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HAS COVID CONVERTED CUSTOMERS TO CONVERSATIONAL AI?

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By Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT

 

A recent webinar hosted by Insurance Post asked customer service experts working at leading insurance companies whether social distancing would cause the demise of the traditional contact centre.

It was noted that, at the start of lockdown, insurers had anything between 15% and 50% of their contact centre employees working from home, which created a particular challenge for offshore operations. The assembled experts discussed whether they had seen any impact on customer satisfaction levels as their customer service colleagues adjusted to working from home.

 

Shorter queues

Andrew Jones, Head of Express and Retail Claims at Zurich insurance, noted customers’ willingness to use online portals because they assumed they would be waiting in a queue if they called the contact centre.

David Thompson, Director of Claims at Tesco Underwriting, noted that at the start of the UK’s lockdown in March, customers showed a great deal of empathy for the difficulties facing insurance contact centre staff as they adjusted to working from home. However, he noted that this early goodwill appeared to be returning to pre-COVID levels towards the end of September.

The webinar participants were asked to what extent technology such as chatbots and digital AI assistants had been used to assist with triaging insurance claims, to alleviate some of the pressure on contact centre staff, while still looking after customers.

David Thompson, Director of Claims at Tesco Underwriting, emphasised that when customers have been involved in traumatic events, they need to speak to a contact centre agent and value the empathy that can be provided during these conversations, adding “but certainly, there will be others who will be happier going through a digital journey.”

Paul Ridge, Banking and Insurance Specialist at SAS UK & Ireland, observed that consumers are becoming more accustomed to a range of channels available to them and a number of insurers are exploring how this shift could be used to introduce lower cost channels.

 

Distance Drives Digitisation

Ridge noted the value of using automation to take simple, routine, lower value tasks away from contact centre staff, so that they can focus on those customers who need more support. He believes that a good blend of technology and human skills can be used to benefit both employee experience and customer experience.

David Thompson agreed that automation and digitalisation had been ‘turbo-charged’ by the national lockdown. He underlined the importance of using technology to support the wellbeing of contact centre staff, noting that employee experience feeds directly into customer experience.

As Deloitte’s MD of Applied AI practice, Sherry Comes has observed, “While robotic process automation (RPA) and one-touch ordering buttons are transforming many of these tasks, they don’t always provide the most customer or worker-centric experience. However, finely-tuned conversational systems can.”

By employing conversational AI to understand the customer’s intent and automate the tasks and responses involved in issue resolution, or escalate their query to the right contact centre agent, resolution and CSAT levels remain high, while also reducing the number of routine issues that agents handle.

Digital AI assistants are key to driving down the cost to serve through either fully or partially automating routine customer interactions. AI assistants can also use these interactions to prioritise the correct course of action if they cannot fully automate to completion. By gathering pertinent information that can be passed on to agents, digital AI assistants save customers from having to repeat themselves once they get through to a customer service agent, helping the agent to resolve the issue more swiftly.

 

The personal touch 

Conversational AI applies natural language processing so that customer intent can be understood, appropriate responses can be provided, and actions can be automated to solve their issues, while still providing the option to speak to a human. The advantage is that consistent, high-quality responses can be provided at scale, without overwhelming contact centre employees when human resources are stretched because some employees are self-isolating, or when the organisation is handling a sudden spike in customer enquiries.

While enabling financial organisations to automate repetitive transactions, conversational AI also allows them to be personalised by referring back to elements of previous interactions. The benefit for customers is that they don’t have to repeat themselves and conversations can be picked up where they left off, at the customers’ convenience.

 

Designed for Digital Natives

According to Deloitte, “younger generations seem to be gravitating toward accessing information through chatbots, with 70 percent of millennials reporting a positive experience after using them.”

Whatever their age, when applying conversational AI, brands must make it clear to customers that they are engaging with a digital assistant and not a human. It’s equally important to avoid trapping customers in a ‘bot loop’ and to provide a clear route to speak to a human if a query can’t be resolved by the digital assistant.

PWC believes that organisations that get their branding and persona development right within their conversational AI can create a customer experience that is akin to engaging with a human agent. However, getting it wrong will alienate users. EY emphasises the need to use the right data when ‘training’ conversational AI, explaining that “The bot uses logic to determine user inquiries and connect with enterprise systems to get the desired results”. Therefore, the bot is only as smart as the data used to build it.

This is why The AA Ireland invested time in studying genuine livechat conversations when developing its successful chatbot project, the Quote Helper Bot, so that they understood what people asked, how they asked, and what the intent was behind their questions. As a result, the Quote Helper Bot provided consistent on-brand responses that were based on live chat conversations with previous customers who had the same requirements. When social distancing measures were introduced in March, The AA Ireland was able to re-apply what it had learned and quickly spin up a call deflection bot, within 48 hours, to ease pressure on contact centre staff as they adjusted to working from home.

 

The future:

Paul Ridge observed, “The pandemic has given us the chance to glimpse into the future and see what role the contact centre will serve.”

Andrew Jones, Head of Express & Retail Claims, Zurich, commented, “A lot of claims are settled without using voice. In the future, rather than big contact centres, we’ll see more smaller collaboration centres, with people coming in one or two days a week and for training”.

Angus Rogers believes that the traditional service model will change, saying, “There will always be a need for people to work together, but I think that the model of the contact centre we see today will change.”

What we have seen is that organisations are using a blend of conversational AI and highly skilled customer service agents to automate routine enquiries, swiftly adapt working practices to abide by social distancing rules and deliver the right experience for customers and employees alike.”

 

Business

How FS organisations can utilise data to boost customer experience

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Charles Southwood, Regional VP and GM – Northern Europe and Africa at Denodo

We’ve all heard the age-old adage “the customer is always right”. It insinuates that, in any sector, the needs and desires of those buying a brand’s product or services should be paramount. However, today’s customer has new standards and it is becoming harder than ever for businesses to meet and exceed them.

This is certainly the case in the financial services (FS) sector where getting customer experience right used to be relatively simple. The human touch was traditionally delivered as a bi-product of in-store, transactional interactions. Perhaps, as a result of this, few people ever considered changing their provider and the traditional, established banks ruled the space.

However, with the dawn of online banking and the introduction of new, exciting challenger banks as well as the UK’s unique Current Account Switching Service, the balance of power between the consumer and the bank is changing. Consumers no longer feel locked in. If their needs aren’t being met, they aren’t afraid to look elsewhere and switch their allegiance to other companies. In other words, loyalty is far from guaranteed and customer acquisition is only half the battle.

Retention relies upon delivering strong, unique customer experiences that beat down the competition. In order to achieve this, FS organisations will need to be able to leverage data. Its insights could be the differentiator that enables them to stand out. The positive news is that, in our online world, there is a constant stream of data being produced. However, having access to all this data doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand knows how to effectively analyse and utilise it.

Ensuring data provides insight

The rapid growth in digital technologies and services across the sector has left many FS organisations juggling an unimaginable amount of data. This data is both complex and much of it is lacking in quality. Structured, semi-structured and unstructured, it is stored in many different places – whether that’s in data lakes, on premise or in multi-cloud environments. Before FS organisations can even think about using it to inform customer experience strategies, they need to be able to find it and understand it.

This is where modern technologies – such as data virtualization – can help. Through a single, logical view data virtualization boosts visibility and real-time availability of all data across an organisation.  Unlike traditional extract, transform and load (ETL) solutions, it does not move and copy data. Instead it leaves it in the source systems. In other words, instead of just replicating data, data virtualization reveals an integrated view to those trying to find it.

For FS organisations this provides several important benefits. For example, it helps when data sovereignty issues arise and the movement and replication of data outside certain countries is illegal. Data virtualization solutions can also assist in terms of financial reporting by fetching data in real time from underlying source systems – applying the necessary security and obfuscation whilst delivering the performance, the agility and the accuracy needed through the seamless connection of data.

FS organisations that adopt data virtualization, are likely to see an improvement in the overall performance and efficiencies of their business operations. Overheads will be reduced, as will the length of project times. Above all, data virtualization will rapidly strengthen the customer experience by supporting business leaders to think strategically and make decisions based on real-time insights. But don’t just take my word for it.

The proof is in the pudding: How Landsbankinn is delivering on the CX promise

Landsbankinn is just one of the many financial services institutions that has already successfully embraced data virtualization and its benefits. Despite being the largest financial institution in Iceland – with around 40% of the retail and 33% of the corporate banking market share – Landsbankinn used to face several issues when it came to data sharing and analytics.

Over 45 siloed data sources – including Oracle databases, data warehouses and APIs from internal and external sources – made finding and accessing the right data at the right time extremely difficult. Without real-time data to fuel informed decision making, customer experience and operational efficiency were suffering. As a result, Landsbankinn was in need of a data overhaul to streamline and integrate its infrastructure.

To bring together its complex data landscape and collect data in real-time, Landsbankinn implemented the Denodo Platform – a data integration and data management solution built on data virtualization – to build a logical data warehouse. As a result, the team can now aggregate data from multiple data sources, transform that data based on the applied business rules, and then make it available to consuming applications. Ultimately, this means that, throughout the organisation, the data can be utilised by a wealth of employees, even those who are not particularly IT savvy. It also means that the business leaders can use data insights to make well-versed decisions and provide a plethora of services to Landsbankinn customers both quickly and efficiently.

In recent years, customer retention has become the key to successfully growing a business. This cannot happen without an effective customer experience strategy. The ability to convert data into insight is priceless in an economic landscape where the line between a business thriving, surviving and failing is so thin. Those operating in financial services must harness modern technologies – like data virtualization – to stay at the top of their game and ahead of the competition.

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The Evolution of SoftPoS in 2023

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By Brad Hyett, CEO of phos

Contactless payments and digital wallets have surged in popularity in recent years. Part of this stems from the digital boom that occurred during COVID-19 but it’s also thanks to the ease of use that contactless offers customers. This has helped accelerate Software Point of Sale or ‘SoftPoS’ adoption amongst SMEs and enterprise retailers, with a total of 6 million merchants taking advantage of the technology in 2022 according to Juniper Research.

SoftPoS or ‘Tap to Pay’ technology – is a software solution that allows vendors to turn their phones or mobile devices into contactless payment points. This has made life for small businesses easier, as they no longer have to fork out large sums of money for traditional Point of Sale (POS) terminals, i.e. card readers, or ‘make do’ with outdated payment software.

In light of Apple’s announcement to allow third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their technology on iPhone last year, adoption is expected to increase further. By 2027, it’s forecast that there will be up to 34.5 million merchants by 2027 – nearly a 500% increase from today. With more payment giants like Paypal and Venmo announcing they will support contactless transactions through their iOS apps in the months ahead, what else is in store for SoftPoS in 2023?

Apple’s role in market consolidation within SoftPoS

Apple’s move to integrate the technology with iOS devices will expand SoftPoS’ usability across mobile operating systems – significantly boosting the size of the addressable market for vendors. For the first time, Apple users will be able to offer Tap-to-Pay solutions which have traditionally been limited to Android devices only.

This will ultimately bring greater awareness and adoption of SoftPoS as we see increased familiarity with Tap-to-Pay solutions among businesses and consumers alike – as they’re no longer bound by the constraints of the type of phone they use.

While the SoftPoS on iPhone rollout currently only applies to the US market, it’s fair to assume this will expand internationally at some point – aiding the normalisation of ‘Tap to Pay’ solutions en masse in the months and years ahead.

The next wave of solopreneurs

The events of the last year will also continue to have a ripple effect over the next 12 months. For example, we’ve seen the tech industry undergo mass layoffs due to a challenging economic environment and rising global inflation.

With large numbers of highly skilled talent out of work, the phenomenon of solo entrepreneurship is likely to see an uplift – as it did during the pandemic – over the next 12 months. Born in a digital-native environment, individuals from this released workforce can now set up their own businesses and run them on mobile devices, as opposed to legacy infrastructures.

This could prove another sizable opportunity for SoftPoS vendors in the coming year, as we predict to see more small businesses sprout as a result of ongoing redundancies.

The growing importance of SoftPoS orchestration

As the market rapidly develops, so too does the choice and ease of onboarding. Financial institutions and retail technology providers can now use a SoftPoS orchestrator to help them deploy Tap-to-Pay solutions quickly and easily for their merchant customers, instead of having to create their own mobile solutions. This saves them time and money – both crucial resources for any business and especially in a challenging economy.

Partnering with a SoftPoS orchestrator is a cost-effective way of providing mobile payment solutions without having to worry about waiting on new software and security updates. With an orchestrator, this is done automatically – making this a much lighter lift with no requirement for technological know-how.

As SoftPos orchestrators are acquirer agnostic, this means they can help businesses provide a SoftPos solution to their own retail customers, regardless of the existing acquirer that they’re already using.

An additional benefit here is that a wider pool of merchants are able to benefit from the technology – growing the overall size of the SoftPoS market. Orchestrators, then, have the ability to drive wider adoption of the technology globally, reaching a bigger audience of end users and advancing the mobile payments industry in emerging markets across the world.

Conclusion

The increased popularity of digital and contactless payment options has driven exponential growth in the SoftPoS market in recent years. The next 12 months will see the technology enter the mainstream, as Apple starts to allow more third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their solutions on iPhones.

The timing coincides with several emerging opportunities for the technology, including a potential uptick in the number of solopreneurs and mobile-first businesses. This combination of factors will see more financial institutions and legacy technology players work with SoftPoS orchestrators to bring Tap-to-Pay solutions to market in 2023 if they want to stay ahead of the competition and keep up with ever evolving customer demands.

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