Update to Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistance Landscape

Last week the team at Opus Research published an update to the Intelligent Assistance Landscape. This update represents the first major revision since the landscape was first published in partnership with VentureBeat last fall.

This new version includes updates to the industry players that populate various categories across the landscape. Opus has also refined the categories themselves. If you haven’t seen the landscape or had a chance to delve into it, here’s a quick synopsis.

Intelligent Assistance Landscape

Click to open a full view of the landscape

The top half of the diagram identifies core technologies that enable intelligent assistance. Opus distinguishes two main groups of enabling technologies.

Conversational technologies underpin the natural language exchange between humans and machines. Speech I/O services facilitate the understanding of spoken words and enable machines to talk. Text I/O services support natural language input and understanding via text. This category can also include dialog management services and chatbots. Avatars provide embodiment for intelligent agents, while emotion and sentiment analysis enable software to interpret and act upon knowledge of human emotions and context.

Intelligent Assistance technologies are the powerful core services that help machines understand meaning and intent and learn how to serve us better. These technologies include Speech Analytics, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Semantic Search and Knowledge Management.

The bottom half of the Intelligent Assistance Landscape provides a taxonomy for the various types of smart assistants. While the terminology used for these services is fluid, Opus Research has put a stake in the ground by establishing specific criteria for each category.

Opus defines Mobile and Personal Assistants as smart agents that understand us and whose primary purpose is to help us control the smart objects around us. Assistants such as Siri and Google Now, for example, activate functions on our mobile phones, Amazon’s Alexa controls objects in our smart home, and assistants in cars control the features of our connected vehicle.

Personal Advisors focus on helping us manage complex tasks. These assistants tend to be more specialized and they are generally product agnostic. For example, a specialized personal travel advisor can assist with planning and booking trips and they suggest products and services from a wide array of providers.

Virtual Agents and Customer Assistants are customer-facing, self-service assistants. These assistants represent one company or brand. Their knowledge of the company’s products and services is typically fairly broad and they focus on providing information that customers ask most frequently.

Employee Assistants help people do their jobs within an enterprise. These assistants are generally integrated with the enterprise software applications that employees rely on most and they can also aggregate information to make it more readily available.

The domain of intelligent assistants is gaining increasing attention. The update to Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistance Landscape adds some insightful clarity around this complex topic.

Conversica’s Virtual Sales Assistant

A few weeks ago, Nellie Bowles of the Guardian wrote an article called With love from my robot: virtual assistants may secretly be emailing you. Bowles focused on technologies from X.ai and Clara Labs. Both companies offer virtual meeting coordinators that use natural language understanding and machine learning algorithms to coordinate meeting times by emailing all meeting participants. People who receive the emails often aren’t aware that the email was written by a bot.

ConversicaThis past week I had an opportunity to talk with some of the team from Conversica. Like X.ai and Clara, Conversica offers technology that uses a smart virtual assistant to carry out routine tasks using email. In the case of Conversica, the assistant focuses on augmenting a company’s sales staff. The virtual sales assistant contacts leads by composing, sending, and responding to emails.

Conversica has designed the technology to be so personable and effective at crafting emails that most people assume they’re interacting with a human sales associate. The bot never writes the exact same email twice, but varies greetings, phrasing, and other aspects of each communication to give them a spontaneous and genuine feel.

Having a virtual sales assistant offers many benefits to a company that lives or dies on how well they follow up and close leads. In some cases, Conversica’s virtual sales assistant actually has an edge over its human colleagues. The fact is, Conversica’s bot never gets its feelings hurt when a prospect ignores its emails or says no. As a result, the virtual sales assistant is remarkably persistent.

The benefit to the prospect is that, no matter how far they are down in the lead queue, the company genuinely cares about winning their business and follows up with them. If they’re truly interested in the product, the sales bot connects them with a real person and makes sure that person doesn’t drop the ball.

To find out more about the history of Conversica’s company and underlying technology, see my full article Conversica Ramps Up Its Virtual Sales Assistant To Keep Tabs on Prospects on the Opus Research blog.

Jacada Visual IVR Helps Customers Discover the Benefits of Self-Service

We’ve all seen the growing interest that companies have in engaging customers through SMS and messaging-based platforms. We also know the trend towards customer self-service, which brings benefits to both the customer and the companies that serve them. But how about leveraging the old-fashioned IVR call tree to nudge customers into a more satisfying self-service experience?

That’s exactly what Jacada, the Visual IVR provider, helped one of its large customers accomplish.

Visual IVRJacada recently sent me a thick deck chock full of data from various customer case studies. A large credit card company had deployed a very popular app that was getting high usage rates. But the company’s data showed a sizable percentage of customers still tended to call live support specialists. Further analysis indicated that the majority of people calling in for support had questions related to their account balance or billing questions.

Jacada came up with a creative approach to help these customers understand the benefits of self-service. When customers called into the bank’s IVR, they gave them the option of pressing 1 to transition into a Visual IVR experience. What started out as a customer service experience from the 20th Century suddenly transformed into a customer helping themselves by using their smartphone. Nice!

Within the first 3 months of its introduction, a whopping 25% of the IVR callers actually took the bait and switched into the Visual IVR session. 66% ranked the service as “very good” or “excellent.” And ultimately, 69% completed their service experience without engaging a human call agent. Those are significant results.

One of the things that I really like about Visual IVR is the way it can lead a person into a rich, user-friendly self-service experience without them even having to think about it. Another example from the Jacada case studies dealt with a postal service, The service is using Jacada to embed Visual IVR into SMS so that customers can track packages directly from a messaging session.

That kind of integration between a technology people are comfortable with (texting) with one they may not be as familiar with (self-service) is a good thing. It helps people discover the many benefits of self-service while enabling companies to meet their goal of lowering support costs. Everybody wins!

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.


FinUno Launches Intelligent Financial Assistant

At last week’s Intelligent Assistants Conference, FinUno, Inc. launched fin1, a financial advisor that leverages artificial intelligence. fin1 is a personalized virtual financial assistant that can help  average retail investors better achieve their investment goals.

fin1Rather than market fin1 directly to the retail investor, FinUno partners with financial institutions and they provide the intelligent platform as a benefit to their clients. fin1 is designed to enable financial advisors to better engage with their clients, while offering clients a powerful self-service option that gives them greater insight into and control over their portfolios.

The fin1 solution is built on Openstream’s enterprise virtual assistant platform. Leveraging the Openstream technology provides fin1 with lots of built-in capabilities. One of these features is multimodal engagement, meaning that users can engage with the their Eva financial assistant via text, voice, touch, or gestures. Another feature is a dashboard that can be easily personalized so that the user sees information based on his or her specific specific stock portfolio and trading interests.

The fin1 intelligent assistant provides actionable intelligence based on the client’s portfolio. For example, if Eva provides you with some breaking news about a stock that makes you want to buy it, then you can instruct Eva to initiate the trade. fin1 can also act as a collaboration platform where customers can receive tips and updates from their real (human) financial advisors.

fin1 seems to me to be a good example of a new generation of intelligent advisors. Some  characteristics these smart virtual advisors share include: deep knowledge of a specific domain, personalized info and advice based on knowledge of the customer, and the ability to execute transactions on the customer’s behalf. fin1 is designed to augment the human financial advisor, while providing the retail investor with a knowledgeable financial assistant that is always available.

Intelligent Assistants Conference NYC 2015 – Presentations

In case you missed it, Opus Research has posted content from the Intelligent Assistants Conference presentations.

IACNYCDan Miller’s presentation provides a great introduction to intelligent assistants, the IA Landscape, and how the market is maturing and user expectations are evolving.

Geraldine McBride’s keynote presentation addresses a core dilemma that intelligent assistant’s face. They need to be “hyperpersonal” in order to be truly effective. But people don’t want to lose control of their personal data and they don’t want companies pushing products on them without their consent. McBride proposes solutions to the dilemma.

There are great customer case studies by U.S. Bank, Telefonica, Ticketmaster International, BMW Financial Services that provide examples of how companies are leveraging intelligent assistants to better serve their customers.

Steve Hoover, CEO of PARC, a Xerox Company, gave a really intriguing presentation that took a broad look at what makes a good intelligent assistant. He also showed how artificial intelligence will enable IAs to aid humans in a broad range of scenarios in the near future.

And last but not least, you can see the winners of this year’s Intelligent Assistant Awards and look at the criteria used by the judges the contest.

Now isn’t this better than trying to read those fuzzy slide photos off of your phone or tablet? Enjoy!



Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference NYC Starts Today

The Intelligent Assistants conference NYC (#IACNYC), hosted by Opus Research, begins this afternoon at the W Hotel New York. This is the second conference hosted by Opus that is devoted entirely to exploring the business uses cases and cutting edge technologies comprising what Dan Miller of Opus calls “intelligent assistance.” The conference got off to a great start yesterday evening thanks to a rooftop networking event sponsored by Agentbot.

IACNYCWhat I especially enjoy about the format of this conference is the mix of customer case studies and panel discussions with industry luminaries. It’s extremely helpful and interesting to hear from customers about how they’ve implemented intelligent assistants and how they measure the value they gain from these solutions. You can always learn something from people who are using a product to generate real customer value.

At the same time, it’s great the hear from industry insiders about trends and predictions for the future of the space. Opus does a great job at assembling key players from the industry and making them feel comfortable enough to open up and share remarkable insights. The conference also offers an opportunity to stop by a small gathering of intelligent assistant providers and talk to them one-on-one about their capabilities and solutions.

Later this afternoon, Opus will announce the winners of this year’s Intelligent Assistant Awards (IAA). The judges will talk about the criteria they applied this year for scoring the entrants.

IACNYC is shaping up to be a great event. Check back here after the conference for a wrap up of some of the top takeaways.