One of LiveWire Logic’s first paying customers is not someone new to the customer satisfaction game. So to convince her that the firm’s automated, intelligent agent “Real Dialog” would help, not hurt, was not an easy task.

Now, she likes the tool so much she has even given the software a name.

“We call her Ann,” said Julie Amos with a laugh. “We wanted to give her a name that wasn’t going to be easily confused and was fairly conservative.” She added that “Ann” is “pretty intelligent — and willing to learn more!”

Amos, customer service manager for WaterPik, Technologies, has been in the business of helping answer customer questions for 18 years. She knew what customer relations management is all about long before CRM became shorthand for a whole industry of software products.

“I was here when we installed the first 800 number,” she recalled with a chuckle during a telephone interview with Local Tech Wire.

“LiveWire didn’t have to sell me on automation, which was an option I wanted. What they had to do is provide automation in a manner that meets our customers’ satisfaction. That was the key.”

LiveWire now has four paying customers. Circuit Cities disclosed its choice of LiveWire on Monday. The names of the other clients haven’t been disclosed.

The company, which was founded in 2000, built RealDialog around artificial intelligence and computational linguistics. The company has said that the AI can “learn” as it deals with more questions, more products, and more people.

Seeking to improve productivity, reduce costs, redirect human resources elsewhere and at the same time maintaining a high level of customer support, Amos said LiveWireLogic was the choice to automate some of the company’s e-mail help desk responses.

“(Ann) is to handle all our e-mails about personal health care products at WaterPik,” she explained. “It is for our retail customers. We are averaging about 120 e-mails a day with questions like ‘I want to buy one — which one should I buy?’

“We don’t want to turn people off. We looked at half a dozen other options — from the customer’s perspective. We wanted something that would look like dialog, that would have sentences like we were having a conversation with the customer as opposed to sending someone to go look in this FAQ or that FAQ.”

Careful selection and implementation

Having dealt with automation problems before, Amos said she and WaterPik were determined to be careful and thorough this time. .

“We made a half-hearted attempt (at automation) several years ago. It was not really well structured,” she recalled.

But Amos was willing to listen to LiveWire and review other possibilities.

“I am not coming at this from a technical background,” she said. “What I was impressed with mainly is that LiveWire was able to explain (Ann) to non-technical people, including my sales and marketing group, so that they understood what to expect and what’s going to happen. Then I talked to my technology people about the specifications.”

Handing off to humans — if necessary

The LiveWire intelligent agent will handle initial queries from customers, respond to questions about product capabilities and such, and then hand them off to “live” tech support if necessary, Amos said. But before going the interactive route, she said WaterPik made sure to talk with the true judges of how effective “Ann” will be by talking with consumers.

“We have done a number of surveys to understand our customer’s expectations,” she said. “This far exceeded the expectations they have now.

“Depending on the complexity of the questions, there will be a point at which the virtual agent will provide them with an e-mail format or a phone number and say: ‘I am unable to help you. Here is a number for someone who will.”

Increasing demand and costs triggered WaterPik’s reason to alter its tech support setup. “It’s difficult to get ahead of the curve,” Amos said. “Our e-mail volume is increasing. I expect to cut my costs in half.” But Amos said she is not reducing head count. Rather, “I’m going to focus them on other responsibilities.”

WaterPik is planning to implement “Ann” on Feb. 24, and LiveWire will have people on hand for employee training and technical support, Amos said.

“We’re really in the mode to begin. We are counting days to implementation.” Amos said.

“If this solution is successful and well received, we’ll start looking at how we can branch out further,” she added. “I am not at all uneasy. I am very excited about this. We’ve got both a great group of people working internally and at LiveWire working on the project.”

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