Brightware Inc. has upgraded its software designed to help banks come to grips with the thousands of customer service requests their Internet banking sites receive daily.
The Novato, Calif.-based company, founded in 1995, has quickly become the leader in automating answers to queries on the World Wide Web. The company's "natural language processing" software can decipher e-mail messages and then route specific requests to specialized agents. The software also suggests responses.
On Monday, Brightware introduced a faster version of its software and added a module that can dispense advice.
International Data Corp. says the market for e-mail response software worldwide will grow 113% a year, from under $5 million in 1997 to more than $210 million by 2002.
International Data put Brightware's share at 26% of worldwide revenues in 1997. It has about 200 customers, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank of America, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Swiss Bank Corp., and Countrywide Home Loans.
Such institutions have realized that low-cost Internet service can fall short of its promise when telephone inquiries and e-mail pile up.
"This year a key initiative of ours is to enable consumers to serve themselves" over the Internet, said Louis Gasparini, senior vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, one of Brightware's customers.
Wells has 400 agents working in a specialized call center for Internet banking customers. As a result, some Internet transactions are as costly as telephone transactions. "We really want to drive down costs," Mr. Gasparini said.
Last year Wells developed a system to let customers enroll in Internet banking. The automation turned a 17-minute interaction with a customer service agent into a two-minute process that customers handle on their own.
Another Brightware customer, American Finance, a mortgage underwriter, automated 60% of the e-mail inquiries hitting its Web site. It was able to reduce staff by 50% even as inquiries grew by 400%. It is also completing 50% more on-line loans each week.
Brightware's upgraded An-swer Agent system is eight times as fast as the old version. It can handle 10,000 messages a day, with 85% to 96% accuracy and a 24-hour turnaround on queries.
The new Advice Agent module is modeled on the most common questions asked of the best customer service representatives, said Michael P. Thoma, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Brightware.
Chuck Williams, president and chief executive officer of Brightware, estimated the software modules can take care of 80% of routine transactions, leaving 20% for human intervention.
Mr. Williams said the new software could be used for marketing products and services by giving buying recommendations based on knowledge-based templates and customer profiling. This should let financial institutions "up-sell" and cross-sell products, or at least provide leads to sales staff, he said.