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Purdue Graduates Given Grant to Enhance Customer Service via Automation

November 27, 2017
By Mandi Nowitz - Web Editor

A two-year $750,000 federal grant was given to Perceive, a company founded by two Purdue University (News - Alert) graduates. The company was conceived to aid high-end retail businesses enhance customer service through the assistance of automated sales associate coaching. These additional funds will help to continually polish the software that is being utilized by these high-end retailers.

Perceive operates out of Purdue’s “The Anvil,” an entrepreneurial working space at the university. Prior to this grant, the company was granted a $225,000 Phase 1 SBIR grant as well as a National Science Foundation Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Grant.

“This will help us to further develop an automated coach to help improve retail customer service by providing feedback to store associates about how they interact with shoppers,” Perceive CEO Kyle McNulty said. “Our goal is to empower the store associates by giving them constructive feedback aimed at improving the customer experience.”

The innovation from Perceive is particularly essential around holiday season as retailers are trying to compete with the monopoly of online shopping. With Cyber Monday piggy-backing Black Friday (News - Alert), both online-only retailers, like Amazon, and brick-and-mortar retailers with a significant online presence, are attempting to capitalize on pre-holiday shopping trends. Perceive’s stated mission, though, is to get bodies back into brick-and-mortar stores.

“Traffic into stores has been declining for several years, so it is becoming more and more important for stores to differentiate themselves on customer service, because the one thing a website can’t replicate is one-on-one human interaction,” McNulty added.  “When you have fewer customers in the store, you need to convert as many as possible.”

Perceive is starting with high-end retailers, where customer experience is placed above all else.  Easy-to-install video and audio sensors will observe how associates interact with clientele; the software then gauges the core elements of a customer service experience, like how fast they are greeted upon entering a store, time spent with consumers (listening and engaging), and how informed the associate truly is.

All of this info is turned into feedback and given to management and associates via mobile and web apps. With the grant, the goal is to further enhance the improvements so that the best feedback possible can be given to retailers and associates. With that, consumers will get the ultimate service experience.

“Computers certainly don’t have a human level of understanding, but recent advances in machine learning and other technologies are enabling us to do a better job of measuring how associates are interacting with shoppers,” said Everett Berry, who earned a degree in computer engineering from Purdue.

The goal for Perceive is to move from working within one Indianapolis store to two or more by spring 2018 with more funding possible. 

Edited by Erik Linask