Go Moment Ivy is a Chat-Based Virtual Concierge

I recently saw a webinar by Tom Austin of Gartner on the topic of Smart Machine Big Bang Disruption. During the presentation, Austin mentioned the company Go Moment as an example of an intelligent assistant that provides many benefits, while at the same time disrupting longstanding patterns of customer service.

Go Moment IvyHotels use Go Moment’s Ivy to provide guests with a virtual assistant concierge. Guests interact with Ivy using text messages. I recently noted how much buzz there is around chat-based customer service interactions. An SMS-based smart hotel concierge is yet another indication of the growing significance of chat in the customer service realm.

In his webinar, Austin notes that the rise of smart machines offers both opportunities and risks. Companies stand to save money by automating tasks traditionally performed by humans. At the same time, they need to help workers acquire skills that enable them to leverage smart machines to excel.

Go Moment’s Ivy can answer many of a hotel guest’s common questions, lessening their need to call the front desk or guest services. An article in Hotel Online takes the stance that Go Moment’s technology frees up human hotel personnel to assist guests with more complex questions and transactions that require the human touch.

According to the same Hotel Online article, Go Moment leverages IBM’s Watson platform to power the app’s natural language processing and question and answering system.

Ivy seems to be a logical progression from Go Moment’s earlier product called CAPE. CAPE was an SMS-based platform the enabled human hotel staffers to interact with guests using text messages. Ivy now automates many of those interactions, answering the low-hanging fruit of FAQs. In the Ivy demo, Ivy responds to questions such as “when is breakfast served” and “what’s the Wifi password?”

Ivy can also query guests about how they’d rate their stay. If they view their stay positively, Ivy can prompt them to write an online review. If the guest isn’t completely happy, Ivy alerts a human staffer who can seek to make things right before the guest posts a potentially damaging review.

Intelligent machines are likely to automate an increasing percentage of the transactions that were once human-to-human. The first challenge is to make those interactions truly beneficial to the customer on the other side of the conversation. The second is to ensure the human who used to be across from the customer can now add even more value to the service equation.

Gartner’s Strategic Predictions Spotlight Digital Assistants

Gartner Strategic Predictions 2016Gartner recently published their Top Strategic Predictions for 2016 and Beyond. Gartner is projecting a substantial role for smart machines and digital assistants in the enterprise over the next few years. Looking towards 2020, Gartner is even more bullish on the market for smart digital devices. At the same time, the research and advisory firm warns of the coming disruption that enterprises and workers are likely to encounter as smart machines become ever more prevalent.  

Out of their top predictions, let’s take a closer look at the following two:

By YE18, customer digital assistants will recognize individuals by face and voice across channels and partners.

Gartner is betting that customer digital assistants will increasingly be outfitted to recognize individual customers. Gartner believes that these assistants will leverage front-facing smartphone cameras to identify customers and use smartphone microphones for voice recognition.

Gartner’s overall predictions for how customer digital assistants will evolve over the next several years are quite ambitious. Their report describes a scenario in which a customer uses her phone so that a retail brand’s digital assistant can recognize her and check her in when she arrives at the store. The assistant picks up the conversation with the customer where it left off when they last interacted.

Another assistant embedded in the dressing room mirror converses with the customer to recommend additional clothing pieces that match her ensemble based on what it knows is in stock and on sale in her size. The assistant even executes the payment transaction so that the customer never has to stand in a check-out line.

Gartner recommends that companies and brands serving customers quickly start adopting customer digital assistant technologies. They note that a tremendous advantage of these technologies is their  “pull” or “opt-in” engagement pattern. Customers can choose to interact with the assistant when and where they need to for optimal service, instead of being interrupted by unsolicited messages they don’t want.

By 2020, smart agents will facilitate 40% of mobile interactions, and the post­app era will begin to dominate.

Gartner predicts that our fascination with apps is about to give way to app fatigue and a desire for a simpler, more seamless way to engage with digital services. Gartner sees the coming wave of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) as the new user interface of choice. For one thing, VPAs are easier to interact with via voice or text-driven conversational interfaces.

But the biggest advantage of VPAs is that they will leverage machine learning and rich data models to understand us and predict what we want and need. They will also learn how to execute many of the repetitive and even complex tasks that we perform daily and take care of those tasks for us. No longer burdened with mundane workflows, we’ll have time to carry out more creative pursuits.

Gartner notes that there is still much to explore around the implications for our privacy. But the potential gains in workforce productivity make it imperative that businesses continue to press forward. Gartner encourages businesses to aggressively plan for what they term the “post-app” era. Developing a strategy for VPAs should be at the forefront of that planning.

The Risk of Virtual Personal Assistants as Gatekeepers

Virtual personal assistants( VPAs) are software applications that understand written and spoken text, that speak, answer questions, provide useful information, and perform tasks for us. VPAs rely on capabilities ranging from speech recognition to predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms. Siri and Google Now are the most widely used VPAs. As the technologies advance, our VPAs are expected to become increasingly capable.

Neural NetworksIn a recent article, Tom Pullar-Strecker speculates that VPAs will have deep knowledge of us and our preferences. We will depend on these smart assistants to help us plan and organize our lives and even carry out basic tasks. Our VPA will determine if we’re available to meet with friends and then arrange the entire evening for us, from inviting our guests to making the restaurant reservations. The VPA will also act as gatekeeper to block unwanted corporate advertisements from reaching us. It will filter ads and only show us products that it believes we’ll be interested in, based on its knowledge of us.

We’re entering a new world. A VPA that has all these abilities can be a huge asset to us and to those around us. But are there dangers lurking behind this seemingly positive future scenario? Most concerns that are voiced seem to be around privacy. For the VPA to be truly effective, it will require deep insights into my personality, habits, and health. It will need to know who my family members are, as well as my friends and co-workers. Many are worried about the implications of providing so much data to a VPA.

But there are other risks that aren’t discussed as often as the topic of privacy. A risk that hasn’t been addressed much is the risk of what I’ll call unfair VPA filtering. If my VPA protects me from unwanted ads or solicitations, and if it has my permission to make purchases on my behalf, it will wield a lot of power. Companies are going to want the VPA to approve their products, instead of filtering them out. How will the VPA decide which pair of shoes it should buy for me, when it feels that I’d be happy with any of 5 different selections? The VPA, or whoever controls the VPA, could just buy the shoes from the company that pays the most to have me as their customer. It gets a kickback from every transaction it executes on my behalf.

I explore this risk in a recent guest post on Opus Research entitled: Virtual Personal Assistants: Future Gatekeeper to Your Attention? You can also join the conversation on Opus Research’s LinkedIn Group for Intelligent Assistants Developers and Implementers.

Pandorabots Helps Companies Chat Directly With Consumers

Chat is big. In fact, chat is rapidly becoming the new customer contact channel of choice. Hakuhodo Inc. is Japan’s 2nd largest advertising company and they’re jumping on the chat trend in a big way. Hakuhodo has created a fully owned subsidiary called Spontena LLC with the purpose of using natural language processing technology to enable companies to chat directly with customers.

PandorabotsPandorabots knows a thing or two about conversational chatbots. I’ve written extensively about them before, including here, and about Dr. Richard Wallace and AIML. When Spontena set out to build a conversational chat engine, they partnered with Pandorabots to drive the technology behind the conversations.

The latest results of the Pandorabots and Spontena partnership is an interactive survey that companies can share directly with consumers over the LINE chat app. LINE is as big in Japan as WeChat is in China. To see a short comparison of LINE vs. WeChat you can check out this video. LINE Business Connect is the offering that gives businesses their own branded chat identity. Techcrunch wrote about Line Business Connect earlier this year. Another player in the conversational chat experience is DAC DialogOne, a service of D.A. Consortium Inc. DialogOne integrates with LINE and delivers personalized messages to customers based on user information.

In partnership with Spontena, companies can now send questionnaires directly to consumers over their LINE Business Connect accounts. “Questionnaire” might not be the right term here, because the real-time nature of the Pandorabots-powered chat experience makes the question and answer exchange dynamic. Here’s an example of a possible dialog exchange provided in Hakuhodo’s press release.

  • Conversation bot: What’s your favorite animal?
  • User: I don’t know
  • Conversation bot: Have you ever had a pet?

This exchange seems more like a session with a chatbot than a response to a questionnaire. And the Pandorabots chat engine is sophisticated enough to continue the context of the dialog intelligently when the user doesn’t have a response to the question.

According to the press release, 8,000 LINE users were initially polled with a questionnaire survey and 80% of them responded. That’s an astonishing response rate for an unsolicited survey. During the survey, customers willingly shared information about themselves and the natural language processing system successfully sorted over 99% of user responses into useful marketing data. Here’s an example of the NLP sorting process from the same press release:

  • Conversation bot: Tell me about your home. Do you live with anyone?
  • User: My wife
  • Response sorting: Married, Husband & wife

The Pandorabots-powered chat survey enables companies to entertain consumers over their preferred chat app by providing them with a truly engaging conversational chat experience. At the same time, companies gather information that enables them to personalize marketing messages in the future.

Yep, chat is big. To make automated chat engaging, you need powerful conversational engines. Pandorabots, a company that’s been around for a long time, suddenly finds itself in the sweet spot driving this exciting new customer engagement channel.

Inbenta’s Intelligent Avatar Gives Ticketmaster the Digital Edge

Have you ever been one click away from shelling out $100 or more for concert tickets only to abandon your shopping cart? You really wanted the tickets, but there were one or two questions nagging at you. It’s almost midnight and there’s no customer support available, so you close the browser and head to bed.

Inbenta's VeronicaTicketmaster has partnered with Inbenta specifically to help folks like you get all the information needed to complete the ticket purchase and go enjoy that concert. Phil Jennings, Ticketmaster International’s Vice President of Contact Centres, knows you want a quick, consistent way to get answers and he knows you don’t like calling customer support or hunting around through FAQs.

That’s where self-service technology comes in. At this year’s Intelligent Assistants Conference in New York, hosted by Opus Research, Jennings showcased the Inbenta solution used on their international site in Turkey. Ticketmaster’s business model is a perfect use case for intelligent assistants (aka virtual agents). Since they sell tickets to highly popular events, and since those tickets can sometimes sell out in under an hour, Ticketmaster’s customer support structure has to handle dramatic spikes in customer requests.

To offer customers spike-proof digital self-service, Ticketmaster Turkey uses Inbenta’s intelligent assistant solution. Inbenta leverages its proprietary semantic search engine to retrieve answers from a comprehensive knowledgebase built using Ticketmaster’s information. What makes the Ticketmaster implementation even more intriguing is the use of Inbenta’s avatar technology.

If you’re in the process of a making a ticket purchase and you need questions answered, you click the very visible “Need help?” link at the bottom right of the screen and in walks Veronica, Inbenta’s animated avatar. Veronica is a conversational agent that you talk to by entering questions into a text box. She uses Inbenta’s natural language processing engine to comprehend your question and provide links to all the most relevant answers. You never have to leave the web screen you’re on.

If you’re on the website during normal business hours and Veronica doesn’t have an answer, she can hand you off to a live customer care agent. The human agent can see what you’ve already asked Veronica and easily pick up the thread. Human agents can even leverage the Inbenta semantic search engine to aid them in quickly finding answers to customer questions.

How important is the actual avatar to the self-service experience? Jennings doesn’t have hard data yet to support his theory, but he thinks the avatar creates a more engaging interaction for the customer. The avatar certainly draws attention. One of Jennings’ primary goals is to reduce customer effort, and the avatar is a step in that direction.

The data that Jennings does have shows that since implementing the technology, the number of people who engage with the avatar and then proceed to complete a ticket purchase is going up. This result is leading to an overall uptick in conversion rates. To ensure the system is always getting better, Inbenta’s solution captures data on the backend for Ticketmaster’s team to analyze. This information helps the team understand which questions Veronica isn’t answering well enough, so they can add information to make her smarter.

Jennings said in his talk that businesses are under increasing pressure to service customers digitally. With Inbenta’s intelligent assistant and avatar technologies, Ticketmaster is doing its best to stay ahead of that pressure and reduce customer effort. It will certainly be interesting to observe how Inbenta’s conversational avatar technology evolves and how savvy organizations like Ticketmaster leverage it to drive customer value.