Nuance Acquiring TouchCommerce to Create Smarter Virtual Agents

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    The intersection of natural language and multiple forms of cognitive computing is one of the hottest emerging technologies being incorporated into applications. Against that backdrop, Nuance Communications today announced it is acquiring TouchCommerce, a provider of a suite of e-commerce applications that makes use of natural language technology developed by Nuance Communications to allow organizations to deploy virtual digital assistants on their Web sites.

    Earlier this week, TouchCommerce revealed that it would be employing Nuance’s natural language technology to create virtual digital assistants that can maintain the context of a conversation whenever a particular customer query needs to be passed on to a live support person.

    Marina Kalika, senior director of product marketing at TouchCommerce, says most customers today shy away from virtual digital assistants because they typically don’t understand the nature of complex customer queries. Worse yet, when that customer inquiry inevitably is escalated to a live person, all of the context surrounding the engagement with the virtual digital assistant doesn’t get passed along. As a result, a frustrated customer has to share all that information with the live support person again.

    The concept of employing virtual digital assistants on a Web site is hardly new. But thanks to the rise of a number of approaches to cognitive computing, these assistants are getting smarter. In the case of TouchCommerce, end users type in natural language queries that the virtual digital assistant is trained to answer. Over time, the virtual digital assistant continues to learn which answers are right as it interacts more with customers. In time, Kalika, says those virtual digital assistants will also be able to recognize speech.


    Of course, there are technologies being used to enable virtual digital assistants to recognize speech today, most notably in the form of the IBM Watson platform. But to make use of technologies such as Watson, Kalika notes that organizations need to have strong application development expertise. TouchCommerce is aiming to provide the same capabilities within the context of a packaged application that is simpler to deploy and update.

    Virtual digital assistants will have a profound effect on the cost of delivering online customer service. Kalika says that, in the future, most live customer support professionals will spend the majority of their time training virtual digital assistants to deal with various scenarios.

    In the meantime, organizations of all sizes would be well-advised to recalibrate their future online support costs with an eye toward reducing them, dropping the vast majority of the savings created by virtual digital assistants directly to the bottom line.



    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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