FORT KNOX, Ky. -- He made his first appearance on the GoArmy website seven years ago. Since then, the Army's smooth talking, easy going intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) known as SGT STAR has answered more than 12 million questions from people who want to know more about the Army.
Now SGT STAR, which stands for 'Strong Trained And Ready,' is in Android app form on mobile devices, making him even easier to talk to and more accessible to the Millennial Generation -- the Army's target market. Soon he will also be on Apple devices.
Using their mobile devices, prospects can download the free app. Besides the traditional typing of questions, users can choose to use the new speech option and literally talk with SGT STAR.
This is very innovative, said Cleat Grumbly, with NEXT IT, the software company that built SGT STAR. He said the Army avatar is the first IVA/app to be able to have an actual conversation and not just respond to a command.
"This has never really been done before. SGT STAR understands the question and then does a search for information. He fully understands the user's intent and can turn his response into a meaningful answer. So now users can get answers to their questions via their phone any time, anywhere."
In today's society where young consumers want what they want as soon as possible, and don't want to wait around for a computer to boot so they can access stored documents, mobile is the way ahead for recruiting, said Nick Harrison, Army Recruiting Command G-3 division chief of recruiting automation support.
"This is generational, it's where our market is. They're into their mobile devices and being able to communicate without actually having to talk to anybody. Apps fit into the Millennials' lifestyle because they're not intimidated by avatars and technology and don't want to have to wait for a response," said Harrison.
Once an app has been downloaded and installed, consumers can use it any time, since apps do not require an internet connection -- thus enhancing the user's experience.
People are excited about this, said Grumbly. Within the first week of the Android release, more than 1,000 users downloaded the app with minimal promotion from the Army.
"Young consumers' expectations are very, very high; they expect a lot out of technology. If they don't get it, they're disappointed. They like being plugged into information 24/7, any time anywhere. If you make them wait to go get information they may not make the effort to get it, which is bad news in the world of recruiting. If we can answer their questions anytime they want, on their time, in their way, then they're going to build a trusted relationship with you, which is very important in recruiting," said Grumbly.
SGT STAR talks to about 35,000 users a month through all channels -- Web, Facebook and mobile. Harrison said last year more than 12 percent of the users communicated through mobile devices.
"I expect that number to double or triple in 2013. We've already seen a pretty big jump in the traffic on mobile," said Harrison, adding that he expects an additional increase in traffic when the iPhone app is available. "There are probably some people who, if they couldn't access SGT STAR on their mobile device, wouldn't bother to go home and look it up on a laptop. That generation that relies on a laptop is growing older and out of our target age group," said Harrison.
Just like when accessed via a laptop, the app provides links to other resources for additional information. If SGT STAR's answers don't completely inform and satisfy the user, he or she has the option to learn more at goarmy.com with specific links to information based on their question. The goal of the apps is to drive traffic to the site and ultimately to a recruiter.
About 10 percent of the questions have nothing to do with enlisting, but concern SGT STAR himself, such as is he married and does he have a dog. Grumbly said because SGT STAR answers all questions, this builds trust between him and the users.
SGT STAR's personality was originally built to attract the 18- to 20-year-old age bracket. Because of that design, "Potential recruits are comfortable engaging with SGT STAR because they can ask him anything without the concern of being barked at or counseled," said Harrison.
SGT STAR will never take the place of recruiters, said Grumbly, as "Recruiters are more gifted at being able to sell the Army and give insights that an app can't, but SGT STAR can answer all the basic questions, allowing recruiters to focus on the hard questions."
The app is continually being upgraded and refined to reflect changes in Army policy and regulations, said Grumbly. For example, prior to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, SGT STAR would not comment on allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve, but now answers, "If otherwise qualified, individuals may join and serve in the Army without regard to sexual orientation."
Where to Find SGT STAR
1. Goarmy.com -- upper right-hand corner of all pages
2. Goarmy Facebook -- on the "Talk With Us" tab
3. Google Play store for Android -- search SGT STAR
4. Coming soon to the Apple store -- search SGT STAR