Over the last few years, distributors have been enhancing their services to try to win new business and offer customers an easier buying experience. They have moved on from being logistics companies to attempting to influence customers’ buying decisions directly from the concept phase of the project.
As products get more complex, and the push to get new designs to market is more urgent, distributors provide the information that isn’t included in manufacturers documentation, while still fulfilling their natural role of getting the components to customers when they need them. The additional responsibilities are quite a challenge for distributors. As with any large organisation, getting to the person you need to speak to in a timely manner can be difficult, and nothing is more frustrating for customers than being passed over from sales to support to fulfilment in an attempt to get an answer.
Now, Avnet has launched a new initiative intended to help customers get the information they need in the quickest possible way using emerging technologies. The company has developed “Ask Avnet”, an intelligent agent that can draw information from Avnet’s wide variety of resources that include Hackster.io and element14. Having an automated service may not seem like the greatest idea in the world, especially to those who, like me, were brought up in an age when a robotic voice at the end of the line asking you to “Press one for sales” would set you to prepare for a long and frustrating time. But, technology has moved on and the cloud and AI have made a huge change in the abilities of machines to understand human voices. Interactions are much more natural and maybe more importantly, we are now more comfortable using voice to interact with and control technology through Siri on our phones or products like Google Home and the Amazon Echo. The AI learns in real-time, so even situations that were once problematic can be overcome.
One thing about the Avnet news, is that the company worked with Microsoft and had a functional system up and running in only six weeks. Ask Avnet is built on Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service – LUIS, which uses machine learning to identify use cases. It can also ask follow up questions if the subject of the call is not immediately understood, it builds a knowledge bank that makes it more effective in the future. The service will hand off any queries that it doesn’t understand straight to a human help desk.
It will be interesting to see how the technology copes with a deeply technical subject. Ask Avnet is now in open beta in North America rolled out to other regions.