Sydney, Australia, Aug 27, 2019 -- Woolworths wants its virtual assistant dubbed 'Olive' to ease the workload of its customer contact centre by illuminating options to access information about orders or retail locations.
It's a pivot that will pit the new artificial intelligence bot against human call centre agents in a test it hopes will boost self navigation to boost satisfaction and drive down costs.
At a time of intense competition Woolies between retailing rivals, the grocery provider isn't exactly putting Olive's achievements up in lights. But it is talking behind the scenes.
iTnews first reported Woolworths was working on a large-scale conversational AI platform back in January, before revealing some of the architecture and use cases for Olive earlier this month.
Some of this was drawn from slides presented at the Google Cloud Next 19 conference in San Francisco in April.
iTnews has since obtained access to the presentation itself, providing a clearer picture on why Woolworths went down the path to create Olive, as well as the assistant’s architectural make-up.
Joshua Rogers, platform technology manager at the retailer’s digital arm WooliesX, told the conference that Olive exists in the first instance to ease pressure on what Woolworths calls its ‘Customer Hub’ - a contact centre staffed by about 400 agents.
"We started with a very simple task to make sure that we take a real customer impacting event as well as a real business impacting event and we married them together," Rogers said.
"Our customers call up our Customer Hub and they want to know specific information - information that's very readily available, but they don't have any other way to get it.
"Calling up our Customer Hub takes up time.
"There's a lot of other activities that our Customer Hub endeavours in that take up a lot more time than they probably need to."
Rogers said there are currently four ways to interact with Olive.
Customers can interact via a text-based chatbot on the Woolworths Online website, via a Google Home device, via the Hub’s IVR, or via Google Hangouts.
"Olive is able to analyse customer inquiries, align their intents with actionable workflows, and then take that data, package it up and present it back to the consumers in a consumable way," Rogers said.
"We have features like our store locator and hours of operation. We also have features to modify your lists, manage your shopping list, and answer any frequently asked questions that you might have."
The voice-based channels are enabled in part using a Google cloud-hosted service called Dialogflow, while the chat-based interface uses technology from a start-up, Inbenta.
The backend of Woolworths’ digital applications is largely microservices-based/containerised and "hosted within GKE" - Google Kubernetes Engine.
These then call on other services and sources of data to complete the customer’s request - a process facilitated with API gateway technology from Google-owned Apigee.
"We operate through Apigee to our backend services to find the data that we need to deliver the experience that we want, [and] funnel it back into applications in GKE which prepares it for delivery to the customer," Rogers said.
"The key factor there is we have backend services that have our data that the customers want to have access to, and they want to be comfortable accessing that data.
"They want to be able to interface with our business in the ways that they're most easily available to them."
Rogers demonstrated how different parts of a transaction could be completed in an integrated fashion using Olive and other Woolworths’ digital properties.
He used Google Home to talk to Olive to find location information and opening hours for his nearest Woolworths store.
He then used voice commands to add items to a "shopping list" - such as milk - before switching to Woolworths Online on his laptop to complete the order.
At a separate SAP conference in Sydney earlier this month, Olive was used to help customers arrange refunds for items that went missing or were damaged in transit.
The retailer has also previously discussed how Olive can be accessed by customers that hit the Customer Hub IVR seeking outage information about Woolworths’ digital services.
While much of the Olive experience is currently focused on Woolworths Online operations, the aim is for Olive to eventually handle information requests and customer problems from across its portfolio of retail brands.
"We want to make sure that it's not just our Woolworths Online experience that they have access to Olive but also our BWS, Big W, Dan Murphy's, our money and financial services," Rogers said.
"We also want [customers] to be comfortable and connect to us in any way that they would like - over Facebook Messenger, Alexa, and digital assistants of any kind."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Woolworths is a retail business selling food, Clothing and General merchandise to middle to upper class customers in the South african and African markets
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2019
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