How Can I Help?
Automated ‘Support Chat’ Brings a Human Touch to A.I.
May 4, 2020
By TJ Stallbaumer, Corporate Affairs
It’s easy to see technology as cold and distant. And while that makes sense, it’s also something humans have a long history of trying to change. We’ve always wanted tech to do things for us, but now we want tech to do things like us – from ordering groceries to helping find love, we expect a lot of technology.
The onset of COVID-19 and the remote work that came with it has tethered associates to tech in new ways. One thing remains true: People still need tech support, and they still want it to come with a human touch.
But in the age of social distancing, that gets a lot harder. The solution? Technology, but with a human touch.
It’s time to meet Walmart’s Support Chat, created by our Global Tech team for U.S.-based associates. It’s a personalized, automated technical support bot that’s pretty excited to meet you, too.
Programming a Persona
Support Chat was designed to automate simple, frequently asked questions from Walmart associates. As a chatbot, its role is to perform a specific task designed to simulate human conversation. That’s why it was modeled directly after some of the home office tech bars’ most engaging associates – to bring a glowing ‘personality’ to the task of providing tech support.
As working from home becomes the new normal, Support Chat has an important role to play in ensuring associates’ technology continues to work for them. So the team that built it decided that it may as well be engaging, too.
Catherine Kromkowski is on the Business Services team within Global Tech and is the product and technology lead for Support Chat. She said modeling the bot after exemplary tech associates gave her team a valuable framework to begin building the bot.
“From a tech standpoint, our customers are other Walmart associates,” Kromkowski said. “And to help solve their issues, we wanted to create a bot with a voice and persona relative to what we’re trying to exemplify – which is customer service, and treating our customers as the sole focus.”
To that end, the Support Chat team decided to look inward.
“We really wanted the chatbot to be an extension of our tech bars,” Kromkowski said. “So we decided to build the bot around a tech bar associate named Eric, and kind of model it after the service he was providing. People always came away from working with him feeling relaxed, knowing their problem would be solved.”
Eric McNabb is one of the associates after whom Support Chat was modeled. Though his stellar job performance caused a move away from the tech bar to a different Global Tech team, he believes his desire to see technology fully utilized is what made him an inspiration for the team.
“I’m passionate about seeing technology used to its fullest extent,” McNabb said. “Which we simply cannot do if our associates don’t understand how to use it. And so that’s what I love, is linking our associates to their tech. and ensuring they get the most out of it.”
It’s easy to appreciate that Support Chat is a meaningful tool for associates. But it’s also an opportunity for Walmart to continue testing innovations within a deeply competitive and ever-growing field: artificial intelligence.
Teaching the Technology
“When I came into this role, we were all asking a similar question,” Kromkowski said. “How do you build a chatbot to provide the answers people want, that can truly solve their problems, and that will have high adoption by associates?”
The question doesn’t sound simple. And as it turns out, it’s not.
To ensure Support Chat can meaningfully solve associate’s tech issues, the bot has to have an understanding of what different queries are actually asking – or trying to ask.
“To ensure Support Chat could offer everyday value for associates, we began by turning the top 40 percent of ticket-driving issues into things the bot could address,” Kromkowski said. “But to do that, the bot has to understand how associates actually ask questions – which means understanding Walmart’s acronyms and idioms, like BYOD or WIN, to provide people the right avenue to get their question answered.”
That means Support Chat has to tag and learn new phrases as people interact with it, underscoring what makes it such an ambitious project. It may sound simple, but Support Chat’s ability to learn and implement new phrases and queries makes it an example of the power in machine learning when thoughtfully applied to a common problem.
Helping at Home
Support Chat is intended to make associates’ jobs easier. By addressing common tech. needs, the bot is helping associates across Walmart corporate. It’s taken on even greater utility as associates have moved from corporate sites to their home offices – and can’t access in-person help as quickly. Even though it may not be in-person help, Support Chat has proven it can do a lot while you’re working from home.
Support Chat now provides the latest COVID-19 updates from leadership, working from home timeline updates, and a direct line to the CDC. Support Chat also now provides additional working from home tech help, including the following:
- Zoom support
- Phone numbers for reaching tech bars remotely
- Reminders on which tools are available off-network
- Call forwarding
- In Tune registration for Macs
- Team mailbox management
Support Chat is available on and off the network via Chrome web and extension, Slack and Zoom, serving associates who sit in corporate offices across the U.S. In April, Support Chat launched a build facing all field associates via the TRACE app, with more releases coming soon.
If you are a corporate associate seeking tech support or the latest COVID-19/WFH updates, check it out now at supportchat.walmart.com. To learn more about Global Tech, visit one.walmart.com/GlobalTech.