Sydney, Australia, June 5, 2017 -- Westpac has completed an upgrade of its customer service platforms, designed to let it follow inquiries across devices and begin to experiment with smart bots to handle some tasks instead of people.
The upgrade means the bank can better handle its customer interactions each year, and it is hoped this will eliminate the bane of customers' existence; explaining a problem from scratch each time they call up or change channels.
The initiative, known internally as Human Digital Connections (HDC), began as a telephony upgrade project but has been tied into a recently released feature whereby customers can click a "contact us" button anywhere in its mobile app and be put in touch with bankers who already know who they are.
HDC is a managed service provided by Optus with the customer interaction platforms provided by Avaya and the recording, analytics and workforce management platform from Verint. It replaces previously used customer interaction software from Genesys and recording, analytics and workforce management tools from US-based NICE.
Westpac director of omni-channel transformation Daniel Bergan told The Australian Financial Review the program had represented a significant investment, and had been deployed at St George Bank at the end of last year, before a migration of older Westpac systems in April. He said the bank had needed to cope with a complex technology project to integrate several back-end systems and deploy the new platform without disrupting the ongoing work of the older systems.
Mr Bergan said that after the upgrade Westpac would introduce chatbots to work as virtual assistants to help customers with questions about products. Rather than being an automated FAQ page, the bots will provide guidance about how to complete functions online and will utilise machine learning techniques to improve the quality of service they can offer.
Bots will also be used internally to advise bankers on commonly asked questions, in a move aimed at freeing up their time to help customers with more-complex banking matters.
The bank's robot workforce is in testing with an expected deployment in 2018, and – like others who have looked at deploying automation in recent times – he said the software would remove dreary work from staff rather than replace them.
"Bots have a very important role to play in the future of customer service as they are an efficient way to deliver a consistent outcome for repetitive tasks," Mr Bergan said.
"The key is that it enables us to be 'always on' for our customers but also frees up our people to to deal with more-complex tasks ... we then need to ensure that there is a seamless and personalised hand-off to an employee at any time the bot cannot answer a query."
He said Westpac believed the key to successful deployment of any virtual assistant or bot technology was to be able to keep the personal touch, and rather than trying to fool a customer into thinking they are talking to a human, make it easy for them to speak to a real person whenever they want.
The bank will also benefit from keeping its communications in one system from a business intelligence perspective, with the data acquired from its customer systems going into its big-data platform for analysis.
Mr Bergan said the "contact us" button in the bank's mobile app would be enhanced this year with a "never queue" button, which will hold their place in a queue and get a call-back to their device, without them having to answer security ID questions or listen to infuriating recorded voice call menu options.
"Future enhancements to this feature is where the heart of our connected channels strategy is. All customers have to do is answer the question 'How may I help you' and we can do the rest via chat, messaging, video, email or appointment with a specialist.
"The connection will be seamless and also driven by bot-related technology to answer the simple inquiries."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
About Westpac Banking Corporation:
Westpac, is a multinational Financial services company and became the largest bank in Australia (by market capitalisation) after it took over St George, and the second-largest bank in New Zealand.
Published: Wednesday, June 7, 2017
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