Siri Is Shining A Spotlight On Virtual Agents | Forrester Blogs

Siri, Apple’s voice-activated virtual agent (VA), has raised the profile of this technology category. Siri provides the right engagement paradigm: ask a question and get an answer - a right answer. Because of Siri, companies focused on increasing customer satisfaction scores to move the needle on customer loyalty often ask “Why can’t we offer Siri-like experiences on our web or mobile sites to help customers ask questions in their own words?”

Let’s look at the facts: customers today are trained to go online to get answers to their questions by navigating a company’s FAQ list, or by typing in keywords to surface the right piece of content. In fact, 66% of customers use this channel. But at 51%, the satisfaction ratings for this channel are the lowest of all the communication channels that Forrester tracks. It’s because keeping content in line with customer demand and making it easily accessible to customers is very hard to do.

Enter the world of virtual agents. These solutions use natural language processing and artificial intelligence to greet a customer and to serve up the right answer to their question, which is asked using a customer’s natural speech pattern, not just keywords. These answers could be a straightforward response, knowledge base content, data (like “Did my check clear?”), or the result of a transaction (like “Book me on the next flight home out of San Francisco”). With the right tuning and integration to back-end systems, virtual agents are able to personalize and contextualize customer interactions. In fact, Gartner Research predicts that by 2015, 50% of online customer self-service search activities will be done by virtual agents.

Meanwhile, Mark Rolston of frog design (which famously helped design the original Macintosh) talked about how computers and other advanced technology are already beginning to disappear into our surroundings and devices, and that he expects this to accelerate in the future. Rolston said that it doesn’t take much to think about combining voice technology, like the kind Apple has in Siri, with the kind of processing power we have now to create a computer that uses any available surface (a wall, a mirror, etc.) as a screen.

Rolston imagines an extension of the kind of physical interface that Microsoft’s Kinect uses, where gestures and even facial recognition could be used to control all kinds of processes or devices and where computing power behind the scenes would allow us to interact with our homes in different ways. Computers would become “externalized resources in a room.” In that kind of environment, Rolston said, “I can talk at it and wave at it, and maybe I have a keyboard or maybe there are screens or cameras around, but [the computers] compose in the moment as we need them.”

I have recently done a number of interviews on the implications of Apple’s voice assistant Siri. To me, it’s looking very much like Apple has once again brought a technology to market precisely when it is sufficiently mature to impress. Voice control and ‘intelligent assistants’ are far from new, but haven’t been widely used to date simply because they haven’t been good enough.