News Column

Siri Creator Builds 'Assistant' to Talk Customers Through Finances

August 8, 2012

Jessica Van Sack


Siri, meet Nina. She's the latest project by Burlington-based voice-recognition firm Nuance Communications, and she's likely coming to an app near you.

Think of Nina as the first cousin of the iPhone's Siri (which Nuance is believed to have essentially provided to Apple -- a fact it is prohibited from confirming). Except while Siri is a generalist, Nina has a laser-focus on customer service and productivity. Specializing in paying your bills, connecting you to the right person over the phone and dealing with banks, she's designed to be tacked on to apps that aim to manage your affairs. Think "the new Bank of America App -- featuring Nina" or "Amex assistant -- featuring Nina." Those are fictional examples of what customers could see.

Robert Gary, vice president and general manager of Nuance mobile, explains it this way:

"The best way to think of it is Siri is an Apple experience showcasing an Apple product," Gary said. "Nina is to enable an enterprise like a bank to showcase their product. They're providing the experience to their customers for their product, their transactions."

In other words: The company that brought us Siri is now competing with Siri.

For Nuance, it makes perfect business sense for three reasons: Financial enterprises need a way to reach the mobile generation. Companies may find it difficult to transition their traditional websites to the mobile space. And consumers expect more from their mobile apps than is being provided.

"As successful as the Web is, people are looking to do more in mobile," Gary said. "Eyeballs are leaving the Web, and the expectation is I can do everything I want to do in an app."

But apps haven't always delivered, and Gary wants Nina to be what changes that.

One handy feature that Nina provides is a vocal password, where the consumer can speak a phrase to unlock a privacy-sensitive application.

"The goal is to reduce that friction point," Gary said. "Where people either fat-finger or forget their password."

It was important for Nuance not only to infuse Nina with their best voice-recognition protocols, but also to have the product be conversational. For instance, if a user asks "How much money did I spend on my credit card in May," they can then say something like "How about June?" and Nina will recall the context of the previous query.

The software that comes with Nina allows businesses to forgo a slew of menus and buttons normally presented to a customer.

Said Gary: "The easiest way for people to find what they need and get things done is just to say it."

Source: (c) 2012 the Boston Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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