Google Acquires Broad Speech Activated Search Patents

Google PatentVenture Beat recently reported that Google has acquired two speech technology patents from SR Tech Group LLC. A press release from SR Tech Group LLC identified the patents as U.S. Patent No. 7,742,922, titled “Speech interface for search engines” and U.S. Patent No. 8,056,070, titled “System and method for modifying and updating a speech recognition program.”

The filing date for the first patent was November 9, 2006. Reading the abstract of the technology covered by the patent, it sounds like a very generic description of a voice-activated search. The user says what he/she wants to look up, the application uses speech recognition and natural language processing to determine how best to construct the search query, and the application runs the query and returns the result. The second patent describes a system that a user or system administrator can employ to makes updates to the grammar (as in underlying language database) of a speech recognition program.

I’m not a patent attorney, but based on the generic flavor of both of these patents, it seems like Google may have acquired them as a defensive maneuver. Having these broad reaching patents could give them ammunition against other companies that might want to declare future patent infringements in other technology areas. It’s not readily apparent that either patent offers breakthroughs that wold drastically improve Google Now or Google’s recently demonstrated conversational search functionality for Chrome. It’ll certainly be interesting to observe how Google continues to build out speech activated search and how other companies look to compete within the same arena. There seems little doubt that conversational search will play an important role in search, and in virtual agent technologies of the near future.

IntelliResponse VOICES – Virtual Agent Meets Big Data Analytics

Big DataIntelliResponse just announced the official launch of VOICES, a product that merges virtual agent technologies with big data analytics to deliver impressive potential value to businesses. Imagine how valuable it would be if you could read the minds of your customers. What if you worked for a financial institution and found out that many of your customers were starting to think about how to increase their credit limit? Or, better yet, what if you saw these same customers thinking about a new promotion from a competitor that was designed to make them switch credit card providers? Equipped with this mind-reading capability, you could be proactive in meeting customer needs. You could make information on credit limit increases more accessible, while matching or beating your competitor’s promotion. Instead of losing customers, you’d make existing clients so happy that they’d sing your praises.

IntelliResponse’s VOICES product puts this powerful capability into your hands. I was invited to see a live demo of the updated product prior to the official launch. Paul A. Smith, Vice President, Product & Services, walked me through VOICES features. VOICES is an analytical tool that has access to all the conversations that have occurred between your customers and your virtual agents. These conversations can take place in any of the channels where you’ve positioned IntelliResponse web self-service agents; the corporate website, Facebook page, or other consumer-facing channels. The VOICES technology analyzes the unstructured data from these many customer conversations and identifies core themes. The themes are displayed as bubbles in a graphical dashboard. The more often the theme pops up in conversations, the larger the bubble representing the theme. It’s basically the same concept as a tag cloud, where the most common words and phrases show up in the biggest font size. Color coding lets you stay on top of things by showing at a glance which topics are trending with customers and which ones are waning in importance on a given day.

IntelliResponse VOICES

VOICES offers you filtering tools that allow you to look at the themes in different ways. For example, you can filter the data to view only the themes that originate in conversations from a particular source, such as your company Facebook page. What’s more, VOICES allows you to drill down into any theme to take a closer look inside the mind of the customer. Each theme is broken down into subthemes. For example, you might drill down into the theme ‘credit card’ and discover the subtheme ‘how to personalize my credit card.’ If you’re not already offering credit card personalization services, it might be time to think about the possibilities.

The primary purpose of virtual agents, sometimes referred to as web self-service agents or service avatars, is to assist the customer by quickly and effectively answering their questions. Instead of waiting on hold for a human service rep, consumers can engage a virtual agent directly from a web page, a mobile app, or a social media site and get the answer they need. But IntelliResponse has tapped into a whole new source of value with the launch of VOICES. There’s gold in every conversation your customers have with virtual agents. Customers are asking questions about your products and services and giving hints about what they like, what they’re considering buying, or what makes or breaks a sale. Prior to VOICES, this treasure trove of knowledge was going uncaptured. With VOICES, you not only harvest the treasure, but you have tools you can use to make sense of it all.

I don’t have hands on experience with the product. As a cloud-based “software as a service” technology, though, it would seem that an organization could be up and running with IntelliResponse virtual agents and VOICES fairly quickly and easily. I can also see applications for VOICES inside the enterprise. For example, large corporations who run social networking applications within the intranet could benefit from having access to trending employee conversations and themes. The VOICES analytical engine is currently geared towards processing interactions with virtual agents, but I’m guessing that the technology could be easily extended to handle other sources of input in the future.

VOICES is definitely a trend setter in the virtual agent space, enabling organizations to hear what their customers are really saying. It’s up to the company to decide how to use that valuable information to improve the customer experience and excel beyond the competition.

Sweet Spot for Intelligent Virtual Agents

Intelligent Virtual Agent

The future of virtual agents?

Virtual digital assistants are starting to pop up on the websites of online retailers and service providers. These digital agents, trained in the gift of gab and often mimicking a live human agent, engage with web visitors to answer simple questions or point to relevant web content. Common uses of virtual conversational agents include providing web visitors with information around fairly static business practices, such as an online retailer’s return policy or information about shipping.

How effective is the current generation of virtual agents? This is a question I’ll be exploring on this blog. To start the ball rolling, I think we can safely say that conversational agent technologies has made marked advancements over the past decade, but it still has a long way to go to completely replace live agents offering deep levels of customer support and interaction.

The capabilities of a virtual agent are largely determined by their underlying technology. The simplest digital agents, often referred to as chatbots, are little more than pattern matching programs that look at user input and then pair that input up with a predefined matching response stored in a large knowledge base. Chatbots are notoriously inflexible, since they are only able to respond to input that matches one of the patterns in their knowledge base.

More versatile virtual agents take advantage of natural language processing engines that allow them to recognize a variety of inputs. As with chatbots, these agents still require a knowledge base of appropriate responses that they can use to reply to input, once they have construed its meaning.

Currently the sweet spot for conversational digital agents seems to be in use cases that mirror Frequently Asked Question scenarios. If the question being asked by the web visitor is a common question, and if the proper response is static and easily stored in a knowledge base, then virtual agents have high rates of success in answering the visitor’s question. As soon as the questioners deviates from the known lexicon of commonly asked question, however, the chatbot or virtual agent is obviously out of its depth.

In future posts, we’ll take a look at some chatbots and put them through their conversational paces.