Nuance Communications' Nina is Now Available Through Amazon Alexa

Earlier this week, speech technology provider Nuance Communications announced that it would soon bring its artificial intelligence–powered assistant Nina to Amazon Alexa, giving Nina users another channel through which to provide customer support. Nina is the first intelligence assistant that will integrate with Alexa, and the integration will give Nuance customers, including Coca-Cola, Domino’s, USAA Bank and others, the chance to provide customer support through an Internet of Things (IoT) device.

"To date, our customers have integrated Nina on the phone channel, mobile applications, Web, and popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat," says Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the enterprise division at Nuance. "Now, consumers are starting to engage more and more with IoT devices, including home speakers, and our customers—which include some of the world’s largest banks, airlines, hotels, insurance companies, telecommunication service providers, and consumer brands—want to be able to interact with their customers on these new IoT devices."

A number of features distinguish Nina from virtual assistants such as Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana. For example, neither Alexa nor Sir nor Cortana have the ability to transfer a conversation to a live agent if a consumer asks a question they don't know the answer to or makes a request that they can't fulfill. Nina does have such functionality across most channels, but it's not entirely clear whether that applies to Nina in the Amazon Alexa environment.

As part of the integration, Nina won't be a distinctive Alexa "skill." Instead, Nina will power individual enterprise customers' skills, making for smarter, deeper interactions between consumers and businesses. For example, Coca-Cola has been using Nina to help customers manage their Coke Rewards and answer any questions they may have about redeeming them. Still, many of the engagements powered by Nina, Alexa, and their combined efforts are fairly low level, says Shep Hyken, customer service speaker and author. "This is still a very young stage for artificial intelligence. The ability to change a flight or add an upgrade is a useful feature, but it's important to keep in perspective that we're not near human-to-human interactions yet," he adds.

One breakthrough, according to Hyken, will be when voice recognition technology becomes good enough to recognize dialects or questions that aren't necessarily in proper English. Simiarly, the conversational element is still lacking when it comes to most virtual and artificially intelligent assistants. "Is the technology smart enough to ask a follow-up question if it doesn't understand something? Not yet," Hyken says.

Meanwhile, along with launching Nina for Alexa, Nuance introduced several other improvements to its AI-powered digital customer engagement platform. One new feature is asynchronous messaging, which allows consumers to friend brands on platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat and maintain conversations with them, instead of starting a new one each time they need to reach out. Nuance also introduced Nina Coach, an automated learning capability for the virtual assistant, and launched an IVR to digital pathway that transfers IVR or agent calls into digital environments, such as chat.  

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