Head RCB Connect2Net
Questions For Ann Bouchet
How do you ensure instant response and make sure your customers do not have to wait?
The challenge of providing instant service to customers can only be achieved by understanding their intentions (the earlier the better). For that to happen, you need an efficient blend of digital self-service and human assistance.
For simple questions, a digital self-service strategy becomes a must-have. This is because customers expect speed, ease of use and the ability to help themselves whenever possible. With this in mind, we are increasing the number of initiatives aimed at guaranteeing this level of excellence. Here are some examples:
- A significant improvement in the ease of accessing our catalogue of FAQ resulted in a 45% increase in terms of customer consultations during the first six months of 2020.
- For daily banking, the chat functionality is currently accessible on 60% of our contact buttons. This will increase to all of them by the end of the year. E-mail remains an important channel but, as we expected, chat is the preferred direct channel when it is available. This has resulted in a significant reduction in e-mails, in favour of chat. Whereas we should continue to promote it, a customer survey has also shown that 50% of our customers are not aware that chat is available on our channels, while more than 80% would be extremely interested in using it.
- We found that by offering greater accessibility to our BBot chatbot on the Belfius.be website (approximately 20 additional pages), this has resulted in a 450% increase in activity within the space in the past 4 months.
- In terms of the telephone, before lockdown, calls to Belfius Connect rose by an average of 35%. To take our solutions into some areas, we are using a ground-breaking tool in the Belgian banking and insurance sector: cobrowsing. Many calls come from customers experiencing difficulties on Belfius Direct Net or www.belfius.be – for example, to open an account. Cobrowsing allows them to share their screen in a way that enables us to view their problem and guide them out of it. This means that the time spent on these questions is reduced considerably. The result? A more efficient service and customers who are more satisfied and increasing autonomous. And even higher sales. Customer satisfaction: 4.6/5. Our motto is ‘Meaningful and Inspiring for Belgian Society. Together.’ The tool fits in perfectly with that approach, enabling us to help customers more quickly and efficiently and helping towards the digital education of an audience less familiar with digital tools.
Our aim is also to rationalise the contact channels we offer and support our digital tools. Experience has shown that more channels result in more contact requests, because people naturally start using them in parallel to get that quick answer they are looking for. It is our responsibility to offer only the most efficient/effective channels and eliminate the ones that perform less well. This will mean a gradual transition to fewer channels. But we predict a strong move towards chat/messaging as the preferred digital tool. In the long term, thanks to our continued investment in NLP (Natural Language Processing), as soon as speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology becomes mature, we will build in a voice assistant that can be plugged into voice channels, such as phone.
For more complex customer questions and to support our staff, we can count on an effective “Knowledge Database” enriched with some 4500 articles containing thousands of questions and answers that are constantly being updated. Over time, to boost the efficiency of our employees, our aim is to progressively roll out virtual assistants, with greater recourse to artificial intelligence.
We are eventually aiming for a situation where customers are welcomed by our chatbot when they start a digital chat conversation with us and this chatbot will provide an answer whenever it can, or prepare a human contact to the best of its abilities. Positioning the chatbot as the first-line agent in this digital context allows us to provide an instant response to our customers, be it via a bot reply (self-service) or contact preparation with a human.
Do you think some people still prefer human interaction over chatbots? How has this changed during the pandemic times?
The human element in customer support is and will remain a very important and differentiating factor. Some types of contact certainly require a human touch to provide the appropriate level of assistance.
In parallel, what we are seeing and what you read in the literature is that customers prefer digital self-service, as long as the tools provided are of high quality and provide them with actual added value.
For the past few years on the market we have seen significant movement in traditional channels towards more practical/digital channels fed by artificial intelligence.
In itself, chatbot technology is still a relatively new way of communicating and we need to acknowledge that the early versions were often not up to standard in terms of customer experience…
At the present time, the pandemic has prompted an accelerated move towards digital channels and more people have discovered the possibilities of chat, bots and video as ways of remote communication. Consumers want an instant response, with self-service available 24/7.
Covid-19 has happened in a hyper-connected world that is awash with information. The progress made in the “Natural Language Process” has enabled us to implement conversational artificial intelligence technologies and to expand their scope. It is for this reason that chatbots will steadily strengthen their presence on the market by resolving problems instantly. We should embrace this opportunity and build the foundations it provides (NLP, chatbot) to offer a premium digital (self)-service at Belfius.
A few years from now, even in our banking environment, chatbots will have replaced servicing and human interactions with low added value. At Belfius, by 2025, our aim is to achieve 50% of customer interactions in self-service mode (search and bot). And within this context, the chatbot is a component.
Our Belfius BBot chatbot is a conversational application based on artificial intelligence that answers simple, frequently asked questions from customers around the clock, 24/7 (currently on the Belfius.be website and BDN).
During the pandemic, our teams have made significant improvements to the Belfius Bank chatbot. These include expanding its application to new areas (card and payment methods, in the broad sense) and significantly increasing its content and accessibility on the Belfius.be website. The results have exceeded our wildest expectations, with a growth of 450% in terms of activity in 4 months in the areas concerned.
Between now and the end of the year, we will be making every effort to expand our output. Across all of our channels, the aim of our “Digital first as preferred entry point” project will be to offer a single system and a single solution at every entry point for our Retail customers. In our jargon, we call it the “chatbot as a concierge”. The challenge is to offer a whole new customer experience in terms of support and assistance. How can we do that?
- A contact page to enhance and encourage the use of “self-care” functionalities (search, self-service, Bot, etc.)
- A layer of technology based on artificial intelligence before any human interaction: in chat mode, we will systematically expose the customer enquiry to our full catalogue in self-service mode (FAQ, Fund, Belfius.be, Bot, etc.).
- All this will be done in an omnichannel environment because our bricks-and-mortar branches remain a very important channel in the rollout of our strategy. What we want to do is combine the best of both worlds.
This delivers a dual benefit: the chatbot will be capable of responding to a growing number of intentions autonomously during the conversation itself, while remaining within a basic functionality, which is preparing for human contact.
Why is investing in omnichannel technology essential for the business?
Offering an omnichannel customer experience is no longer just an option; it has become essential. For many years now, Belfius Bank has opted successfully to take an omnichannel approach that allows the digital channels and branches to mutually bolster each other to provide our customers with a high-quality service. For simple products or for requests for help, our customers expect the maximum level of availability and accessibility through remote communication channels, such as the telephone, chat, e-mail and our Bot.
We firmly believe that distance or remote banking and the branch network have every interest to grow together and to be integrated with one another as much as possible. This is the reason why we launched the Connect2Net project. This model dovetails perfectly with the behaviour and expectations of the customer – which is something we have seen in particular during the COVID-19 crisis.
Connect2Net brings together the skills of branch staff and Belfius Connect by exercising ‘hybrid’ functions: in-branch conversations with some customers and remote contacts with other customers by telephone, chat, e-mail etc. Five hubs in which these two approaches to the business are united will be up and running by the end of 2020. Over time, we will no longer speak of two separate channels, but of a totally integrated distribution model.
Our omnichannel strategy will then enable customers to engage on the channel of their choice and navigate their way transparently through these channels without having to repeat themselves. In short, it will be a genuine omnichannel solution that enhances the customer experience and creates long-term loyalty.