The story behind “Ask Sam” - the associate app with all the answers

Published on September 18, 2019 and last updated on December 03, 2019

Ask Sam Banner Image
September 18, 2019

Sam’s Club recently introduced a mobile application called “Ask Sam” - a voice assistant that helps associates find the answers they need to do their job and help members. Thanks to this app, associates can stay on the sales floor, instead of going to a desktop computer in a backroom, to access company documents and product information.

To develop this game-changing app, an exceptional engineering team was needed. “Ask Sam” was built in just five short months by a group of 11 engineers. Read below for a Q&A with Craig Robinson, who leads the “Ask Sam” development team, to learn more about the app and how they are gathering feedback from associates to make it even better.

Q: Tell us more about your team and how the idea of “Ask Sam” came about.

Craig: My team has 11 associates whose sole purpose is to develop tools that will improve the in-club experience for our members and associates. We work on a range of projects including mobile app development, natural language processing, developing bot platforms like “Ask Sam” and more.

In 2018, my team partnered with our operations team to create a tool that would allow our associates to find the answers they need right on the sales floor, without having to go to a back office. By December 2018, we had developed “Ask Sam” for iOS and Android devices. The app officially launched to associates in 2019, giving them the ability to look up topics such as products, schedules, recipes, specs, fresh production plans and more.

The “Ask Sam” engineers (left to right): Praneeth Gubbala, Santosh Kurashetty, Spencer Seeger, Bahula Bosetti, Dong Nguyen, Craig Robinson, Mak Sampath, Mekhala Vithala and Songshan Li. *Not pictured: Venkat Maguluri, Srihari Attuluri and Harish Bondalapati

Q: How are we using “Ask Sam” to see what our associates need?

Craig: “Ask Sam” not only captures the questions from our associates, but it identifies the questions we couldn’t answer. We scour the data to find questions our associates are asking over and over again. This helps us know what topics are top-of-mind with associates so we can make changes in the app and in our business.

Q: Any business changes we’ve made because of what we’re seeing with Ask Sam?

Craig: We recently noticed that associates were asking every day to print price signs in “Ask Sam.” This was a feature we hadn’t built into the app, but we listened to our associates and started exploring options. In August, we released the ability to print signs and it has been an incredible success, making it easier than ever for them to do their job right from the sales floor.

Q: Why are tools like “Ask Sam” important to the business?

Craig: We’re continuously innovating in the digital space because we want associates to have the best experience in retail. Anything we can do to reduce friction for associates and make their jobs easier will make Sam’s Club a better place to work and shop. We know our members are busy so it’s important that we’re able to get them in and out as quickly as possible.