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Help in a crisis – power up the digital assistant

It’s late March 2020 and New Zealand is heading into lockdown, heeding the government’s call to stay home and save lives. But at this extraordinary time, many people are struggling to understand how the Covid-19 crisis will affect them, and they are calling their bank for help.


At ANZ NZ’s contact centres, the phones are busy, with the customer team answering an additional 3,000 calls each day. This bank’s technology team is also seeing a spike in online traffic – digital banking assistant Jamie is in hot demand.


Jamie is ANZ’s Digital Customer Services Rep. She is a Digital Person brought to life by ANZ and Soul Machines who can assist customers with basic banking enquiries.


“Jamie’s been an amazing tool for us over the last few months,” says ANZ NZ’s Chief Information Officer, Mike Bullock.


“She can talk with and help an unlimited number of people at any one time, there’s no wait times for customers and she responds to their questions immediately.”


Questions for the artificial intelligence-powered assistant peaked on 25th March when she handled a 160% increase in the number of queries on the Contact Us page of the Bank’s website.


Demand remained solid throughout the lockdown period, with the overall number of banking-related questions to Jamie up by more than a third.


Changing times, changing questions


Customers came to her with new concerns, reflecting the changing times.


“At first we reactively added and updated Jamie’s scripts as the questions flooded in,” says ANZ NZ’s Conversational Feature Lead, Reuben Pollock.


“Then we quickly found new ways to anticipate what the next wave of customer questions might be.”


When international travel plans were disrupted, Jamie was asked about travel insurance. The queries changed again when there was stock market volatility, with questions focused on KiwiSaver balances and the switching of funds.


The team behind the digital assistant came out of the lockdown period with a clear sense of how a tool like Jamie needs to be constantly updated and ready to react to fast-changing events.


“We kept a close eye on government announcements and on news reporting. Both were particularly helpful for predicting and preparing Jamie for new customer concerns,” says Reuben.


“We’ve always known the importance of avoiding jargon and using mainstream language for a digital assistant like Jamie, but the Covid-19 crisis really reinforced that.”


The team programmed Jamie to understand people’s questions even if they were not using the correct terminology.


“When ‘home loan repayment deferrals’ were announced, customers used language like “mortgage holiday”, “repayment relief” or “the pause option”.


We taught Jamie to interpret that language so that she could continue to answer questions as quickly and accurately as possible,” says Reuben.


Making sure Jamie was prepared for each new wave of questions also meant working closely with other parts of ANZ’s business.


Liaising with ANZ’s Merchant Business team meant that Jamie was ready to answer related questions as soon as the contactless payment limit was increased to $200.


There was also close co-ordination with the Contact Centre teams so that Jamie could let customers know about call wait times and call-back forms. 


Listening and learning


By analysing customer questions, the team could also gather valuable insights into what issues were of concern or causing problems for customers. This information was used to help improve their experience.


“This was especially important for our international customers who could not call our 0800 number or contact us during opening hours,’ says Mike Bullock.


“Jamie’s available 24/7 which we’ve found is great for our customers who are in a different country or time zone.”


“By tracking their concerns and questions we’ve been able to get a better understanding of what this group of customers need, and this has meant we can further develop Jamie’s capability, making her even more useful to our customers.”

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