Andrew Ormsby, CEO, Lexicle

Q Please give some background on Lexicle.

A We founded Lexicle in January 2001 with the long term goal of changing the way that people work with computers. Our vision is that computers should be invisible - that you will interact with them using the same techniques that you use in everyday conversation.

Clearly we're many years from completely reaching that goal.

Q Please explain the Lexicle Customer Service (CS) product offering.

A Most Web sites provide text and perhaps some pictures. That's not a great way to provide customer service. We can provide a realistic animated virtual assistant that can answer questions about a product or service. This is much more engaging than a FAQ. At the same time, we can trigger specific behaviors by recognizing buying signals - so in the end, our product can do much more than simply provide customer service.

Q In your deployments, please demonstrate how CS increased sales and provided better customer service.

A Our biggest deployment so far is with First Direct -- the UK internet and phone bank. You'd have to ask them about increased sales, but they seem pleased with results so far.

Q What led to the development of the "virtual" agent in your product offering?

A We want to engage people. That means doing something more than simply giving them some text or a static image. Our technology allows us to do this practically. The motions and gestures of our character are generated automatically - they aren't scripted. That means that our customers don't need to care about animation. Secondly, our lightweight client allows us to provide good 3D animation with a small download that works well even over a dial-up link.

Q Some say that personas such as 'Cara' are frivolous and users do not like them. What have you experienced with 'Cara' since deploying the virtual agent for financial sales applications?

A Nobody is forced to use systems such as Cara. There are obviously places where this kind of technology is going to get in the way. Expert users in a complex domain they understand well probably wouldn't appreciate a virtual character popping up on their screen. But a lot of the time, customers don't even know what questions they want to ask, let alone where to find information on a large Web site. Ideally, they'd talk to a human being. We like to think we're the next best thing.

Q What technology partners do you have to fulfill the Natural Language and TTS components of CS? Why did you choose these partners? Are you wanting more partners?

A The natural language processing component of CS is our own. The key to our technology is the fact that we can take the content that a customer wants (a brochure, for example) and turn it into an interactive virtual character very quickly. We don't have to anticipate user questions.

We're currently working with Rhetorical, which provides the voice used by Cara. However, we can work with pretty much any TTS supplier that has good SAPI compatibility. The decision really comes down to the voice quality, and that's to some extent a subjective judgement to be made by our customers.

Q Please describe a recent deployment and give supporting statistics for its success.

A I've mentioned that we think that speed of deployment is a big benefit of our core technology. In a recent deployment, we were live about five weeks after obtaining the initial content from the customer.

Q Have surveys/studies been conducted with any of your deployments to understand consumer acceptance?

A That's an ongoing process, but initial feedback has been pretty positive.

Q What are Lexicle's goals for the short term? Long term?

A We have conservative organic growth plans. Key to our short term and long term plans is agressive development of the technology in response to customer feedback.

For more information on Lexicle please visit http://www.lexicle.com.

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