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HAS COVID CONVERTED CUSTOMERS TO CONVERSATIONAL AI?

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

CONSUMERS IN THE COVID ERA CAN LEARN TO EMBRACE STRONG CUSTOMER AUTHENTICATION

By Ed Whitehead, Signifyd managing director, EMEA

 

The changes that COVID-19 has caused in rapid succession make it hard to slow down and think about just how to approach the retail and payments landscape and a world that will never be the same.

But it is important for retailers and financial institutions to take a breath, think about where consumers are headed and come up with a strategy to take your enterprises there in time to meet them when they arrive. Granted, all this is going on in the midst of great disruption in the world of online payments.

First, ecommerce sales have accelerated at an unprecedented rate. When the World Health Organisation in March declared a global pandemic and government began ordering non-essential stores closed, consumers turned to online shopping for necessities and nice-to-have items.

Ecommerce sales in Europe peaked at 70% year-over-year at the height of online buying during the pandemic, according to Signifyd Ecommerce Pulse data. With non-essential stores reopening and with consumers less inclined to stockpile, online buying has cooled, but ecommerce spending in September remained at double their year-ago figures in some key verticals, according to Signifyd Ecommerce Pulse data.

Ed Whitehead

That shift was unforeseen before the pandemic hit. But another disruption was long-anticipated and human-made. By the end of the year in most of Europe, merchants and banks will be required to adhere to the payment regulation known as PSD2 and it’s requirement for Strong Customer Authentication.

And while the UK has pushed enforcement of the regulations into 2021, the earlier enforcement deadline will apply to UK merchants who want to sell into the rest of Europe.

Interestingly enough, most of the worry over SCA has focused on whether merchants were ready for the change. But financial institutions also have work to do to prepare for SCA, both to serve their consumer account holders and to process transactions from their commercial customers, such as retailers. And while conventional wisdom has dictated that financial institutions are in a better position to offer SCA than are many retailers, a recent survey by Signifyd indicates that assessment might be overly sanguine.

 

Survey shows financial institutions need to reach out to customers

The September survey of 1,500 UK consumers found that 41% of respondents had encountered extra steps and complications while accessing their banking accounts in the past year. More than 37% said they had been unable to complete a financial transaction in the past year due to new security factors and 46.5% said they were very or somewhat likely to give up on a transaction that requires two-factor authentication.

Not very heartening results for institutions facing a requirement that customers be authenticated by two of three factors:

  • Something the customer has (such as device ID).
  • Something the customer knows (such as a one-time password).
  • Something the customer is (such as a fingerprint or other biometric trait).

Part of the problem could be customer education and communication — or the lack of it. According to the September survey, 74.3% of consumers said they were either not entirely sure how SCA will affect them (34.3%) or that they were not at all aware of SCA and how it will change transactions (39.1%).

These worrisome findings actually point to an opportunity for financial institutions and retailers. JP Morgan notes that with ecommerce sales rising so dramatically, an increasing number of consumers are becoming familiar with two-factor authentication.

Signifyd’s own data shows a sharp increase in the number of online shoppers who had never or rarely shopped online before. The number of new customers buying from merchants on Signifyd’s Commerce Network, for instance, more than doubled in May, compared to pre-pandemic figures. (Signifyd defines a new online shopper as a customer who has not made a purchase from the more than 10,000 merchants on its global network for at least a year.)

The increase in the number of new shoppers arriving online has slowed, but it is still well above a-year-ago figures. And about half the new users trying online shopping return for multiple purchases within 30 days, indicating they are developing new digital habits.

That means banks and merchants have an opportunity to help these new consumers become accustomed to security safeguards like SCA even as they are getting used to shopping online in general. When done right, this early consumer education will ensure that these new shoppers and bank customers will be comfortable with SCA, given that it’s the way they’ve shopped and banked online since the beginning.

 

New online customers create new opportunities for merchants and financial institutions

So, online transactions are exploding. Consumers who eschewed ecommerce shopping before are becoming regular online shoppers. All good news. But what should retailers and financial institutions be doing to take advantage of the good news — and to make sure that those new online users become loyal customers.

Getting customers comfortable with transacting in the SCA era, of course, is just the beginning. Retailers and bankers want customers to be delighted with their online experience, a standard that is a few notches above “comfort.”

SCA requirements present an opportunity for retailers to fortify their fraud protection with state-of-the-art, machine-learning systems that will provide a better customer experience today and position them to accommodate future changes to payments regulations.

The trick will be to offer a friction-free customer experience while still protecting the enterprise — a feat that will require merchants and financial institutions to look at state-of-the-art technology to power their SCA systems. Consultancy CMSPI predicted that merchants could lose £108.1 billion in annual sales because of new SCA rules.

CMSPI says the new 3D-Secure version 2.0 that provides the infrastructure for SCA transactions will kill 35% of transactions because of technical problems, declined orders and delays that frustrate customers.

But that assumes retailers don’t turn to innovative solutions that improve the performance of 3D-Secure-powered payments systems. The tools are out there as technology companies have been developing solutions to streamline SCA and make the process far more efficient.

 

Long-term steps for building loyalty among existing and new customers alike

The pandemic and its disruption feel like they will never end. But they will. Retailers will want to be in a position to build on the relationships they’ve initiated with customers before and during the lockdowns and social distancing.

Some of that will be redoubling efforts they’ve made all along. They’ll want to build flawless online experiences. They’ll want to provide intuitive navigation and enhance the customer experience with engaging content, precise personalisation, invaluable customer support, seamless checkout and instant order confirmation.

Beyond that, it will be important that financial institutions and retailers to clearly communicate with their customers so that they know the rationale for SCA and understand that it protects all parties involved in a transaction.

Automated systems can help with many of the initiatives that lead to improved customer experience. AI-powered content management systems, personalization engines and automated inventory control can advance discovery and fulfillment performance. Fraud and automated order management systems that instantly determine the most efficient way to comply with SCA requirements can speed checkout and reduce the chance of cart abandonment.

No question, the COVID-induced upheaval can make planning for the future seem a little overwhelming at times. But retailers that find the mental space to plot the future step-by-step will find themselves in a strong position today and in the post-pandemic future that we all look forward to.

 

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PROTECTING THE CONNECTED CONSUMER FROM REAL AND PERCEIVED FRAUD RISK

Sam Holding, Head of International, SparkPost

 

Experts have researched and observed that when there is an economic downturn, there is often a marked increase in fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, the global financial situation caused by the spread of COVID-19 has been the perfect storm for this kind of behaviour. A quick web search on the topic brings back tons of tips sheets and articles about how consumers can keep themselves safe during such a turbulent economic crisis. While these resources suggest that consumers take simple steps like ignoring robocalls and watching out for phishing emails, the amount of channels through which scammers can take action can feel overwhelming. Due to the increasingly interconnected nature of technology, an attack on one website or communication channel can lead to what feels like a domino effect – taking down a consumer’s personal “stack” one by one.

 

The nature of this interconnectedness has given rise to the “Connected Consumer”. This consumer persona represents the vast swathe of people who have smartphones and have not only grown accustomed to ultra-personalised digital experiences but, as a result, expect these types of dynamic solutions. It should also be noted that this is not specifically a Millenial or Gen Z phenomenon, but rather a trans-generational disposition for easy-to-use technology. While the Connected Consumer isn’t necessarily at a higher risk for fraudulent attacks because of how they interact with technology, the stakes definitely feel higher. Because they may use their Facebook or Gmail credentials to login to countless websites and apps, a single fraud attack can feel like a chink in the armor that protects their whole digital footprint.

 

Sam Holding

With the rise of the Connected Consumer, it’s likely no surprise that there is an incredibly high app adoption rate amongst financial services customers. While people may be quick to download retail banking apps, due to their broader online experiences, they expect a highly personalised experience – something the financial services industry hasn’t always been able to give. In an industry known for stringent security and privacy controls and conservative decision-making, adoption of the latest and greatest segmentation and personalisation technologies hasn’t always been possible. But anecdotally as users, we know that an outdated app experience is not only frustrating but may also lead to concerns about security. If the front-end looks antiquated, what’s to keep non-technical consumers from assuming what’s under the hood is old and lacking up-to-date security measures?

 

The, perhaps superficial, perceived threat around slightly outdated app experiences and the very real threat of fraud requires a multi-pronged course of action to keep Connected Consumers feeling safe. Fortunately, many of the steps required are actually low hanging fruit that don’t require technologists and security professionals to completely change their normal course of action. The best place for financial services companies to start is with their email programs. Since email is the backbone of customer communications when it comes to financial institutions, no amount of attention to detail and care is too great when considering new strategies.

 

The first updated strategy that can keep Connected Consumers feeling safe is applying a mobile-first attitude when sending email messages. This can be applied to the look and feel of the actual email template, but should also be applied to the links in messages as well. Hyperlinks in the body of emails should “deep link” back to the banking institution’s mobile app rather than their desktop site. For Connected Consumers, these deep links show that their bank’s email strategies are in lock-step with their app. And, rather than having to fumble through a website that may not be mobile friendly, consumers can use their thumb print or even their face to access sensitive financial information instantly. Quick and even topical changes like this can show consumers that their information is safe by using the security measures built into their phone.

 

Another easy change financial institutions can focus on to create a more streamlined and, therefore, more secure-feeling experience is improved customer service. Certainly, it’s important for support agents to be friendly and helpful, but in 2020 they should also be fully aware of all of the personalised email messages the specific customer they are trying to help has received. Keeping support teams abreast of the latest email marketing campaigns can close the loop on security regarding customer communications. If a customer has a question regarding an email offer they received, the support agent can authoritatively reassure the customer that the message is, in fact, valid. This creates an unparalleled sense of security.

 

When it comes to security, especially during a time in which fraud is increasing, retail banks can’t take any chances. Connected Consumers need their banks to provide digital experiences that not only are secure but feel secure, a challenge that may be easier to meet than most think. With a few simple changes, financial services organisations can keep consumers feeling safe and stable even when the world feels completely off-kilter.

 

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