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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

STREAMLINE YOUR BUSINESS FINANCES AND SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE PROFITABILITY

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Every successful and professional business owner knows and truly understands that there is nothing more important and worthy of investing significant time in than the state of their company finances.

Continue reading to discover how to streamline your business’s finances and subsequently significantly increase profitability and cash flow.

 

Invest In Employee Training Courses and Business Mentors

The initial monetary outlay required to invest in employee training courses and even an in-house business mentor scheme will be quickly absorbed by the overall improvement in employee efficiency and productivity. Training courses will bond your teams, improve their morale and sense of belonging to your company. They should also make every individual worker feel significantly more valued and will open up opportunities for individual progression, promotion and advancement. Both quantity and quality of performance are proven to increase within a business that offers employee training courses and business mentorship.

 

Conduct A Thorough Business Energy Audit

As a business professional, you will be all too aware of the sheer amount of money spent every month on your energy bills. To counteract this and potentially significantly reduce the amount you are paying, you should conduct a thorough energy audit throughout the entirety of your business. Water rates for businesses are far more competitive than one may believe and employing the services of an established and experienced company who can compare and consolidate your energy bills would be exceedingly prudent.

 

Outsource Your IT Operations

Contrary to several business ‘experts’ beliefs, there is never the exact right time to outsource your information technology operations and whenever you make the move you will inevitably need to deal with several unexpected issues. However, the benefits of doing so far outweigh any minor inconveniences you may or may not experience.

There are several crucial questions and polite demands you must make to your supplier and, naturally, your soon-to-be business partner, and it is vital to set out clear goals and targets before you begin. It would be extremely pertinent to source an IT business associate who has as few intermediaries as possible to insure a smooth and problem-free collaboration as well as ensuring your new collaborator is up to date with the very latest in technology that is specific to your industry.

 

Use Payroll Software

There are a multitude of benefits to investing in a company payroll system which include, but are in no way limited to:

  1. Fewer, if any, mistakes regarding paperwork
  2. Ensuring your year-end is as stress-free and unproblematic as possible
  3. Fulfilling your moral and ethical responsibilities to your hardworking employees
  4. Simplifying the overall payroll process from start to finish
  5. Saving significant time and subsequent money
  6. Ensuring you are fulfilling your legal obligations to the government

As your business goes from strength to strength, naturally you will gain a significant increase in the number of employees on your payroll and if your payroll is currently done in-house, there is an increase in the risk of human error the higher the employee count.

 

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Business

HOW SMEs CAN EMBRACE CONTACTLESS, WITHOUT DITCHING CASH

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By Tsuyoshi Notani, Managing Director, JCB International (Europe) Ltd.

 

Already popular, the past year has accelerated the usage of contactless payments in lieu of cash transactions – even for very small purchases. As well as using cards with contactless abilities, the ease of using digital wallets such as Apple Pay has increased take-up across the UK, representing 32 % of online payments[1]. Digital payments have the advantage over notes and coins at point of sale because it facilitates a more hygienic experience and speedier transaction.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the contactless cost limit has been raised from £ 45 to £ 100 for a single ‘tap and go’ transaction, compounding moves by consumers to rely on contactless as the payment mechanism of choice. In fact, Link Scheme Holdings Ltd, which oversees the UK cash machine network reported that the number of visits to ATMs dropped by 43 % for the year to March 2021 on the previous year[2], although it does note that some ATMs may have been inaccessible due to pandemic restrictions.

The appetite for paying without cash is huge – and we know that a large proportion of cashless payments are also contactless. For SMEs this can present a challenge. Providing multiple ways to pay can be an administrative obstacle, and often SMEs prefer to operate with cash only, to avoid incurring additional fees and costs. However, there is good reason to offer digital payment methods alongside cash.

Business benefits to offering contactless payment solutions include reduced costs associated with cash handling, and the convenience for customers in offering multiple ways to pay for goods or services. It is also a very secure way to receive payment. A simple and fast way to transact, contactless is the ultimate convenience for customers. For retailers competing in today’s landscape, it is essential to ensure that customers have access to their preferred payment method.

However, this must not come at the total exclusion of cash until a solution has been found for the ‘unbanked’ – those without access to digital payments for one reason or another. For now, solutions are nascent, and SMEs looking to reach all potential customers would do well to offer cash payments but also enable cashless and contactless. For SMEs who increasingly find themselves faced with competition from mega entities, focusing on a convenient and frictionless customer experience is paramount.

At JCB, we take financial inclusion seriously, recognising our role as a key player in the global financial ecosystem to ensure nobody is left behind by the digitisation of payments. We, for example, partnered with FE Credit, to launch two credit cards in Vietnam that are packed with benefits to meet the needs of the unbanked. A few examples of these unique offerings are the Oi Plus Program – a flagship loyalty program that rewards cardmembers on their everyday spending, and EasyPay – one of Vietnam’s largest 0% retail installment programs, and Selfie PLUS – one-click mobile-to-card image upload solution[3].

Luckily, the ‘how’ in enabling contactless and cashless payments is very simple. When picking a card reader, ensure you choose one created by a company which enables multiple cards, as this will enable your business to accept a wide spectrum of payments – and means no sale is lost because of an issue around how to pay. From a JCB acceptance point of view – Lloyds Bank plc, Barclays plc, and Zettle all accept JCB Cards in the UK. Viva Wallet, which supports around 80,000 merchants in Greece, more than 3,000 merchants in Belgium, and more than 6,000 merchants in the United Kingdom and beyond also accepts JCB Card payments[4].

Losing out on customers who do not carry cash is a no-go for SMEs looking to build back business after a difficult year. Enabling card and contactless payments is a surefire way to appeal to customers looking for convenience, removing one big obstacle to purchase for the on-the-go shopper. That is why at JCB, we encourage SMEs to both enable contactless, and accept cash – for the biggest opportunity to enable purchases and to ensure nobody is left behind.

 

[1] WorldPay, The Global Payments Report February 2021 https://worldpay.globalpaymentsreport.com/en/

[2] BBC, ATM withdrawals drop by £37bn during year of Covid 17 March 2021 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56413993

[3] FE Credit to Issue JCB Card in Vietnam, 19 November 2020, https://www.global.jcb/en/press/2020/202011180001_alliance.html

[4] JCB and Viva Wallet’s Expanded Collaboration Across Europe, 25 August 2020, https://www.global.jcb/en/press/2020/202008240001_alliance.html

 

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