U.S. Bank Trials Nuance's Nina

U.S. Bank has begun testing Nuance Communications' natural language voice-based virtual assistant, Nina, to provide customers access to interactive and self-service options.

The Minneapolis-based financial institution is the fifth largest bank in the country and operates more than 3,000 branches and 5,000 ATMs in 25 states. The bank recently began trialling Nina to enable FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature customers to use their voices to view account balances, search transactions, and make payments on their accounts right within the FlexPerks mobile app.

"Results of the pilot will help us improve the customer experience and help U.S. Bank serve a broader population through this mobile channel," said Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer at U.S. Bank Payment Services, in a statement. "Customers are becoming accustomed to using their voice to interact with their smartphones, and we are exploring the application of that technology to banking and payments."

U.S> Bank is one of about 50 organizations currently testing Nina in final or pilot agreements with Nuance. More than a third of those organizations are in the insurance or financial services industries, according to Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the Nuance Enterprise Division. U.S. military financial service provider USAA is one such partner, having recently fielded a mobile application powered by Nina; the app is available to USAA account holders in all 50 states.

Weideman says that before Nina, even though people had mobile and Web applications, customers tried unsuccessfully to get self-service through these channels and then had to call the contact center. Roughly 67 percent of people fit into that category, according to Nuance research.

"Our objective is to make self-service successful in the same way that we’ve done through the IVR," he says. "Nina [can] understand the intent behind statements, whether it's spoken or typed in on a Web site, and that's what's making it possible for us to deliver self-service that works. The goal is for a company to have a virtual conversation with their customers to accomplish self-service engagements."

Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research, says customer surveys are showing rapid growth in the number of customers who prefer self-service for a number of routine tasks.

"A virtual assistant has great appeal for this group because it provides for a more natural, conversational, and consistent interface for both Web and phone-based interactions," Miller says. "The personal virtual assistant can also perform a certain amount of triage or form-filling in preparation for escalation or transfer to live contact center agents. The lines of demarcation between self-service and assisted service are blurring, meaning that an assisted self-service interaction model is destined to prevail."

Weideman says Nina isn’t just about speech, but intelligence, and that Nuance is excited at the prospect of providing customers with self-service that works anywhere, at any time.

"Five to eight years ago, the challenge was to understand the words that were spoken, getting the speech recognition right," he says. "You see now how accurate it's become, even in noisy environments. What we're cracking the code on now is understanding what was meant, understanding intent. By understanding intent we can do even more automation, and we can do that through text, through speech, and we can have that support not only in the IVR, mobile, and Web, but you will eventually see Nina on smart televisions, in the car, and ATM machines." 

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