eGain puts a face on self-service Web app

CRM (customer relationship management) vendor eGain Communications on Monday plans to formally announce an improved version of its Assistant 5.0 Web self-service software, with an expanded ability to build knowledge bases.

Assistant 5.0 enables Web visitors to serve themselves by answering questions that visitors submit in a natural-language format, just as a customer might verbally ask them. The product maintains a dialog with customers about the subject at hand, according to the company. To make the system more lifelike, a Web agent projects animated facial expressions onto a box in the screen in an attempt to display the demeanor of the session.

New to the product is an expanded case-building capability that automates eGain's ability to build the product's knowledge base of answers, according to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based eGain. Through tactical and semantical analysis of texts, cases for the answering of questions are based on clusters of knowledge such as frequently asked questions (FAQs).

"Basically, when we go out to build an application for a customer, we request the customer to provide us [with] all the knowledge that he wants to build from in a question-and-answer format," said Pedro Cortopassi, engineering manager for eGain Assistant. Or, customers can build the knowledge base themselves, according to eGain.

"What they've done in 5.0 is they have incorporated, or fine-tuned, more of that case-based reasoning," said Assistant 5.0 user Milton Santiago, first vice president and head of electronic banking products at financial institution ABN Amro Bank NV, in Chicago. "It makes it very conversational, so that in some cases people think they are really speaking to a live person."

ABN AMRO uses Assistant 5.0 for a self-service cash management application.

"The self-service component of eGain gives us the ability to give the customer self-service responses that are first of all accurate and consistent," Santiago said.

Santiago said, however, that he would like to see more animation in the application so that the face the customer sees looks more lifelike. But he said he anticipates this kind of progress from eGain in the future.

Also new in Version 5.0 is enhanced reporting, in which daily reports on the activities of the self-service application can be generated within a few seconds as opposed to several minutes.

Support for the Japanese and Italian languages will be offered. Additional international language support also is needed, Santiago said.

Version 5.0 pricing varies based on factors such as the number of sessions. The server component starts at US$30,000. Assistant 5.0 is available now.

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