Reducing call centre costs by growing online support for top UK Supermarket

ASDA is a British supermarket chain that was bought by Wal-Mart (World’s largest retailer) in 1999. There are hundreds of thousands of ASDA customers shopping at 243 ASDA supermarkets around the UK. In early 2009 ASDA began the migration of its online shopping service to a new platform and were looking for a solution to make the transaction as easy as possible for their customers.

The brief

ASDA required a web interface that would perform the following;

  1. Helping the returning customer understand the new elements of the new platform
  2. Help with the actual Shopping process
  3. Ensure that any complaints ranging from placing orders, delivery, missing items and product quality are fielded appropriately
  4. Decrease the number for emails and phone calls through to the call centres

The solution

KMP Digitata developed a Virtual Assistant “Amy” visualised on a real person but realised through Vector based animation. It was important that the Avatar looked and acted as natural as possible, so a process began to bring the Virtual Assistant to life.

A background for the character was created that would appeal to the broadest spectrum of the ASDA customer. She was to be called Amy, 35, married with 3 children and living in North Yorkshire, with a diploma in Customer Services and various cooking awards.

A selection process was undertaken by the creative team and KMP to discover the face that would become Amy.


From a starting point between the pages of the celebrity and gossip glossies, it was established where Amy should sit on the ‘celebrity’ scale. 50 faces were then selected and whittled down to 10 based on the most memorable and identifiable. Keyword attributes that Amy would possess were then introduced, “mother”, “natural”, “wisdom”, “professional”, and “fun” and the remaining candidates scored against each. Finally the 10 became 3 and finally 1.


The next stage was to develop the demeanor of the Amy, how would she respond to certain questions? What would she do in periods of inactivity? To capture as natural a look as possible KMP Digitata put a number of people in front of the camera and noted the subtle nuances, whether this be a physical action such as touching her hair or chin or an expression to indicate surprise or confusion. Once these had been decided upon the model, chosen as Amy, could be filmed prior to animation.

KMP Digitata proposed 3 formats for Amy, 2D Vector animation, 3D animation and live action. 2D Vector animation was settled upon and so the process of filming, illustrating and finally animating the emotions and gestures that would make up Amy was completed.

Asda Amy photo shoot

The underlying technology behind Amy is based on a sophisticated word and phrase pattern recognition system, developed by Creative Virtual, which matches preprogrammed responses in the Virtual Assistant’s knowledge base with questions typed in by users. However, it also has the ability to hold the context of the conversation, in natural language, enabling the Virtual Assistant to emulate the way in which people interact with each other. The next stage of development required the establishment of a knowledge base to provide Amy with the skills to handle the customers.

An initial 250 FAQ’s were devised and answers programmed into Amy’s knowledge base. 4 decision trees were also created for the questions that required further information to establish an answer. In order to enhance the realism of the customer’s experience, a number of small talk questions, answers and accompanying emotions, depending on the tone of the chat, were also established. This way Amy knew how to react if a question was funny, flirty or even aggressive. The number of FAQs in the system, grows weekly based on conversations that customers have with Amy.


The Results

Amy, ASDA’s Virtual Assistant has returned some outstanding results.

  • Amy is now visited by over 22,000 customers a week.
  • The average conversation lasts for 3 questions, highlighting the interaction that regularly takes place between the customer and Virtual Assistant.
  • ASDA has real-time data not just on clicks but on their customers, what they are asking for and the questions they raise in their research process.
  • This information can then be used to increase the customer’s online experience, which in turn will result in more time onsite and increased conversions
Jackie Hill Head of Marketing Communications

"The reason for the Virtual Assistant was to replicate the warm and friendly service of our colleagues in store, to our customers online. Also, it was particularly aimed at new customers, who may find the first shop a little daunting, and we wanted to ensure that there was someone on hand to help them through the process”