'Angry computer' created for call centres

Call-centre phone rage mimicked by computer for big business staff.

Kiwi researchers are creating an "angry computer" to improve customer service at call centres. It is hoped the artificial intelligence machine will help big banks, telcos and insurance companies defuse explosive complaints and identify big-business behaviours that most upset customers. The software program — called Radiant and being being developed by Auckland-based technology company Touchpoint Group — will analyse reams of real customer telephone interactions with leading New Zealand and Australian banks. The system will be live by the end of the year and is designed to simulate hundreds of millions of customer calls to find out what annoys clients, so that service can be improved. "Customers of New Zealand utility firms and banks will be the winners from this," Touchpoint Group chief executive Frank van der Velden said. "Some customers do get pretty bloody angry at times." Clients of Touchpoint include business giants such as ANZ, Westpac, Tower Insurance and Spark. Radiant's goal is to automatically identify the sorts of things that upset customers and advise staff how to deal with them and in what order, Van der Velden said. The program would constantly run "what if" scenarios to see whether a particular situation was likely to enrage or benefit the customer. "Radiant will be searching for behavioural patterns that typically suggest moments of risk or opportunity when interacting with customers," he said. "We are not in the business of managing complaints, we are in the business of managing issues that might turn into complaints."

The $500,000 system is called Radiant after a supercomputer in the Foundation series of books penned by sci-fi author Isaac Asimov in the 1950s. Scientists in New Zealand and Australia will spend the next six months uploading the data into the platform and tweaking its learning algorithms. Richard Llewellyn, spokesman for Spark, welcomed the initiative. "It is great to see a New Zealand company at the cutting edge of services to help improve the customer experience," he said. "We are committed to delivering world-class customer experiences, so we are excited by the prospect of new tools that can help organisations like Spark deliver better results." Campbell Wright, ANZ's general manager of contact centres, added: "Customer service is at the heart of what we do. "We already work with Touchpoint to help us collate and understand customer feedback. "We're constantly working to improve our service, and software such as this could provide further insight on the specific improvements customers want."