How Newcastle Permanent Building Society is crafting a digital-first, not digital only, CX approach

AI voice bots and a rethink of its customer service teams across channels have helped this financial services organisation innovate its CX approach

The customer experience team at Newcastle Permanent Building Society were confident replacing adhoc different systems across its contact centre and digital channels with a single, integrated platform would lead to efficiencies and cost reductions. What they didn’t know initially was how it could innovate their omnichannel and team approach.

Newcastle Permanent Building Society head of digital customer experience and innovation, Simon Burt, told CMO the financial services group began working with Genesys three years ago to replatform its customer experience capabilities. The objective was to go from a multi-platform environment with different systems, IVRs, emails, Web chat to one seamlessly integrated platform.

“Our original business case was that we had all these multiple platforms that should be put into one to be technically less expensive to run, in terms of systems and processes. It was also all on-premise and we knew we should be making the journey towards cloud,” Burt said. “So we started the journey on replacing technology firstly to at achieve what we’ve already got.”

But as the team began replacing the base telephony platform, it realised it could leverage the technology – particularly AI – in innovative ways too. One big decision was to use the Google AI-enabled voice bot with Genesys to replace its old IVR, making Newcastle Permanent Building Society one of the first customers globally to tackle such a task.

About 30 per cent of daily voice call interactions have now been automated, many of which are account balance or transaction inquiries, such as card activation.

“We use the bot and AI piece from Google to listen to what the customer wants to do and is asking to do, then leverage that to find the right agent at right time and right place very quickly,” Burt explained. “We used to have recorded voice talent saying our welcome, asking how we could help. Now that’s all replaced with the bot and Google voice. We managed to find a voice that matches pretty closely with our old voice talent. Now, we just type interactions into the system and it voices it for us.”

Instead of just going down the ‘safe route’ and doing FAQs, Newcastle Permanent also went straight in and did identification and authentication using the voice bot, as well as card activations and balance checks.

“The beauty of the voice bot is understanding and learning, as customers use a certain phrase and it learns to guide them… we are surprised at how far and fast that starts to happen,” Burt said.

Business strategy

The voice bot and AI smarts are also helping deliver one of the building society’s core CX tenets: To keep waiting times as short as possible. The strategy has always been to keep average answer times to under a few minutes.

“Our strategy is finding people very quickly to help that customer, because they made the decision to call as they probably couldn’t self-serve,” Burt said. “While digital-first, we’re trying to ensure that where customers want to self-service, they can. Where that digital tech doesn’t allow them to do what they need to do, they then need help. And we want to make sure they get that help fast.”  

In a voice-based support instance, the Google IVR does that by identifying what a customer is saying then routing them to the right person based on what they are trying to do. The other part of the equation is in the typed space, such as Webchat and email.

“Previously, we had people answering the phone, people doing email and people doing Webchat, with separate teams and skills. Using the new platform, we were able to blend all agents in the contact centre for starters, and at the same time as sending them home during the lockdowns, so they could do a voice call, Web chat and an email,” Burt said. “That gave us a bigger workforce to answer calls when that was peaking, and vice versa.”  

What the building society has now done is brought physical branches teams in to also assist with omnichannel customer service and support.

“We made a decision pre-Covid that we would remain ‘overbranched’ and keep up that presence. But the work was declining – you still have higher value work with customers coming in, but branches were less busy,” Burt said.

“So our strategy was to keep the branches, but then do two things. Firstly, we wanted to make sure people weren’t coming into a branch to open an account when they didn’t have to. We didn’t mind if they did. But if they came in to open an account, we’d show them how to do it on their mobile in the app. We wanted to make sure they could self-serve for the simple stuff and be there for everything else.

“And that’s where the next phase of Genesys came in. We have a strategy for physical, digital and virtual. In the branch context, digital is how we teach you to self-serve where we can. The virtual piece is largely what we call ‘typed’ interactions. We have stretched Genesys across the branch network… so inbetween physical customer interactions, staff have Genesys running on their workstations. When a customer walks in, they tell the system they’re not available, and when they’re available again, we start pushing virtual work through.”  

The change has transformed Newcastle Permanent Building Society’s call centre and grown the support workforce four-fold.

“As those typed interactions have increased, that’s been key. People are generally starting to look for Webchat as their first interaction, so that helps us there,” Burt said. “When someone uses it, they get a prompt response to an email in minutes during the daytime.”  

Capability change management

But while it’s relatively straightforward to put Genesys into every workstation, there was a transformation program of work to be done to ensure capability and teams were primed for it.

“If your people aren’t ready for it, it’s not going to work. We had to take our people on a journey, alongside the tech rollout, to say here is the future for you,” Burt explained. “People were asking what’s the future for me if I’m working in a branch? We had a change management process there, from dealing with fewer cash transactions to helping people with their digital needs.

“We created digital coach roles to go into branches and teach our people how to teach customers how to use our app. We have masterclasses in branches with 80-year-olds coming in. They love it because they realise they can do stuff – we have busted the myth old people are not using apps.”

Newcastle Permanent also transformed physical branches focused on cash transactions with tellers behind glass to open spaces where branch staff sit front-of-house and be more service-oriented.

“Then it was about the virtual work itself. We needed to educate our people with these brilliant customer service skills that we wanted to leverage that,” Burt said.

“We’re renowned for our customer service, and it’s a very warm experience. Some people have been with us for 40 years. That rubs off. Now, we’re moving those branch people into that digital world. If you want to connect digitally or virtually, that same person with the same service skills is there at the other end. But those people can also stretch service skills to customers anywhere.”  

Burt stressed digital-first is not the same thing as digital-only. “Digital-first from our perspective is about having digital come first, and making sure customers know they can self-serve where the capability is there. But it also implies there’s a second option,” he said.

“If digital comes first and doesn’t work, then those customers need to be able to find someone. We’re saying we want to be digital-first but support people when they need it in all ways.”

By deploying Genesys and blending the workforce, Newcastle Permanent has reduced FTE operating in the contact centre by 30 per cent. However, another way of rating success is by looking at percentage of customers now using the building society’s digital tools, plus active users across its mobile app over 30, 60 and 90 days.

“All of those are also strong. That’s a key measure for financial services moving forward,” Burt added.  

Next digital use cases

The next piece of work underway at Newcastle Permanent is taking what has been done so far with the voice bot and reusing it across other digital channels and for use cases founded in insights from the voice conversations and interactions occurring.

“Technology gave more data, which gave more insights which led to the next technology projects,” Burt said.

He added the work has been done through a “real partnership” with Genesys. “We had a strategy over there, 5-6 systems to consolidate here, and some business problems and challenges,” Burt said. “We went on a journey with Genesys to say what else can you do, here’s some things we want to do, then finding solutions to business problems we are coming up with.”

An opportunity also on the prospective list is leveraging Open Banking to give customers a consolidated view of their banking across all of their banks through its app.

“If we have a homeloan customer come to us through a mortgage broker that’s new to us, one of the things we’re focused on is how to make that customer ‘sticky’. If we don’t connect with you digitally, there’s no connection,” Burt said. “What we want to do is create tools and capabilities that get people onto our app, so they feel part of our bank and are connected to some of our services experiences. We are in a great place where we have built a great platform behind us.”

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page       





Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts



CMO's top 10 martech stories for the week - 9 June

Read more

Great e-commerce article!

Vadim Frost

CMO’s State of CX Leadership 2022 report finds the CX striving to align to business outcomes

Read more

Are you searching something related to Lottery and Lottery App then Agnito Technologies can be a help for you Agnito comes out as a true ...


The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Thorough testing and quality assurance are required for a bug-free Lottery Platform. I'm looking forward to dependability.

Ella Hall

The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Great Sharing thoughts.It is really helps to define marketing strategies. After all good digital marketing plan leads to brand awareness...

Paul F

Driving digital marketing effectiveness

Read more

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in