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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

FASTER REACTIVITY TO END-OF-LIFE DEADLINES IS KEY TO COMPLIANCE

Mat Clothier, CEO, Cloudhouse

 

Across global industries, the financial services sector is among the most regulated. Ensuring compliance is an increasingly complex undertaking, and firms have not been short of challenges presented by factors such as Brexit laws impacting on the flow of data between the UK and the EU. The introduction of GDPR in 2018 has also had wide-reaching implications in terms of data security and the resulting fines in the case of misuse of information or cyber-attack.

With financial services needing to adapt to a changing landscape, a rapidly emerging piece of the compliance puzzle is the need to address end-of-life systems and upcoming deadlines for end-of-support. This is particularly crucial in the case of server operating systems such as Windows Server 2012, with an end-of-life deadline currently set for 2023. But why is quick reactivity so crucial in this sector, and what do financial services firms need to consider moving forward?

 

Mat Clothier

The financial services landscape

Up-to-date operating systems such as Microsoft Windows can assist in providing a general safety net of underlying support, which can help financial services firms meet many regulations and provide the foundation for compliant apps. Persistence with an end-of-life system and failure to update or replace it can leave financial services firms falling foul of these requirements, leading to significant fines from non-compliance or a resulting data breach from a cyber-attack on a known vulnerable system.

The resulting loss of critical data can then have further implications for organisations in terms of inadvertently breaching established supplier agreements and obligations, plus the resulting inefficiencies from extended downtime. In the worst-case scenario, this can ultimately threaten the brand and long-term survival of the business.

With a range of risks that can pose serious challenges, the unique nature of the financial industry can be an additional roadblock to compliance. Strong market competition among financial services firms can lead many in the industry to focus on IT investment to differentiate the business in a crowded sector. While understandably necessary as a tactic to compete, this focus can lead to priorities shifting, resulting in failing to address end-of-life dates early enough.

Like many industries, the financial industry has also been forced to tackle the challenges that have come with its employees working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making it easier for the updating of systems to be put on the backburner and upcoming end-of-life dates to be missed during an extended period of crisis.

 

Putting end-of-life at front-of-mind

Financial services firms need to identify upcoming end-of-life dates as soon possible, ideally up to three years in advance in many cases. The key from here is ensuring that well-thought through programme is set up and a pathway to compliance is then established, as it’s commonly the case that the last 20% of projects to update systems is the trickiest to navigate.

Financial services firms need to view these projects as ones driven by business decisions, not technology. What many need to also remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing end-of-life. In the case of where a move to a new operating system is needed, some applications can be moved to a more modern platform, but others may struggle due to incompatibility. Tools and expertise can enable firms to determine which apps are likely to successfully make the switch and identify the ones that potentially won’t, and help plan for alternative solutions to be implemented to benefit the business.

There may be cases where fully replacing an end-of-life operating system is not viable for the business, potentially due to cost. The expertise and solutions of an external provider can allow the aging system to be protected and updated as best as possible to ensure it continues to meet the technology and regulatory requirements of the business. This means that organisations can avoid the back-to-front approach of investing heavily in completely replacing a system to a new version just so it can provide the same tools as it did before.

 

Keeping pace with technological change

 The pace of technological change means that patches, feature updates and version updates are an almost constant occurrence across industries. What is new today is legacy tomorrow, so it’s crucial for financial services firms to monitor their systems and ensure that they’re aware of changes in advance of when they happen.

Partnership with the right external expertise can help firms to keep a more comprehensive record of changes that have been made to systems, allowing greater visibility and clarity for regulators, preventing systems from gradually drifting away from their desired state as updates are made. Doing so can also allow firms to have greater clarity of system end-of-life dates, enabling them to remain in control of their compliance with financial regulations and avoid the potential risks of failing to act.

 

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Business

PUTTING TECHNOLOGY AND EMPATHY AT THE HEART OF SMB LOAN SERVICING

Luis Huerta, Vice President and Intelligent Automation Practice Head, Europe at Firstsource

By the end of March 2021, over one and a half million small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) had borrowed through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) – amounting to a staggering £46million. This means 29 accredited BBLS lenders have thousands of new customers to service, as well as a sizable level of debt to collect.

Even when lockdowns lift, the pandemic crisis has been predicted to result in lasting damage to the UK economy. With SMB borrowers finding themselves in highly unpredictable and stressful circumstances, lenders servicing BBLS face a unique challenge – keeping large numbers of anxious customers appeased through uncertain times. To ensure healthy customer relationships, financial providers will need to focus on adequately addressing borrowers’ needs. This is where technology can help. 

Creating room for empathy with AI technology
Because sensitive conversations tend to take longer, lenders are using technology solutions such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as integrating digital channels, to support these interactions.

The latest conversational AI can now process and deliver human language more naturally, follow up on queries, and execute transactions than would otherwise need to be handled by an operator. By deploying AI, lenders can fully automate these routine transactional contacts. This frees up staff to focus on the more complex and sensitive interactions, where human touch is key.

Simplifying processes with automation

With more unique BBLS customers to service there will naturally be an increased pressure on resources. Yet recruiting and training additional staff to address this is not the most efficient or cost-effective solution. Here robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to automate repetitive time-consuming tasks.

By leveraging attended automation technologies, organisations can again lessen the burden on operators. For example, automation can be used to create clean, simplified, user-centric interfaces that pull in data from a plethora of disparate applications. These seamless, modern interfaces help agents process transactions and customer enquiries faster whilst bots deal with the complexities of logging-in and navigating various applications and screens in the backend. This approach improves customer services as well as helping to increase job satisfaction. Moreover with fewer screens to manage, onboarding and training time is also dramatically reduced.

Optimising customer communications with analytics

To deliver outstanding services, lenders need to reflect SMBs’ needs through tailored communications. Applying AI and advanced analytics to customer data can support these efforts. For instance, analysing customer attributes such as age, location and service interaction patterns enables organisations to identify and deploy personalised communication across preferred channels. Machine learning-powered forecasting algorithms can also be used to predict ebbs and flows in customer call and chat volumes numbers, helping lenders forecast resourcing needs appropriately.

Importantly, digital channels also offer a less intrusive contact approach to traditional voice calls. By using web-portals, mobile apps, emails and text, lenders can provide customers with the information they need, when they need it, using the channel they prefer. This approach reduces call volumes and lessens the burden on operatives.

Using digital to spot and reduce fraud
At the start of BBLS roll-out banks saw an onslaught of fraudulent activity through false applications and phishing, this is still the case for many financial lenders. Here AI can also play a pivotal role. AI technologies can be used to detect and prevent fraud by drawing correlation between dozens of data points such as physical location IP addresses, web and app behaviour, etc.

For example, one major UK bank saw business accounts becoming fraud targets following the BBLS rollout. To combat social engineering attempts, the bank brought in Firstsource. Following thorough data analysis, they introduced more ID checks, red flags awareness training and updated questioning to detect possible scams. This resulted in the bank being able to identify more potential victims of fraud faster – leading to a 62% reduction in fraud losses in just four months and a positive uplift in quality assurance performance.

A golden opportunity

With the UK emerging from lockdown, we can hope that the economic outlook is about to improve for the SMB community. However, when it comes to BBLS repayments, these customers will still need empathy and guidance from lenders as they navigate the return to ‘normality’. By using tech to remove pressure from customer services, free up agents and drive strategic engagement, lenders will advance customer satisfaction and increase potential growth.

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