According to IDC, this is the year where global spend on customer experience technology is estimated to reach $641 billion. Businesses across all sectors have taken steps towards connecting with consumers through messaging and automation – and it’s clear why.
Chatbots, virtual agents and other conversational artificial intelligence technologies bring brands closer to their customers, driving personalised one-to-one connections at the scale of modern business.
Conversational AI is now fundamental
Glen Clodore is Vice President for Operational Excellence at LivePerson, which has been leading the digital conversational space for over 20 years, working with the likes of HSBC, Orange, and Virgin Media. He says: ‘An effective conversational strategy is no longer nice to have. It is table stakes.’
Technology drives the CX opportunity
But implementing that strategy across your business is not easy. At a recent virtual event, we asked 70 executives from a mix of industries: what is your biggest challenge as you build your conversational strategy? Just four per cent said: ‘getting the personality and voice of bots right’. While 34% said ‘getting to scale’, and 61% said ‘operational readiness, including securing buy in from stakeholders across the business.’
In the past two years, digital transformation has accelerated faster than any of us expected. And yet, for many companies, the challenge of adapting processes and culture remains – and that affects their ability to become a conversational business. On the flipside, these difficulties mean that, for those who can take automation to the next level, maximising effectiveness and efficiency while retaining the magic – that empathetic, human relationship – is a real opportunity to differentiate on service, better learn customer needs, and reduce costs.
So… How are conversational AI technologies improving the customer service experience for two household name brands?
Improving a bank’s customer service experience
NatWest is a major retail and commercial bank in the UK with more than 7.5 million personal customers and 850,000 small business accounts. Lots of customers, lots of questions, lots of conversations. Alice Fryatt has worked with NatWest for over 30 years and has been working on the bank’s digital conversations since webchat was onboarded nearly 14 years ago. ‘In 2009, we had 4.2 million customers and one full-time agent supported about 15,000 customers. This is when customers told us they wanted to self-serve in the channel of their choice and not be forced into telephony, and our digital journey began. Today we have 4.6 million active online customers logging on 17.9 million times per month and eight million mobile app customers logging on 224 million times per month.’
At the start of its digital journey, NatWest had 130 staff supporting 44 million logins. Today, it has 240 staff supporting 241 million logins. ‘Every time a customer logs on, there’s a potential they will need help,’ says Alice. How have NatWest managed to support that number without scaling full time employees? By using conversational AI technologies. ‘The answer is Cora.’
Cora was born in 2017. In her first year, she had 200,000 customer conversations. In 2021, she had close to 10 million. But this number is not the business-critical measurement of success. Bill Agar is the AI Product Manager for Cora and his team’s focus is on experience, not volume. NatWest measures the outcomes of each conversation – was it handed to a human or not? And the Cora team are doing a great job. In 2018, 13% of customer conversations were “contained” in Cora (stayed on the platform from start to finish). In September 2021, that number was up to 50%.
Better data drives better experiences
Bill says this increase in successful customer experiences with Cora is driven by two key areas of focus. ‘Firstly, and most simply, to create more successful journeys, you need more journeys and more coverage. To create more journeys, use all the customer data available to you – from all channels – to identify where your gaps are.’ Bill continues: ‘Secondly, stay focused on journey optimisation. Review your chat outcome data for every part of the journey, including chats that have been handed off to an agent. Sometimes just replicating what the human has said can improve a journey! And always explore self-serve guidance that exists elsewhere in your company for any and every task.’
Carousels and context
Two quick wins Bill recommends are: image carousels that help explain how to do something (‘journeys we have added this to have way better engagement and containment’) and contextual welcome messages based on where the customer launched Cora. ‘If you launched Cora from the login page, for example, you’re probably looking for help logging in,’ says Bill. ‘And adding these contextual messages has not only increased the number of Cora conversations and the number of contained conversations, being context-specific also helps improve Cora’s natural language understanding.’
The results speak for themselves. Recently, NatWest asked Cora to deal with 40,000 customer addresses changes. She did it with a 95% customer satisfaction rate and five human minutes saved per request.
Technology that augments rather than replaces
But what about your internal customers – your frontline customer service agents? Chris Huggins is Senior Online Manager for Conversational Commerce with leading British telecommunications company, Virgin Media. He says: ‘In the early stages there was a lot of apprehension [from agents] about automation making their roles redundant. It’s not. It’s about augmenting their roles.’ Chris says education was key. ‘It’s about bringing them on board for the whole journey, from inception to execution. Ensuring they are fully aware not only of what we are doing but why we are doing it and the impact that can have on them from a performance perspective.’ Done well, and both sides complement each other. Alice Fryatt explains how her agents and Cora work together at NatWest: ‘I like to think of Cora as an extremely effective agent. One who leaves the human organisation there to focus on what matters – where the customer is emotional, or the request is complex.’
And the same is true at Virgin Media. Chris Huggins: ‘Very quickly, our agents realised that having the bots there, triaging, ensuring that all of the conversations were within scope for them to handle, meant improvements in their conversion which meant improvements in their overall incentives, which improved their overall CSAT, and their overall job satisfaction. ‘We’ve now got to a point where the agents themselves are requesting bot support in particular areas of the conversation, depending on complexity. It’s been a remarkable transition.’
Technology-enhanced customer experience is the future
Today, every company should be looking to harness the way digital technology has transformed (and is transforming) the way they interact with their customers. To unlock scale. To drive efficiency. Because, especially now, when the pace of innovation is accelerating, an unwavering focus on the customer – on relationships rather than interactions – is at the heart of driving engagement and experience in a digital-first world.Back to insights