eGain’s Virtual Assistant wins high marks in usability study

Customers of Large European Bank Prefer Internet “Bot” to Live Customer Service Representatives

SUNNYVALE, Calif, April 2, 2002 – A recent study on the usability of online customer service based on artificial intelligence has yielded an unexpected and somewhat startling result: People seeking answers to financial questions would rather ask a robot than a human being. This is very good news to companies seeking to cut the ever-increasing cost of customer service in a tight economy, because virtual assistants – the more formal term for online robots or “bots” – are extremely efficient at deflecting traffic from paid customer service representatives.

The usability study was commissioned jointly by eGain Communications Corporation (NASDAQ: EGAN), a global provider of eService software, and a large European bank. It was conducted by The Usability Company, an independent research firm, with the primary goal of determining how the bank’s customers would react to eGain’s virtual assistant.

The participants in the study, all but one of whom had been using the Internet for at least three years, not only liked the experience, they overwhelmingly preferred the eGain virtual assistant to telephone-based customer service. In contrast to the long periods of time spent waiting on hold and the uneven quality of service the participants associated with call centers, the virtual assistant’s responses were perceived as quick, accurate and trustworthy.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased with the positive results of this study,” said Michael Lehane, product manager for eGain Assistant™ , “but we’re not surprised. Our technology may sound futuristic to the general public, but it’s mature and has a proven track record of success in actual deployments.” Lehane hastened to add that despite the results of the usability study, eGain recommends that companies do not deploy the virtual agents as a panacea for customer service. “Virtual agents offer an excellent first point of contact for customer service, ” said Lehane, “but the best service strategy is to combine the virtual agents with options to escalate the inquiry to assisted service if needed. Customers need the assurance that their inquiries will be answered — whether by virtual agents, or live customer service representatives.”

While acceptance of the virtual assistant was strong, it was clearly contingent upon relevance of response. The participants in the study entered their questions in English-like sentences, and accepted the need to occasionally rephrase in order to obtain a relevant answer, but only up to a point. Three rephrasings exhausts the typical user’s patience.

With eGain virtual assistants, relevancy of response has not been a problem. The eGain solution consistently achieves higher than 90% relevancy, and has achieved as high as 96% in a real-world implementation for a major financial institution. This level of performance is obtained through a proprietary automated process that creates a specially structured knowledge base from existing resources such as FAQs. The process takes into account not only keywords, but synonyms, misspellings, and, most importantly, syntax rules.

According to Marty Carroll, director of the usability practice at The Usability Company, eGain’s reliability creates a new benchmark for online customer service. “Because the conventional help tools on many Web sites have not actually been all that helpful for customer service inquiries, people have had very low expectations of customer service online, ” said Carroll. “Test participants were pleasantly surprised by the reliability of the eGain Assistant and this would undoubtedly encourage future use.”

Typically, a virtual assistant’s answers are delivered by a human representation, either a series of facial photographs or a cartoon figure capable of a variety of expressions. These expressions, combined with the language used in the responses, create a personality that can be friendly or reserved, humorous or serious, as appropriate to the site.

In the case of the bank that commissioned the survey, participants strongly preferred a female personality that was “not too formal, knowledgeable but not patronizing, concise and useful.”

eGain Assistant has been used to power a variety of virtual agents for Global 2000 companies, including “Lori” at McAfee.com, “RITA” (the Real-time Internet Technical Assistant) at ABN AMRO’s CashProWeb, “Rachel” at Friends Provident (U.K.), and Japan’s first virtual agent at Hokkaido Bank. Because the agents are available 24/7 and take no breaks, they perform as a kind of “Superstar CSR” (customer service representative), answering many first-line customer inquiries that would otherwise tie up a company’s phone agents. In one instance, the eGain-powered virtual agent deflected 50% of the most common phone calls, handling a volume of inquiries that would have required a staff of 33 people. These kinds of results make the virtual agents a popular choice for providing first-level customer assistance, so that trained phone agents can focus on more complex inquiries.

About The Usability Company

Founded by a team of specialists with a combined experience of over 30 years providing usability services for major corporate brands, The Usability Company is the United Kingdom’s leader in usability research, testing and consultancy. The firm is located in London.

About eGain Communications Corporation

eGain (NASDAQ: EGAN) is a leading provider of eService software. Selected by 24 of the 50 largest global companies to improve phone and Web-based customer service, eGain solutions increase service efficiency and customer retention – thus delivering a significant return on investment (ROI). eGain eService Enterprise – the company’s integrated software suite – includes applications for email management, Web collaboration and self-service, and enterprise-wide knowledge management. eGain has an operating presence in 18 countries and serves more than 800 enterprise customers worldwide – including Vodafone, DaimlerChrysler, and ABN AMRO Bank. To learn more about eGain, please visit https://www.eGain.com or call the company’s offices – United States: (888) 603-4246; London: +44 (0) 1753 464646; or Sydney: +612 9492 5400.


Trademarks: eGain, the eGain logo and all other eGain product names and slogans are trademarks or registered trademarks of eGain Communications Corp. in the United States and/or other countries. All other company names and products mentioned in this release may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-looking Statements: All statements in this release that involve eGain’s plans, forecasts, beliefs, projections, expectations, strategies and intentions are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements, which are based on information available to eGain at the time of this release, are not guarantees of future results; rather, they are subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from those set forth in this release. These risks include, but are not limited to, the challenging economic environment; the uncertainty of demand for eGain products; the anticipated customer benefits from eGain products; increased competition and technological changes in the markets in which eGain competes; eGain’s ability to manage its expenditures; and other risks detailed from time to time in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the company’s annual report on Form 10-K filed on September 28, 2001, and the company’s quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. eGain assumes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements.



Media Contacts:

eGain Communications Corp.
Anne Carr

Paul Blunden
The Usability Company
44 (0) 20 7843 6706