As Siri Knows, Virtual Assistant Users Want a Two-Way Dialogue

A Nuance survey found room for business improvement in virtual assistants that do more than talk back.

Download the authoritative guide: Big Data: Mining Data for Revenue

Motorola's Moto X was on the counter beside me this weekend as I baked four-dozen cupcakes for a birthday party. Each time I slid the baking sheet into the oven I'd say, "OK, Google Now. Set the timer for 16 minutes." The Moto X would respond, "Setting the alarm for 16 minutes," and I found myself unable to resist answering, "Thank you."

I'm not alone, it turns out. (Phew.) According to a new survey by Nuance Communications, a majority of respondents—83 percent—said they prefer engaging in a "conversational dialogue" with a personal mobile assistant, such as Apple's Siri, instead of dictating simple voice commands.

"The consumer voices came through loud and clear in this survey: It's time for more convenient, natural, conversational capabilities when it comes to mobile apps and personal assistants," Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of Enterprise at Nuance, said an Aug. 26 statement.

"People will engage more often and deeply with a business that can deliver a more natural, personalized experience, and businesses that fail to acknowledge this run the risk of becoming irrelevant amidst unprecedented competition for brand allegiance," Weideman continued.

The survey found that a staggering 90 percent of consumers said that a positive experience with a company's mobile app would make them more likely to continue doing business with that company.

"What a huge opportunity for companies to really differentiate," Nuance Solutions Marketing Manager Brett Beranek wrote in a blog post.

In addition to enjoying a two-way conversation with a virtual assistant, 89 percent of survey respondents said they wanted their virtual assistant to be proactive. They wanted it to offer reminders and information of interest to them, for example, without being prompted.

Who would want their phone to proactively speak with them? More younger people than anyone else. In the category of 18- to 24-year-olds, 58 percent said they use a virtual assistant such as Siri or Samsung's S-Voice, compared with 37 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that those who do use the virtual assistant feature on their devices tend to be loyal.

"I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 98 percent of those that use a virtual assistant use it on a regular basis, be it on a monthly, weekly or daily basis," wrote Beranek. "Periodic use is the most powerful indicator of value—you don't do something on a regular basis unless it's of use to you."

What's of use to people? Interestingly, when asked what tasks could be more easily performed by a virtual assistant, the highest ranking (67 percent) was ordering a pizza. That was followed by searching for an item online (64 percent) and performing a bank transaction (44 percent).

(Nuance offers Nina, a solution that enables enterprises to add virtual assistant capabilities to their apps, and so Beranek was encouraged by these findings. Nina would be delighted to help a retail customer find some shoes.)

The Nuance survey also found that, while people like their virtual assistants well enough, there's always room for improvement.

Only 17 percent of survey respondents described their experiences with their assistants as "fantastic," while 55 percent rated their experiences "good" and 28 percent said "fair."

Beranek noted, "People do like their virtual assistants." He added, "If companies can start to introduce these more engaging, conversational personal assistants into their apps, they stand to lead when it comes to customer experience innovation."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.