Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The proliferation of virtual assistant technology is opening up innovative ways for organisations to enhance customer experience and improve retention rates.
According to Gartner’s Top 10 Predictions released in October, by the end of 2018, digital technology will be so advanced that digital assistants will not only be able to verify the identity of customers, but also hold conversations.
One financial institution demonstrating the successful implementation of intelligent virtual assistant technology is Swedbank. The retail bank is one of the largest in Sweden, employing about 700 contact centre agents across Europe, the US and China.
Recently, the bank identified that call centre agents were spending a lot of time identifying and finding information for customers.
“The general challenge we had was that we get a lot of transactional calls through to our contact centre,” Swedbank’s head of operational support, Martin Kedback, told CMO. “These were the type of calls we thought we could resolve through online services, like checking account balances or transferring money from one account to another. We introduced our virtual assistant to help resolve these transactional queries more efficiently, so our agents could spend more time on more value-adding calls.”
According to Kedback, since the bank implemented Nuance’s intelligent virtual assistant technology, Nina, one year ago, it has seen significant improvement in customer retention rates, the amount of time spent on the calls and customer service staff resources. For example, Swedbank has reported that of the 1600 queries being directed to Nina each day, an average of 1400 queries are being automatically and successfully resolved by the virtual assistant.
Kedback explained the assistant is a learning tool or a learning process that is primarily customer-driven.
“Our version of Nina comes in two instances: We have an external one, directed towards our customers, and that’s where Nina is taking care of 800-1000 conversations a day,” he said. “We have an internal layer as well, directed to our advisers, which helps them in customer meetings to make them more effective. So you can think of it as providing both knowledge support and action support.”
Kedback claims Swedbank's virtual assistant provides a more seamless experience for customer transactional queries.
To date, about 400,000 customers have met Nina, with the bank now planning a strategic rollout of the technology to its wider customer base. Kedback said this was about recognising the need to evolve to keep up with advances in technology and engage with its strongly digital customer base.
During his visit to Sydney, Kedback also revealed he has met with a number of Australian banks to discuss how virtual assistant technology can be successfully implemented onshore.
“Banks in Australia and Sweden seem similar in terms of their approach to technology, customer data and structure,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they would benefit from implementing the same thinking that we have, because it’s all about reducing the transactional calls, and focusing more time on value-added calls.”
Kedback predicted the virtual assistant will play a bigger part within the business model and act more like an assistant.
“Think about it, you can have a virtual assistant who could help with your customer loan application,” he explained. “We’d really like to integrate this technology more in the back-end of our operations in the future.”
Kedback said Swedbank is spending most of its marketing budget on digital development to move into the customer self-service area.
“It’s about making sure any transactions you have or any business you want to do can be done through our digital channels,” he said. “In addition to that, we need to take care of the issues arising between the digital space and the level of assisted service.
“It’s critical to ensure customers can move from one channel to another, and as we develop better and better digital tools, people will tend to use them, which is a good thing. But at the same time, when they use them, we run the risk of losing touch with our customer because we’re not communicating with them in the way we used to.”
But Kedback is confident integrating virtual assistant technology successfully will ultimately implement a customer-driven development that still has a human touch to it and keeps a personalised relationship.
“It’s the only technology I’ve seen so far in my role that is predominantly customer-driven,” he said. “It’s purely based on what the customers are asking for, which is one of the main reasons why it’s been working so well.”