MTI, Fastrak Retail Create Virtual Sales Associate

ATLANTA -- Message Technologies Inc. (MTI), a provider of interactive voice response, call center, and speech recognition solutions, has formed a partnership with Fastrak Retail to create digital signage capable of holding actual, spoken conversations with customers through in-store interactive displays.

The signage, called a Virtual Sales Associate, features an on-screen avatar that can interact directly with customers at a retail store. It uses natural language speech recognition technologies from Nuance Communications and a user interface from Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories to create the conversation. Those solutions sit on a back-end system hosted by MTI.

Customers initiate the conversation with the avatar by using their cell phones to dial into a phone number suggested by the avatar. Using a cell phone to communicate with the avatar not only cuts down on the background noise in a busy mall or congested street corner, but also creates the illusion of a more private conversation.

The personality and voice of the Virtual Sales Associate can be customized to suit the retailer's brand, but can also be changed to suit the customers’ preferences. “Because it’s a hosted system, it can be changed dynamically,” says Darrell Knight, president of MTI.

The avatar and connected back-end systems are armed with product specifications, promotions, videos, and even suggestions for alternative and add-on products. The Virtual Sales Associate is especially effective for after-hours "window-shopping" or to eliminate in-store information booths.

“It’s about trying to get people to come into the store,” Knight says. “It’s a way to stop them and pull them in if they’re just window shopping without necessarily having a person there to man a booth.”
The product right now is being marketed to the retail clothing industry, but could work well in any retail environment, Knight says.

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