News Feature | August 29, 2014

Virtual Assistance Technology Trend Emerges

By Cheryl Knight, contributing writer

Virtual Assistance Technology Trend

First there was Siri, now you have Cortana, both at your beck and call and ready to help you set up appointments and look up information online, all through your smartphones. With retailers racing to provide the best customer experience, the next generation of digital assistants has made its debut.  

In an effort to wow customers, the Grafton Shopping Center in Cambridge, UK, has installed a virtual employee to greet guests as they enter the shopping center. According to an article published by Altavia Watch, the Tensator Virtual Assistant interacts with customers and answers common questions, such as where consumers can find certain shops and bathrooms — and can tell you the time. The Tensator is beginning to make appearances around the world, including at airports, train stations, and conference centers.

A different type of virtual assistant is illustrated by the new Ask Zappos service, which provides customers with a digital personal assistant to help track down the items they want, based on image recognition technology. Unlike the Tensator Virtual Assistant, Ask Zappos uses real, live employees to perform the searches. According to Will Young, Zappos Labs Director, in a recent CNET article, the use of live employees to do the searches allows for better brand recognition.

Another company working on virtual assistant technology is Nuance, maker of the Dragon speech recognition technology. Google and Apple are also looking to improve their current offerings, with Google moving more toward deep learning technology.

As the trend gains popularity, innovation in this area should increase — which could be good news for both VARs and their clients.