How GlaxoSmithKline launched 16 virtual assistants in 10 months with Watson Assistant

Internal and external virtual assistants improved customer satisfaction and employee productivity

By | 3 minute read | December 8, 2020

GSK is a global pharmaceutical company that researches, develops, and manufactures innovative pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and consumer healthcare products.

The company prides itself on customer service and aims to provide channels for 24/7 support through its call centers. In 2017, about 20% of incoming calls were customers and employees looking for standard info, putting avoidable pressure on call center resources. GSK began assessing virtual assistant technology that would allow these users to self-serve.

More customers across the pharma industry are leveraging self-service, and GSK uses several virtual assistant capabilities to deliver self-service options, providing customers and employees with a 24/7 channel for support. After evaluating many products to enhance this service, GSK turned to IBM Watson Assistant to provide world-class service, while also reducing costs.

Why GSK added Watson Assistant to its self-service capability

Building and deploying a virtual assistant is relatively straightforward for the experienced team at GSK. But continuously training the virtual assistants to stay up to date, plus making sure the platform could easily be scaled, presented potential challenges.

Watson Assistant’s ease of use was a major factor for the team. The ability for their SMEs to log into Watson Assistant, learn quickly, and continuously improve the bot was unparalleled by the competition.

As a large company, GSK was also concerned about adding another piece of technology to the many systems it already had in place. Watson Assistant’s open-ended architecture and powerful API set made integrating with GSK’s existing platforms very easy.

Today, GSK has integrated Watson Assistant with its online messaging and chat channels, CRM systems, databases, ITSM systems and many in-house custom applications.

How GSK expanded Watson Assistant beyond customer service

Over time, other business units learned of the flexibility of Watson Assistant and realized they could create virtual assistants for any use case. After the successful launch in customer care, GSK set out to deploy eight more virtual assistants. In just ten months, GSK doubled its target and launched 16 bots.

“Although the number looks staggeringly large, the use cases were unique enough to warrant their own assistant,” says Srini Raghavan, Senior Manager of Product Engineering at GSK. “They were either automating a manual task or helping reduce burden on subject matter experts.” Last quarter, Watson Assistant engaged with approximately 7,000 unique users, answering approximately 83,000 questions across the company.

One of the many successful use cases was providing Watson Assistant to field employees. The field teams needed to stay up to date with company information and have an easy way to ask for help. GSK trained Watson Assistant on common questions, problems and requests that came from the field force and made the bot accessible anywhere, any time, on the road or right in front of a client.

Watson Assistant proved essential during the spread of COVID-19. GSK’s bots handled essential tasks such as ordering PPE or delivering general health information about COVID-19. “Training Watson Assistant on new COVID-19 information was quick and easy — our normal way of working in these testing times,” says Raghavan.

In China, the power of IBM Watson’s AI Platform is leveraged to provide 24/7 support for over 8,000 GSK employees across a range of business processes including finance, HR, IT support, procurement, sales/medical, etc. Through voice recognition and natural language understanding, the Virtual Assistant provides intelligent response to solve over 50% of user inquiries, enabling a better employee experience and reducing the overall workload for the service desk.

Infusing conversational AI into workflows is only getting easier for GSK

As new teams continue to adopt Watson Assistant, it’s only becoming easier to deploy. Today, project delivery finishes on average five months ahead of schedule. GSK expects its number of virtual assistants and use cases to keep growing. The company is also exploring deployment of Watson Assistant over voice channels such as IVR and integration with conference rooms to make booking easy.

“We took a unique approach to rolling out Virtual Assistants,” says Raghavan. “We had to take away the burden of technical development and focus on speed of delivery when it comes to launching new experiences for our employees. We are glad Watson Assistant has enabled us to achieve both.”