AiThority Interview Series With Robert Schwarz, Managing Director ANZ, Nuance Communications
Robert Schwarz is responsible for driving Nuance’s market share and operations in Australia and New Zealand, with a particular focus on intelligent speech language technologies. Prior to Nuance, Schwarz was director of OEM and Managed Cloud-as-a-Service businesses for SAP Australia and New Zealand, where he was responsible for developing new routes to market for SAP software solutions. He has also held senior strategic and management roles at IBM, Business Objects and Oracle.
Nuance Communications is the pioneer and leader in conversational and cognitive AI innovations that bring intelligence to everyday work and life. We deliver solutions that can understand, analyze and respond to human language to increase productivity and amplify human intelligence. With decades of domain and artificial intelligence expertise, we work with thousands of organizations – in global industries that include healthcare, telecommunications, automotive, financial services, and retail – to create stronger relationships and better experiences for their customers and workforce.
How does Nuance Enterprise leverage AI to facilitate autonomous learning and improvement?
AI is fundamental to enabling true conversational experiences between humans and machines and at the core of all Nuance Enterprise solutions.
When deploying Nuance Nina – the enterprise virtual assistant (VA) – the AI engine within the solution allows for an organization to quickly get a VA up to speed on the answers to most frequently asked questions. Nina does this by utilizing Machine Learning algorithms to automatically shift through data (like chatlogs) to bootstrap the initial Natural Language Understanding (NLU) model. All of this whilst also identifying the key intents to create automated responses with a resolution or next best step.
Once Nina is deployed, that AI engine monitors conversations and is able to see when a human’s request is answered correctly, noting the intent processed was accurate. If Nina does not understand a request or isn’t sure what the response should be, a live human agent is looped in to engage the customer. This provides an almost always positive experience for the customer, and ensures a seamless customer journey – they stay in the channel they started in, no escalation, no waiting, and they become used to the VA working for them. Nina also logs the answer for the intent via supervised, highly-automated NLU learning to continually train the VA.
Nuance’s voice biometrics technology also has AI at its core. With each authentication of a consumer’s voice, the solution processes hundreds of data sets, analyzing everything from that individual’s personal traits (their voice, shape of their vocal cords) to their behaviors (how they speak, their accent) to validate if they are who they are claiming. This happens in seconds and is only possible through the power of AI.
Which are the industries that you have noted early adoption of the technology, which ones are emerging?
Organizations across Australia are increasingly investing in VA technologies for their ability to provide a genuine, tailored service that delivers customers human-like conversational experiences. These are personalized in a way that can scale to the needs of today’s always-on consumer. With ever-evolving customer expectations and the proliferation of consumer touch-points, businesses must evolve their customer service approach to easily and cost-effectively extend their investment to both new and emerging channels.
Conversational AI is being used across a variety of industries including travel, FMCG, government, insurance and banking. For example, Nuance partnered with ANZ Bank to be the first Australian bank to roll out voice biometrics to mobile banking for step-up authentication for transactions over $1,000. Additionally, Alex, is IP Australia and Australian Taxation Office’s virtual assistant solution, powered by Nuance’s ‘Nina’ Conversational AI customer service solution, was the first of its kind to be implemented within the Australian Federal Government.
What are the challenges that Nuance’s voice recognition can address for the IoT market?
Connected devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and as a result, their interfaces are becoming equally complex. With each IoT device having its own unique facets, the onus is placed on the users to learn how to use numerous buttons, menus and screens. Voice recognition overcomes this challenge by simplifying the customer experience. Voice acts as a universal interface and makes accessing these devices easy and seamless, in a way that is natural to the user.
What are the challenges in text-to-speech? How does Nuance tackle them to be one of the market leaders in the space?
One of the challenges facing text-to-speech (TTS) technology is the inability to provide a high-quality, natural service with minimal errors. TTS technology should enable more natural interactions between human and machine, not the opposite.
Nuance TTS expertise has been perfected over 20 years. In fact, earlier this year, Nuance announced that it has advanced TTS technology with deep neural networks (DNN) to deliver a new benchmark standard. This development reduced errors by 40 per cent, in comparison to previous speech synthesis techniques. By pushing ourselves to develop more natural and expressive speech synthesis, we have created technology that can pronounce challenging words better than most humans. Have a listen here.
Can you tell us about the competitive market of virtual assistants and how Nina is able to differentiate its technology from the others?
Addressing rising consumer expectations for seamless services amidst an evolving landscape of digital and mobile channels is challenging.
There are many chatbots available in the market, many which are simple question/answer bots, and not powered by Conversational AI. As Nina is a Virtual Assistant that is powered by Conversational AI, customers can be engaged via a real-time, intelligent conversation.
As part of the Nuance Digital Engagement Platform, Nina consists of the following differentiating capabilities:
- Targeting engine chooses between live agent, guides or VAs, based on user behavior, profile and page, on a per-conversation basis to serve the right digital interaction to the right visitor at the right time.
- Omni-channel conversational design: VA and live chat integrate into the same elegant, floating, engagement window, including elegant multi-device support.
- Effortless conversation between a brand and the consumer with both a VA and live chat.
- Seamless transfer from any offsite or onsite channel to live interactions including contextual information for a seamless consumer interaction. For example, from TV ad to SMS chat, from IVR to digital, from social media to the brand’s mobile website, from VA to live agent.
- Integrated reporting dashboard: Analytics from all engagements (guides, VA, live chat) can be used to measure and optimize KPI along the funnel – from the business rules to automated conversation to the live chat engagement – to provide the interaction leading to optimized revenues, costs and user satisfaction.
- Continuous learning loop: Live agent scripts are influenced by, and VA is trained based on, visitor behavior, past interactions and existing live chat transcripts. Reporting and insights are then used to improve the targeting engine, routing, VA and live chat behavior.
Further, in 2017, Nuance was ranked the number one chatbot/virtual assistant vendor for enterprise customer service by leading research and advisory firm Forrester. Today, there are over 6,500 enterprises using Nuance’s self-service technologies, processing an estimated 16 billion transactions each year. Nuance’s AI innovations power a new generation of customer engagement apps that enable enterprises to communicate with consumers anytime, anywhere, and through virtually any channel. Nuance is the only vendor to combine the tooling, intelligence and analytics of natural language processing (NLP) and cognitive technologies, as well as integrated security, to deliver automated and assisted solutions targeted to Enterprise needs.
Help us understand how Nuance is able to offer customized services across the industry; how would Finance find personalized use?
Nuance Enterprise specializes in conversational AI and secure, convenient and unified customer engagement across channels. A lot of time is spent assessing a business to determine which solution is best suited.
Our omni-channel platform and unified tooling enable a design-once, and deploy-many type approach. This provides a true benefit to organizations by offering a consistent consumer experience, without implementing and maintaining a number of one-off integrations
Nuance is known for its deep domain expertise in vertical industries, and a team of experts that help large, complex organizations implement the most forward-thinking conversational technologies. For industries like finance where regulations are high and needs around consumers data are paramount, Nuance works closely with customers to develop solutions that meet all their needs – ensuring unique business challenges and situations are addressed in a customized way.
What does the future of voice recognition hold in store in your opinion?
As the world becomes more connected, and conversational AI advances, Nuance believes voice will become the most common user interface. Businesses need to compete for customer loyalty, heightening the importance to meet consumers on the channels they most engage. As voice is the most natural, convenient way for humans to interact with machines – amplifying their intelligence and making everyday tasks simple – we anticipate voice recognition will be the preferred customer user interface providing a cohesive experience that is cost-effective and supportive of the modern environment.
What’s next for Nuance; any big news you’d like to share?
Nuance has pioneered and advanced the conversational AI marketplace for decades and will continue to bring new innovative solutions to market that meet the needs of today’s largest global organizations. The growing list of global enterprises successfully implementing Nuance technology comes from a diverse set of industries and are seeing rapid and widespread adoption of the technology. This year, you can expect we will have some significant announcements around the robust AI engine that is powering our solutions and an increased focus on delivering a secure and enhanced customer experience for enterprises using our virtual assistant and speech services.
Thank you, Robert! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.