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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

THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Jennifer Sims, Senior Consultant at Xledger

 

The world of finance software is evolving quickly, but with many new software contenders entering the market it can be a mindfield for organisations. Many finance teams are already using multiple accounting apps and software packages for bookkeeping, payroll and invoicing to service individual needs. Whilst it may work fine for now, this segregated approach isn’t sustainable for long-term growth. The world is swiftly moving to agile, automated ways of working. As a result, there is a growing need to choose suppliers that can fulfil multiple functionalities within the one platform.

Financial software is evolving at such a pace that it can be difficult to keep up. Changing up a finance solution is a big step and ease of migration can be a substantial factor in determining which solution provider to go with. But how do you choose a solution that will grow with your business and still offer something innovative in five or ten years down the line? The fear is always that non-techie organisations will end up falling behind, but in such a highly concentrated industry, how do you decide which solution would work best for you?

 

Cloud-first: the term that makes all the difference 

You could find a ‘cloud-based’ service with an application that comes with automated audit trails to make it easier to meet compliance and record-keeping obligations, for example. But for a solution to offer all of the many future benefits promised by the cloud, it needs to have been built specifically for a cloud environemt from the outset – ie. not an on-premise built system that has been later adapted. Cloud-first services (true cloud) were always intended to leverage economies of scale, cope with live updates, be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and to scale rapidly, to name just a few of the many benefits.

When we talk about innovation in financial technology, we’re not just talking about software that makes it easier for the financial controller to create reports. If eliminating reliance on Excel spreadsheets is the only tangible benefit you have to really shout about, you are missing out on the real deal. With ‘true’ cloud finance software the sky is the limit.

Finance and accounting technology needs to directly meet the needs of the finance function and support the wider business needs.  When looking at accounting software platforms you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t now promise ‘cloud-based’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities. The cloud is nothing new, but it’s the way that a solution harnesses this environment that makes a real difference. And here is where there is a need to read between the lines.

 

Automate more with true cloud 

Historically, repetitive and manual tasks are typical of the finance role – from invoice postings to expense claims handling – these can overwhelm the finance team. Research by Xledger[1] has found that an enormous 91% of CFOs and finance decision makers are carrying out at least one of these repetitive tasks as part of their job. What’s more, senior finance leads are averaging a whopping 25 hours per week carrying out repetitive and manual tasks, compared with 15 hours for other finance decision makers.

A modern, true cloud finance system can enable your business to automate repetitive tasks and provide one source of truth so that teams can make informed business decisions that will help to scale a business. Bank reconciliation, dashboard creation and reporting are just some of the tasks that can be handled automatically.These capabilities are aiding overtasked finance teams and saving hundreds or thousands of hours a year.

Whilst different companies are at different stages in their digital transformation what is clear is keeping up with the latest technology is fundamental to the future success of an organisation.

Xledger is a true cloud finance solution. The basics include invoicing, robust general ledger accounting, detailed slice and dice reporting, purchase orders, billing, VAT reporting, and cash and bank payments. It also adds process and structure to the enterprise with procurement and inventory, budgeting and forecasting, and project accounting. Users are always on the latest version of the software and with regulation more stringent than ever today, Xledger is ISO 27001 accredited.

Choosing the right provider for your financial ERP solution comes down to whether it has the fundamentals right. When hosting all of your vital data in the providers’ own servers, it should evidence a highly tested security process that comes with backup services as standard.

As our demand for technology capabilities grows and as ERP models progress, innovation will become the structure for growth – and there is no end to the possibilities.

 

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HOW RETURNS ABUSE AFFECTS RETAILERS

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By Aaron Begner, EMEA GM at Forter

 

Accompanying the significant growth in ecommerce over the past 12 months, is the need for retailers to manage the impact of a growing array of fraud and abuse challenges. One type of fraud that can easily fly under the radar is the abuse of a merchant’s returns policies.

Returns abuse can be difficult to detect and prevent for retailers, as often it is a challenge to identify fraudulent behaviour vs. a ‘usually-good’ consumer trying to bend – but not break – return policies. Therefore, it’s often a challenge to identify how returns abuse actually affects retailers. Here are three of the biggest ways that returns abuse negatively impacts business.

 

Lost Revenue

The most obvious effect that returns abuse has on a business is lost revenue, which can be significant. Research indicates that returns abuse may be costing retailers up to $15 billion per year. When fraudsters purchase items with the intent of abusing returns policies, the retailer makes no profit. Furthermore, it stops legitimate customers from purchasing the items they want, as fraudsters who don’t want the items are moving them around.

Various types of returns abuse can profoundly damage retailers’ bottom lines. Some tactics, such as shoplisting, where fraudsters try to obtain a refund for a list of products listed on a perfectly valid receipt, yet that they never purchased to begin with, can significantly impact retailers’ bottom line.

 

Increased Operational Costs

Returns abuse doesn’t only affect revenue pertaining to the products themselves. There are also operational costs to consider. An increase in returns abuse will often lead to more consideration being put into checking every return, for signs of abuse taking place. This can range from missing tags to damage or wear on the product. This process can be time-consuming, meaning more resources might be necessary to continue operating in an efficient manner. Handling and warehousing costs can also begin to increase, with returned items becoming significantly less valuable.

 

A Poor Customer Experience

As returns abuse continues to increase, many retailers will feel pressure to tighten their return policies. This could range from reducing the allotted time for eligible returns, to only issuing store credit instead of cashback. In some cases, more extreme measures such as requiring a restocking fee for more expensive merchandise will be taken.

While these are all effective ways to help diminish the effect of returns abuse on retailers, they can also have an adverse effect on a retailer’s customer experience. If loyal customers have become accustomed to a more flexible and forgiving return policy, they could be taken by surprise when it’s more difficult for them to return their items.

Ultimately, it can be tricky to balance the two. Returns abuse negatively affects retailer revenue and the overall business, but so does a poor customer experience.

 

The Negative Impact of Returns Abuse Cannot Be Understated

Returns abuse is often overlooked. It can be difficult to detect, but significantly impacts revenue and operations. Because stricter return policies may restrict loyal customers, the reputation of a retailer’s business can be affected. Poor customer experiences can lead to bad reviews and a loss of current and potential customers. Because of this, returns abuse prevention should be a top priority for all retailers.

With this information in hand, retailers can get a better understanding of how returns abuse affects their business and why they need to put a prevention plan in place, as soon as possible.

 

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