HP rolls out AI-powered 'virtual agent' to solve customer queries

Posted Nov 10, 2017 by James Walker
HP's started offering customers a "virtual agent" service on its customer support site. The agent can handle common queries without human intervention, letting customers get help after the support teams go home. It's continually learning new ways to help.
Hewlett-Packard ProLiant commercial data servers are assembled in Houston.
Hewlett-Packard ProLiant commercial data servers are assembled in Houston.
Donna Carson / Reuters
The agent learns "independently" whenever it completes a new chat with a user. This allows it to add it to its "core knowledge" of 50,000 pages of HP product information. As more users engage with the bot, it can construct additional help and guidance to answer future queries with more precision.
Helping customers
The bot communicates conversationally and in a friendly tone. It's meant to provide customers with a faster self-service alternative to waiting for a human support employee to become available. The agent appears at the bottom-right of HP support webpages, using a similar presentation to the live chat popups on many other websites.
The digital agent is capable of automatically detecting spelling mistakes and interpreting the intended meaning. It parses the customer's query to understand what they're asking, before searching for the answer in its catalogue of support documents. If it's unable to resolve the problem, it'll automatically hand over to a human operator.
HP s AI virtual agent
HP's AI virtual agent
In a post about the bot published in Microsoft's newsroom, HP vice president and head of global support centres LaChelle Porter-Ainer explained how it interacts with its users. She said the translation and spellcheck capabilities are the most important in letting it help a broad range of customers. In one chat, the agent automatically converted the phrase "noat book" in a customer query into "notebook."
"A customer can actually communicate in their own words and the virtual agent can translate to find the intention of that customer's question – and get that customer a response," Porter-Ainer said. "In other words, you just type as you would normally talk."
Increasing efficiency
HP said the agent's already cutting down customer waiting times. HP receives over 600 million technical support requests each year, equivalent to 1,000 every minute. With the bot able to takeover handling of basic queries, staff will be freed up to focus on more complex issues.
The virtual agent is derived from Microsoft-developed AI technology that was first piloted on the company's campus. When Porter-Ainer visited Microsoft, the bot's engineers approached her about deploying it to HP's support centres. Although the bot's still technically in an investigative phase, Porter-Ainer said it's already meeting its design requirements.
Since introducing the virtual agent, HP has resolved more problems and increased its support efficiency, improving the customer experience. The use of chatbots is growing across industries as their benefits begin to become clear. HP's not alone in trialling the technology and it's likely adoption of "virtual agent" services will grow significantly into 2018.