Siri And Its Rivals Need To Speak Out

Michelle Maisto Lead

Virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri will only be really useful when they get conversational, says Michell Maisto

Motorola’s Moto X was on the counter beside me this weekend, as I baked four dozen cupcakes for a birthday party. Each time I slid the baking sheet into the oven I’d say, “OK, Google Now. Set the timer for 16 minutes.” The Moto X would respond, “Setting the alarm for 16 minutes,” and I found myself unable to resist answering, “Thank you.”

I’m not alone, it turns out. (Phew.) According to a survey by Nuance Communications, a majority of people — 83 percent — said they prefer engaging in a “conversational dialogue” with a personal mobile assistant, such as Apple’s Siri, instead of dictating simple voice commands.

It’s time Siri talked back

Google Voice logo“The consumer voices came through loud and clear in this survey: It’s time for more convenient, natural, conversational capabilities when it comes to mobile apps and personal assistants,” Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of Enterprise at Nuance, said a statement.

“People will engage more often and deeply with a business that can deliver a more natural, personalized experience, and businesses that fail to acknowledge this run the risk of becoming irrelevant amidst unprecedented competition for brand allegiance,” Wideman continued.

The survey found that a staggering 90 percent of consumers said that a positive experience with a company’s mobile app would make them more likely to continue doing business with that company.

“What a huge opportunity for companies to really differentiate,” added Nuance Solutions marketing manager Brett Beranek, in a blog post.

In addition to enjoying a two-way conversation with a virtual assistant, 89 percent of survey respondents said they wanted their virtual assistant to be proactive. They wanted it to offer reminders and information of interest to them, for example, without being prompted.

Who would want their phone to proactively speak with them? More younger people than anyone else. In the category of 18 to 24 year-olds, 58 said they use a virtual assistant such as Siri or Samsung’s S-Voice, compared to 37 percent of 45 to 54-year olds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that people who do use the virtual assistant feature on their devices tend to be loyal.

Virtual assistants are addictive

“I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 98 percent of those that use a virtual assistant use it on a regular basis, be it on a monthly, weekly or daily basis,” wrote Beranek. “Periodic use is the most powerful indicator of value — you don’t do something on a regular basis unless it’s of use to you.”

What’s of use to people? Interestingly, when asked what tasks could be more easily performed by a virtual assistant, the highest ranking (67 percent) was ordering a pizza. That was followed by searching for an item online (64 percent) and performing a bank transaction (44 percent).

(Nuance offers Nina, a product that enables enterprises to add virtual assistant capabilities to their apps, and so Beranek was encouraged by these findings — Nina would be delighted to help a retail customer find some shoes.)

The Nuance survey also found that, while people like their virtual assistants well enough, there’s always room for improvement.

Only 17 percent of survey respondents described their experiences with their assistant as “fantastic,” while 55 percent rated their experiences “good” and 28 percent said “fair.”

Beranek noted, “People do like their virtual assistants!” He added, “If companies can start to introduce these more engaging, conversational personal assistants into their apps, they stand to lead when it comes to customer experience innovation.”

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Originally published on eWeek.