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Why Isn’t New Technology Making Us More Productive?

The goal is not to replace workers but to lift their performance, said Zayd Enam, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Cresta’s offering, he said, is made possible by recent advances in the power and speed of A.I. software, which he described as “game changing.”

Cresta has 200 employees, has raised more than $150 million in venture funding and has several dozen corporate customers including Verizon, Cox Communications and Porsche.

CarMax, the nation’s largest used-car retailer, started trying out the Cresta software in December. The A.I. experiment followed years of investment to shift the company’s computer operations to run on more flexible, cloud-based systems, said Jim Lyski, executive vice president for strategy, marketing and products.

Customer inquiries to CarMax’s contact centers tend to be lengthy. Used cars span different years, models, features and driving histories, and financing plans for what is a major purchase vary. The range of questions is all but unlimited, Mr. Lyski said, so purely automated communication is not an option.

But a computing assistant that could help sort all the automotive complexity, offering real-time suggestions and information, was appealing. Cresta first trained on the CarMax contact center data, and the experiment began with its live chat agents, who have text conversations with customers.

The experience has been encouraging, Mr. Lyski said. There has been about a 10 percent improvement in response time, conversion to sales and reduced session time. And the system keeps learning and getting better. The company has begun a pilot project with agents who field voice calls, lifting the total number of agents using the A.I. technology to 200.

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