How Staples Is Making Its Easy Button Even Easier With A.I.

It’s a cultural icon. The red, plastic “Easy Button” that Staples first introduced as part of a marketing campaign in 2005.

It’s not at all uncommon for me find these buttons throughout my clients’ offices. In fact, in the last decade, the office-supply retailer has reportedly sold more than $7.5 million worth of Easy Buttons.

The Easy Button serves as a symbol, acknowledging the frustrations and challenges of small business. It’s also a statement about Staple’s responsibility to make things easier for their customers.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Easy Button actually served as more than a symbol, though? Well, Easy Button lovers, hold onto your hats as Staples is now making things “easy” for their customers on a whole new level.

An Easier Way to Serve Clients

Faisal Masud, EVP of e-commerce and customer experience at Staples, sat down with me to share how Staples is using artificial intelligence to change their Easy Button from kitschy marketing tool to actual service provider for their customers. Masud’s dual role of leading Staples’ transition to digital and overseeing global customer service makes this effort near and dear to his heart.

Masud and team partnered with IBM to enable their Easy Buttons with the cognitive capability of Watson. By tapping into the Watson Conversation service, they focused on simplifying office supply management and the overall Staples customer experience.

In the span of about five months, Staples was able to develop and begin testing the new Easy Buttons with a small handful of key clients in their Staples Advantage program. Their mission: Enable the Easy Button to make the lives of executive assistants better.

Staples taught IBM’s Watson how to handle the top 15-20 most common support tasks for assistants. Internally, Staples is then able to relieve their customer support reps from having to respond to many of those transactional inquiries, freeing them up to provide higher-level support more complex needs and requests.

“Businesses are typically running a bit behind customers in terms of how they utilize technology,” shares Masud. “For example, conversational interactions with technology are already happening between customers and, say, Amazon’s Alexa. Staples won’t be too far behind that. When our customers are ready to transform, we’ll be ready to support them.”

In the coming year, the team at Staples plans to expand its testing with additional clients and continue to teach Watson to accurately and reliably respond to many requests that their clients have on a day-to-day basis. Whether they’re reordering yellow highlighters or catering the next client lunch, assistants will be armed with voice-enabled cognitive technology that makes their jobs, well, easier.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

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Chris Cancialosi