• December 7, 2004
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Automatic for the People: Comcast Goes ''Live'' With Online Customer Support

Comcast Communications has decided to get as close as possible to live-agent customer support online without actually using live agents. The cable network provider has begun using Conversagent's Automated Service Agent (ASA) to provide an automated, online customer-interaction experience--called AskComcast--that emulates an interaction with an agent. ASA is a virtual support representative that customers can interact with in a natural, conversational style. The system uses an instant-messaginglike, text-chat interface that allows customers to type questions in their own words. ASA responds in a direct, conversational tone. "In the customer service area in the online world, a human is presented with a very inhuman like experience," says Stephen Klein, CEO of Conversagent. "Many times you go to an online help area and you type in a question and you're presented with the top-60 answers, and one of these will probably solve your problem. That can be daunting to many people." In addition to responding to customers' questions, AskComcast can also take the lead in conversation, prompting the customer for additional information, offering a suggestion, or guiding the customer through a multistep process. ASA also integrates with Comcast's customer database to access personally relevant information. Likewise, the program can draw on other non-customer-specific information within Comcast's organization, and then display that data for the customer. And when AskComcast can't get the job done, it forwards the customer to an attended support channel like email, Web chat, or a call center. "Some questions are best suited to be answered graphically and not verbally," Klein says. "That's something a human being can't do conversationally that a computer can. A computer can take speech to a level that humans cannot--we can't talk pictures but computers can." AskComcast, fully deployed in September 2003, is saving the company money. According to industry reports, the average cost of assigned support can range anywhere between $4 and $30 per call. The average cost of a conversation with AskComcast rings in at an average of 20 cents. It's also improving Comcast's customer contact centers. With ASA deflecting a large percentage of calls on basic issues, contact center reps are focusing on the more complex and higher-value issues that require human interaction. "You improve customer loyalty...because you're decreasing the number of calls into the contact center without displacing other service channels and software systems," Klein says. "Customer reps can spend more time on the calls that need their attention." Related article: Click! Network Dials Up Better Customer Service
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