Digital assistants: Virtual employees who love to serve?

People love great service. In fact, one experiment carried out by American Express1 showed that over half (53 percent) of a sample of 1,630 consumers exhibited the same cerebral reactions in response to being served well as they do when they feel loved. With such strong emotional associations, it is little surprise that when service falls short, consumers’ reaction is equally visceral. The gap between promise and delivery can seriously damage a brand and drive customers to look elsewhere for service. That is borne out by the finding that 65 percent of customers have switched providers directly as a result of poor service.2

53% of consumers exhibit same emotional response to good service as being loved
65% of customers have switched providers directly as a result of poor service

In the digital era, expectations of service are even higher. Customers live in a world where the division between digital and physical worlds is blurring. They increasingly expect to use a mix of channels depending on their needs and context. What’s more, they expect the best possible mix to be automatically optimized for them. So how should Nordic financial service companies go about addressing those needs? One new development, the digital assistant, presents a real opportunity to improve service and ensure that support is always available for customers to carry out a number of routine tasks that would otherwise require relatively time-consuming manual processes.

A digital assistant is a virtual employee that can offer support and act as a first point of contact when it comes to delivering a service experience. However, a digital assistant may not be able to completely replace the customer service agent, although this scenario may not be too far away. A digital assistant is already capable of executing simple and even semi-complex processes, instantly and on a 24/7 basis. Speed, accuracy and availability are all hallmarks of great service, and this is where a digital assistant excels. Resolving an issue or query first time around drives higher levels of customer satisfaction. Highly satisfied customers equal higher lifetime value and hence greater profitability. With routine tasks handled by a digital assistant, service agents can focus on higher-value tasks. The business also gains from greater efficiency and predictability, lower costs, and an improved ability to plan.

As an example of how one of Accenture’s clients already use this technology, the Spanish financial services provider BBVA has developed a web-based digital assistant named Lola.

She is part of BBVA’s strategy of creating customer-centric services and her human-like understanding makes her able to comprehend customers’ intentions and act upon these. There is already a vast range of other digital assistants available online and you can find one to interact with here.

However, before reaping the benefits of digital assistants, Nordic financial service companies need to understand the interconnection between tasks that should be handled by humans and those that should be handled by digital assistants. Drawing this line most effectively requires careful consideration of digital maturity as well as the needs of specific segments or customer types. Analytics, customer segmentation, social monitoring, and active listening can all play a key role in determining the right mix between digital and other channels. It is important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach to this.

What can i help you with?

Similarly, when deciding what types of tasks that should be handled by a digital assistant, understanding what the customer is trying to achieve is key. For insurance companies, simple enquiries such as; digital assistants relatively easily handle all concerns about coverage and change of address. For banks, digital assistants also easily handle investment advice among other frequent enquiries. However, more complex transactions and enquiries are, for now at least, likely to require personal involvement from the customer service agent.

Despite the advantages, a digital assistant is not a quick and easy solution to a poor service strategy. In fact, without addressing the underlying approach to service as a starting point, adding a digital layer on top of broken or suboptimal processes may result in a worse service experience. Deployed intelligently, and as part of a wider effort to deliver great service, digital assistants can be a very valuable addition to the team.

1American Express Global customer service barometer, 2013
2Accenture research, 2015

Ammad Butt

Ammad Butt

Senior Manager - Financial Services

As the Distribution & Marketing lead for Insurance at Accenture Denmark, my work focuses on helping our clients to understand their customers and then, armed with that understanding, develop the capabilities that will help them outperform the market. Increasingly, those capabilities are digital. What I see in digital transformation is the coming together of IT and business issues. Helping our clients to plan and execute their transformation journey is a core part of my role, and brings together both parts of my academic background which is firmly in both camps, having earned an MSc in Computer Science from Copenhagen Business School and an MBA from the London Business School.

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