"Hi. My name is Phyllis. I'm the DLIS virtual representative. Please tell me your name." Introductions over, the first question that might pop into your mind is "What is the DLIS?" Type that into a Web search, and you learn that the DLIS is the Defense Logistics Information Service, a section of the Department of Defense that maintains a catalog of stock numbers for department parts.
Logisticians visit (www.globalcollect.com) to get the stock number of a part needed to fix, say, a tank. Once they have the number, they can put in a purchase order through another system. But if they have trouble navigating the DLIS site, they can always ask Phyllis for help. She's a virtual representative, or vRep--created by San Francisco-based NativeMinds--who debuted in May. (Her name, by the way, is derived from the name of the catalog she's associated with: the Federal Logistics Information System, or FLIS.)
Raymond Zingaretti of DLIS says his Web development team was looking for ways to make it easy to navigate the site. "With traditional search technology, you get pages and pages of matches you have to look through," he says. "Phyllis is a natural language search tool based on pattern matching. She takes you right where you want to go." DLIS customers include the Army and Navy, other department agencies, NATO, international governments and private industry (which supplies the parts).
Saving money and improving efficiency are priorities, however, and Phyllis is helping DLIS do just that. Zingaretti says DLIS hopes to remove 35 percent of frequently asked questions from its call center and transfer them to its Web site and Phyllis. According to NativeMinds' vice president of marketing Andrew de Vries, research has found that the average cost of resolving a customer question through a call center is $30, whereas the average cost of resolution with knowledge-based applications, such as the virtual representative, is only $1. In her first week of service, Phyllis was averaging 230 questions a day, so she's well on her way to earning her keep.