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To bank customers, it's that little box on a website where you ask a question and get an automated answer. To IntelliResponse, it's a mind-reading device.
The Toronto-based technology company makes those little boxes. Its system can also be used for answering verbal questions.
This alone – the ability for an automated system to grasp complicated billing questions in plain English – seemed miraculous just 10 years ago, back in Neanderthal times when FAQ pages were the height of customer service. But IntelliResponse's chief executive officer David Lloyd has now helped push the technology even further into mind-reading territory.
It begins with the ability of a bank, say, using the system to amass and analyze millions of customer questions and then figuring out not just what customers want, but also the way they go about getting it. It's not just tallying the number of questions based on single-word recognitions (for example, adding up all the "mortgage" questions), but understanding more fully what the customer wants "and the journey that you are going through to try to solve your problems," Mr. Lloyd says.
What's important is not just what's being asked in the help box, but also the myriad ways customers are wording their questions and what they ask next. IntelliResponse then provides systems to corral that data for a bank, utility or other organization to understand what customers want.
It then goes a step further. The automated system answers the questions, but is also able to answer the next three most likely questions, and even makes product offers based on those questions and needs. So if you ask one question, the automated system, based on past users, is already second-guessing all your other possible needs.
"It's a very compelling, more or less 360-degree view of the customer, a virtuous cycle if you think of it," Mr. Lloyd says. "What we like to say is: 'One and done.' You've hit the lowest point of customer effort, which is great for me as a customer, and off I go throughout my day."
The company was originally born from technology developed by a group of students at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont., and was first used by various universities.
"We were first a student-born project trying to help schools that couldn't afford the big call centres and all the additional technology to serve their students," Mr. Lloyd says.
He joined the company eight years ago, first as chief technology officer, to drive the business into more of a commercial market. All the major Canadian banks are clients, as well as a number of credit unions, utility companies and universities, he says.
At its root, the technology takes complex communication and drills it down to simple needs.
"Like many things in life, there are hundreds of thousands of ways for you or I to probably ask a question that's materially the same," Mr. Lloyd says. "What we find is that the number of topics for a customer or things they need to know are very similar."
For instance, people might need to know their bank branch's transit number, in order to transfer money.
"But the way in which we ask the question could be very, very different," he said. The trick is for the technology to rapidly learn to understand those many ways and funnelling those questions into what is really a very limited number of services actually being offered by a bank or other institution."