When Mount Agung in Indonesia erupted in November \u2013 spewing a cloud of ash nearly four kilometres into the air \u2013 thousands of residents fled the area, fearing for their lives.\nAsh from another eruption days later was soon spotted in the airspace of Bali\u2019s Ngurah Rai International Airport leading to its closure, with hundreds of flights cancelled. Holidaymakers were left in a state of shock and confusion.\nAssisting them to get home safe was Jetstar\u2019s chatbot Jess. Only days before the eruption the virtual assistant, based on the Nuance Nina platform, had been upgraded with Facebook Messenger functionality.\n \nDuring the disaster inbound traffic to the assistant quadrupled.\n \n\u201cWe have been overwhelmed with the response. Jess has lowered our response time from up to 17 hours to zero minutes, and has already assisted more than 8000 customers with their enquiries, including 3000 customers during the significant disruptions in Bali caused by Mount Agung,\u201d Liz McCarthy, Jetstar Group\u2019s head of customer care and shared services told CIO Australia.\n \nJetstar launched Jess in 2013. On average Jess engages in close to 250,000 cross-channel conversations per month and to date has managed more than nine million conversations with the airline\u2019s customers.\n \nLast year, Jess was given Facebook Messenger functionality, allowing customer to chat with the AI and customer service team on the channel, providing context if the conversation had been started elsewhere.\n \nSince the additional capability was added, Jess\u2019 \u2018first-contact resolution\u2019 figure \u2013 the proportion of customer queries resolved through the chat session \u2013 has risen to 73 per cent.\n \n\u201cJetstar\u2019s expansion of its virtual assistant offering to Facebook reflects consumer demands to reach brands through their preferred online channels, similar to the way they communicate with friends and family. It also provides Jetstar customers with responses that are contextual and accurate, while forging closer relationships with Jetstar across channels,\u201d said Robert Schwarz, managing director for Nuance Enterprise in Australia and New Zealand.\n \n\u201cJetstar is a leader in the space. No other airlines have launched in multiple countries across Facebook Messenger and web, providing a seamless experience across the channel,\u201d he added.\n \nJetstar said the technology \u2013 which as well as field questions can retrieve customer bookings, resend itineraries and adding baggage to bookings \u2013 had led to a significant decrease in calls to its contact centre.\n \n\u201cCalls to our call centres have decreased as enquiries through Facebook Messenger become more prevalent, and this is likely to continue now that Jess has extended to social media,\u201d McCarthy added.\n \nBot you covered\nNuance has worked with a number of Australian organisations on the deployment of virtual assistants and chatbots as well as voice recognition and voice biometrics solutions. As well as on websites, in-apps and Facebook, Nina can also be extended to other chat channels like WeChat, LimeChat and Kik.\n \nNina has been rolled out by the Australian Taxation Office andIP Australia(who each call their Nina \u2018Alex\u2019) and Domino\u2019s Pizza (who have named theirs DRU Assist).\n \nLast month Commonwealth Bank of Australia launched its in-app and online chatbot named Ceba \u2013 which uses Nuance for "cognitive comprehension, AI capabilities and integration" \u2013 to assist customers with more than 200 banking tasks such as activating a card, checking account balances, making payments, or getting cardless cash.\n \nLocally Nuance also works with the likes of ANZ Bank, Department of Human Services, Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland, Foxtel, Telstra, and Latitude Financial.\nNina is not the only \u2018enterprise-grade\u2019 intelligent virtual assistant on the block.\n \nThe National Disability Insurance Agency recruited Cate Blanchett as the voice of its IBM Watson powered online virtual assistant called Nadia. Atrial beganin March last year, with Nadia expected to be fully operational within a year. However, in September the ABC reported that theproject had stalled.\n \nIBM Watson is behind a chatbot launched in May last year by NAB subsidiary UBank.\n \nIn Octoberthe Department of Human Services revealed plans for two new virtual agents \u2013 Gus and Oliver. The department rolled out virtual assistant Roxy,based on Microsoft\u2019s Cortana, in October to help staff process claims.\n \nIn November New South Wales government departments were given access to IPSoft\u2019s Amelia virtual agent through technology procurement platform GovDC Marketplace.\n \nAn Opus Research report forecast "explosive growth" in the enterprise-grade intelligent assistant market. Spending on IVAs by the enterprise reached US$1bn in 2016 and is predicted to top US$4.5bn by 2021.