Meet Olive, Woolworths’ conversational AI platform

August 12, 2019 Off By

Exclusive: Architecture revealed, already in production.

Woolworths has given an Australian audience the first major look at Olive, a conversational artificial intelligence platform that its digital arm WooliesX has been developing since late last year.

WooliesX’s chief digital technology officer Nick Eshkenazi told the SAP e’ffect conference in Sydney that Olive – in an initial chatbot form – has been live since November last year.

iTnews first revealed in January this year that the retailer was working on a “large-scale conversational AI platform”, but even then the company offered little on the project, including that – by this stage – it was live.

Olive currently appears as a chatbot on the Woolworths “Contact Us” page. It is launched when users click “Live Chat” under the Woolworths Online section.

Eshkenazi said that “Olive does some impressive things”. 

Users can pose natural language queries to find information about stores or promotions. 

Eshkenazi also demonstrated how Olive can be used to get refunds for missing or damaged items from online orders.

“Let’s say you ordered something and it didn’t arrive as expected,” he said.

Olive will apologise to the customer and then try to identify them and their order.

“It will show you all the items that are in the order, and you’ll be able to choose from those and say ‘I’m missing a couple of those, or three of those’,” he said.

“Then you submit it, and Olive will confirm that those are the items that are missing and it tells you in three to five business days you will see the refund for those items. The same applies to damaged items. 

“It shows you an example of the level of intelligence that can be done. By the way, there’s not a human being on the other side. This is entirely done through deep diving and understanding who you are.”

Eshkenazi did not discuss the technology behind Olive, but the site’s source code shows that the chatbot uses self-service technology from US firm Inbenta.

Inbenta confirms “Woolworths Supermarket” as a customer, and provides some context around how its platform is being used.

“Woolworths Supermarket wanted to ensure their customers were receiving the best possible online support,” it said.

“They added Inbenta’s AI-powered, intelligent search and natural language processing to understand the meaning of each customer query. 

“This allows the relevant answers to appear quickly and easily to customers, regardless of keywords. 

“Customers can now enter a question and receive the best answers from Woolworths’ knowledge base or website. 

“Inbenta empowers thousands of searches everyday for Australia’s leading online supermarket.”

Olive offers voice, too

Though Olive has now been live for some nine months, Woolworths has kept the project relatively under wraps.

It was first quietly revealed at the Google Cloud Next ‘19 conference in San Francisco in April, though detail released from the presentation is limited to a slide deck.

The deck shows Olive is architected to be accessed via either a chat or voice-based interface, and that much of the architecture is built from Google cloud components. 

The voice-enabled part of Olive is a combination of Dialogflow, a Google cloud API described as a “build-once deploy-everywhere development suite for creating conversational interfaces”, and Google AI, Eshkenazi said in a blog post late last month.

Woolworths is using a beta feature of Dialogflow called Auto Speech Adaptation, which is designed to help a virtual agent understand the context of what it is hearing so it can more accurately respond.

Google suggests it could prevent misunderstandings or confused responses from a virtual agent, particularly when the voice connection to the customer is bad.

“We recently wanted to inform customers about a network outage impacting our customer hub and were able to add messaging to our virtual agent quickly,” Eshkenazi said. Customer hub is the name Woolworths gives its contact centre.

“The new solution provides our customers with instant responses to questions with zero wait time and helps them connect instantly with the right people when speaking to a live agent is needed,” he said.

Olive’s future

The slide deck also reveals that Olive is set to be incorporated into the full suite of Woolworths apps, including Big W, Rewards and Woolworths Money, in addition to the current use with Woolworths Online and Supermarkets.

It appears also that Olive will be accessible via a range of devices, from computers and smartphones through to smart home devices.

Olive’s future state will be capable of speech-to-text (STT), automatic speech recognition (ASR), natural language processing (NLP) and customer sentiment analysis, the deck shows.