Coronavirus: What We Have Learned

By Pat Calhoun • March 23, 2020

During times like pandemics, wildfires, and hurricanes, employees have to cope with the new world of “mandatory work from home.” Employee questions go up monumentally, and without the ability to ask the employee sitting next to them, they start to panic. This translates into a flood of issues coming into the help desk.

Over the craziness of the past week, we have witnessed the impact Coronavirus has had on our customers. In fact, in a conversation with a prospect this morning, they were telling me their help desk hold times were nearing two hours. That is a lot of lost productivity, and certainly stressful if you are living on the front line. As our customers’ employees shift to an “all remote” workforce, it has been interesting to see the spike in usage of Barista (our AI-based virtual support agent) and to see the types of questions employees are asking.

Common Employee Questions

Since the usage of Barista is growing exponentially across all of our customers, we have been able to understand trends in the types of questions being asked. This information has in turn helped some of our customers focus their efforts in building out content to help employees while increasing call deflection. The six topics that have been most commonly used in the past week include:

  1. VPN setup and help
  2. VPN account requests
  3. Password resets (this is the first time that password reset is not the top call driver)
  4. How do I work from home
  5. What to do about coronavirus
  6. Accessing shared drives from home

The Barista Employee Language Cloud

When we designed Barista, we did it to support our customers in a more “normal” time. It has been rewarding to all Espressive employees to know that Barista is performing so strongly in a situation that none of us believed would ever happen – one that is far from normal. Not every virtual assistant could do that. Let me explain.If an employee has a question about configuring a VPN, that sounds like an easy question for a virtual assistant to handle. It would be really easy if employees were consistent in how they ask questions, but they are not. There are literally tens of thousands of possible phrase variations related to configuring a VPN. For example, they could ask:

  • How do I connect remotely to the network?
  • How do I access the network from home?
  • I want to connect to the network while I’m stuck working from home with this pandemic.
  • Can someone show me how to use this VPN thingy?
  • And tens of thousands of others…

How can a virtual assistant handle all of those variations? Well to use an analogy, let’s consider Alexa. One reason why Alexa has been so successful at understanding human language is that Amazon has tens of millions of consumers using it on a daily basis. Behind the scenes, they have an army of data scientists and computational linguists who are responsible for tuning Alexa based on usage patterns.

Well, that is great for Amazon. But there is no single enterprise customer that has enough data to recreate a service that has the accuracy levels of consumer assistants, let alone afford an army of AI experts.

Enter the Barista Employee Language Cloud (ELC). The ELC is an innovation that Espressive introduced in early 2019. The Barista ELC learns as usage occurs across all of our customers. When Barista makes a mistake or runs into a topic Barista has never seen before, that is a learning opportunity. Our ELC data scientists and computational linguists are then responsible for addressing the issue or building out new content, which all of our customers benefit from.

This is how Barista has grown to understand well over 750 million phrases in just a little over a year, with well over tens of millions of phrases being added on a weekly basis. This is important because Barista’s ability to understand the tens of thousands of different phrase permutations, across literally thousands of topics, ensures the highest accuracy and deflection rates.

Barista Helped With The Pandemic Before It Became A Problem

Barista’s ability to understand phrases across topics that cross all enterprise departments means that Barista has long understood issues related to pandemics (among many other natural disasters). Now, granted, Barista did not understand the terms Coronavirus or COVID-19. However, as soon as the Coronavirus emerged, the ELC team saw the new questions being asked and added the multitude of new phrases to the ELC (and there are many). This ensured that Barista could understand the large number of questions employees are asking, such as:

  • What is the current policy on coronavirus?
  • Cov19?
  • What should I be doing about the corona thing?
  • and literally thousands of others…

With simple changes made by the ELC team, our customers, in turn, received support within minutes. What this meant was that our customers already had complete control over teaching Barista with their own responses, web links, or knowledge articles. This enabled our customers to react very quickly to the pandemic, providing the vital information needed by their employees.

What is Next?

With this ever-changing world, it is not clear what is next for all of us. My suspicion is the “new normal” will be different next month than it is now, and that it will continue to evolve. We just announced two new capabilities that will help enterprise help desks keep up with the constant change. Check out this blog to learn more . . .

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