Staples announced this week the next phase of its Staples Easy System pilot program (launched in March 2016), unveiling a new cognitive-enabled “Easy Button” office supply reordering system which integrates IBM’s Watson technology to help simplify office supply management for Staples Business Advantage Customers.
The Staples Easy System brings the “on-demand” world to businesses, allowing facility managers to order anytime, anywhere, from any device. By tapping into IBM’s Watson Conversation service, Staples now offers an ordering interface for customers across the Staples Easy System ecosystem — via Staples’ proprietary next-generation Easy Button, through the app, text, email, over Facebook Messenger, or with a Slackbot. The Watson-enabled interface simplifies shopping, allowing customers to reorder supplies, track shipments, or chat about customer service needs.
In addition to facilitating simpler interactions with customers, cognitive capabilities built into the system and powered by a combination of Watson Knowledge Studio and Staples’ internal personalization APIs will help the Staples Easy System learn more about each businesses’ preferences over time, including preferred products and quantities. Eventually, the system will be able to make product and services recommendations based on the customer’s current needs.
“Staples and IBM have combined the power of Watson technology with Staples’ expertise in helping small and medium businesses to transform how companies shop for everything they need for their office,” said Faisal Masud, executive vice president, eCommerce and customer experience, Staples. “With the Easy System, administrators will have greater overall management of their organizations’ procurement processes, ultimately saving them time they can instead spend on running their office. It’s the assistant’s assistant.”
Since announcing the Staples Easy System solution earlier this year, Staples’ Applied Innovation, e-Commerce, and IT teams have been working on adding features and services to benefit business customers, including:
- Speech-to-text capability, translating the inbound audio stream from the customer to Staples, which then allows for recognition of what they want to order or ask the Easy System.
- The ability to view and playback all requests received from the customer’s Easy Button, allowing both the customer and Staples to listen to captured audio, review submissions from any of their devices, and verify the requested items.
- Strengthening the customer service chat feature with IBM’s Watson Conversation service, allowing the system to quickly respond to common requests, like checking on product availability.
- Self-monitoring status updates through an API that sends a request to the Easy System from the Easy Button to check if button is online or not. If the Easy System detects that button is not online then it will send an e-mail to the customer to alert them before the next time they try and make an order.
“A critical component of Watson’s technology is engagement, facilitating better interactions between brands and consumers, deepening connections, and enhancing how people engage,” said Steve Abrams, distinguished engineer and vice president of developer advocacy, IBM Watson. “Our collaboration with Staples puts cognitive in the palm of the consumer’s hand, streamlining business operations and creating a frictionless customer experience.”
The Easy Button is being rolled out via Alpha Test to a small subset of Staples Business Advantage customers in the Austin, TX market. This will be followed by a broader Beta Test rollout to over 100 additional customers in Austin and New York before the end of 2016. Businesses interested in learning about being a Beta customer can visit www.staples.com/easy.
The Alpha and Beta tests of the Easy Button are part of an initiative from Staples, which also includes the recently announced “Scan My List” functionality for Staples’ iOS mobile app, which lets a customer scan their shopping list or take a picture of their breakroom to generate an order.