technology.
The use of natural language to improve communications between technology and humans is not new. It’s already in use by financial organisations to help customers and improve business processes.
Banca Sella’s customers can hold intelligent, humanlike two-way conversations with “Stella” who assists them in all aspects of financial services from the movement and balances of accounts and cards, and paying bills online to providing information on insurance
and savings products and even assisting in online trading.
Call centre staff at the Co-operative Banking Group use Mia (My Interactive Adviser) when answering a wide range of banking and insurance questions. As the core single point of reference, Mia ensures advisors always give a consistent, compliant response
to customer queries. She also enables staff to answer calls up to sixty-five percent faster.
Siri stands out because the voice element shows the potential of finally making that credit card sized screen do something useful, faster – and for those of us with limited finger dexterity, easier. But it will also change how customers expect to be able
to interact with an organisation or service in the future, particularly over mobile devices.
Speech recognition has been available on mobile phones for a number of years, mainly to serve customers in countries where “hands free” usage is allowed when driving. For anyone that’s used it the limitations are obvious, deviate from the simple keywords
such as “Call Office” and the phone is likely to be dialling your great-aunt in Australia instead.
Natural language interaction (NLI) picks up the deficit in speech recognition by utilising powerful linguistic libraries and applying advanced reasoning rules, including context and dialogue history, to add intelligence to a conversation. If applicable,
information from back-end or external systems can also be included to provide the most appropriate response. The result is a free format, natural language conversation where the mobile device is able to understand and carry out the requests of the user.
Of course, voice isn’t for every communication – you certainly don’t want to be encouraging customers to say their passwords out loud in public areas - but spoken interactions will make using smartphones easier and that’s likely to increase the demand from
customers for more Siri like virtual assistants.