How Cardinal Health started small and scaled fast to improve customer experience and reduce costs

By | 4 minute read | March 31, 2021

Healthcare provider and patient

Cardinal Health, Inc. is a global health care services company. Its mission is to remove healthcare complexities and bring scaled solutions to help its customers thrive in a changing world. Cardinal Health has implemented two AI initiatives to improve agent and customer experiences and bring its mission statement to life.

With the arrival of COVID-19, businesses that rely on workers being physically present, such as retail, hospitality and call centers, were hit hard and fast. Cardinal Health, which had previously deployed Watson Assistant to help their agents rapidly troubleshoot IT issues, now built on that success, evolving their AI initiative to help clients get crucial up-to-date information on their orders.

Think big, start small, scale fast

Savvy organizations are using current challenges to inspire new ways of working. Companies like Cardinal Health are not looking to disrupt an industry or blaze a new trail. They’re looking for stability, continuity of business, and continually responsive agent experience and customer service. And they’re finding great success using AI to do it.

In 2019 Jasmeet Singh, Director of Augmented Intelligence at Cardinal Health, spearheaded an invaluable AI use case to help Cardinal Health agents get IT help faster. Singh knew that AI-infused automation could improve the customer and agent experience. He also knew that Cardinal Health needed to implement a virtual voice assistant that would aid, not disrupt, the customer service experience. “You should be training your AI, but you should never be trying to train your customer or end user,” says Singh.

Guided by this philosophy, Singh’s team studied their data, looking for a use case they could apply AI against. They found that 20% of incoming calls to their IT center were from internal agents seeking assistance with password resets.

Cardinal Health’s digital philosophy is “Think big, start small, scale fast.” Singh and his team implemented Watson Assistant on Cardinal Health’s existing phone system. They mapped the journey directly over the options those callers were already choosing. Now callers who need to reset their password are directed to a virtual agent that assists them, freeing up Cardinal Health’s human IT agents to address more complex issues.

Challenges become opportunities

When COVID-19 hit, Singh’s team took the technology they had developed to assist their IT department and scaled it out as a customer-facing assistant. This time Watson Assistant would help answer questions about the status of shipments of medical products and medicine. Singh’s team re-engineered the solution, using about 80% of the original code to create a new conversational agent. They had a successful test case up and running in five days. They named the new AI assistant CHIA, the Cardinal Health Intelligent Assistant.

When customers began to call in and speak with CHIA, they received a satisfactory resolution to their issues in less than two minutes, and Cardinal Health didn’t need to allocate a single live agent — CHIA handled the call volume independently.

IBM and Cardinal Health share a similar philosophy regarding adopting and operationalizing AI: Think big, start small, and scale fast. Looking at the data, Singh had his big idea: Cardinal Health could assist agents and customers with the same base technology. By starting small, with an internal Watson Assistant voice assistant, Singh and his team could train it with the necessary skills and intents to grow beyond the initial use case. When it was time to scale their solution out into an adjacent workflow, Singh’s team did it a way that would be most valuable for customers.

Coming soon

Singh and his team at Cardinal Health are excited for new developments in AI and are eagerly exploring three upcoming AI capabilities. The first is using AI to speed up cycles of data wrangling and ingestion. There are already new tools coming up to meet these goals in IBM Cloud Pak for Data.

The second is process mining, which aids organizations in recognizing patterns faster and improve key metrics, allowing businesses to see results in weeks rather than months. The third is multi-cloud solutions. Applying AI anywhere is a crucial feature of IBM Cloud Pak for Data’s Watson Anywhere capabilities.

For business leaders who are still anxious about adopting AI, Singh says, “Think big, start small, scale fast — it’s a journey. Lean into the insights you’re deriving from your AI. Infuse AI into your existing workflows and see how automation and predictions help offload some of the cognitive burdens currently saddling your human resources. Above all, consider your people — start training them for digital fluency and immersion. And don’t be afraid; there are resources out there to help.”

Want to explore ways you can use IBM to improve customer experience and reduce costs? No matter where you are in your journey, IBM AI Experts can help you work through your data and understanding where your use case or AI goals may lie.