September 3, 1998 5:00 AM PDT

AOL gets customer service software

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Hoping to streamline its customer service operations, America Online announced it will license software technology from Inference for use in its call centers.

The Novato, California, company's software enables customer service representatives to input subscriber questions into a computer system, and then prompts queries for the service representative to ask until a solution is reached. The question pathway was created by both AOL and Inference employees.

The software eventually will be deployed into all of AOL's call centers, an Inference spokesman said. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In the past, AOL's customer service call centers have been criticized for having security breaches. Earlier this year AOL members were victimized by a series of account takeovers. In May, the American Civil Liberties UnionAOL site was compromised after an account cracker called up a customer service center pretending to be the ACLU administrator and reset the password.

In addition, earlier this year, AOL came under fire after an employee revealed to a Navy investigator the identity of a member who listed himself as "gay" in his user profile.

Inference deals in software development, training, and consulting services for self-service and call centers, employing roughly 175 and claiming some 500 customers in North America and Europe.

The company recently reported second-quarter revenues of $7.5 million, up from $6.7 million a year ago. Product revenues for the second quarter totaled $4.1 million, a 52 percent increase from a year ago. Its net loss was $0.6 million or 8 cents per share, better than 2Q 1997's net loss of $0.9 million or 11 cents per share.


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