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Bank of Scotland trials AI assistant in mobile app, as retail customer service worsens

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Against a backdrop of worsening customer experience and service in the retail sector, Bank of Scotland has begun piloting the use of artificial intelligence through a virtual assistant to offer a new service for customers using the iPhone app.

Bank of Scotland customers will be able to have a messaging conversation in real time with a virtual assistant that has been trained to answer common queries, such as unknown account transactions, how to make payments and what to do about lost or stolen cards.

Customers who are speaking to a virtual assistant will have the benefit of pausing and continuing their query at any time, without having to start the conversation again. The virtual assistant will pick up the conversation thread and continue to support the customer. If the virtual assistant cannot help, the customer will be given the option to transfer to a human customer service agent at any point during the conversation.

Nick Williams, Managing Director, Consumer Digital, Bank of Scotland, explains: “We are experimenting with how we use artificial intelligence technology to help our customers find the information they want in the simplest and most convenient way possible. This is an exciting first step for us in using AI and messaging technology, and we’re keen to see how our customers like the service.”

The pilot is accessible to 50,000 Bank of Scotland iOS mobile customers and comes as research commissioned by Engage Hub, a data-driven customer engagement solutions company, reveals that retailers are under-delivering on customer experience, with 22% of respondents indicating standards have declined in the last year – with 16% singling out lack of communications as a big issue.

More than half (52%) of consumers believe retailers could improve the customer experience by being seen to take feedback on board better, and 41% want to see retailers provide more tailored offers.

The research, designed to better understand how fragile a customer’s relationship with retailers can be, also found that when consumers started shopping elsewhere, better in-store experience (35%), better delivery options (26%) and targeted promotions (26%) were key factors in their decision to switch. Indeed, where retailers have got it right, 48% of consumers believed that good communication was having the biggest impact on their overall experience. This was along with how positively they dealt with a complaint (37%) and where they were treated like an individual (34%).

Despite 73% of consumers believing that retailers consider the customer’s experience to be an important part of the service they deliver, a third (33%) believe the feedback they give is either infrequently, or never acted upon. And 42% believe that being seen to take feedback on board would improve their experience with Retailers.

Simon Brennan, VP Sales Europe, Engage Hub comments: “Retailers are under incredible pressure to innovate with their customer service and loyalty programmes, and it’s concerning to see so many people say that their experience is going in the wrong direction. Not only that, but when they speak out about poor customer service, feedback isn’t always being taken on board. What’s worse is this is clearly one of main ways that consumers believe that their experience could be improved.”

Sixty-two per cent of consumers have seen that technology has had a positive effect on customer experience. Just 13% percent believed that an over-reliance on technology had made the customer experience worse, indicating that in the main, technology is being deployed effectively by retailers to interact and engage with their customers.

Brennan adds: “How retailers manage their customers’ experience is becoming a key competitive differentiator as the complexity of how it needs to be delivered increases. From tailoring offers to individual consumers with targeted campaigns, to a better range of delivery options, it’s crucial for customer experience professionals to better understand how the right customer experience will drive better loyalty.”

According to the study, consumers also believe that good customer service from retailers is: friendly (87%), helpful (85%), quick to solve queries (58%), and rapid to respond to queries in the first place (57%). Half (52%) of consumers are no more or less loyal than they were a year ago, and 14% are less loyal. A third (34%) indicated they are more loyal.

All this sits against a backdrop of businesses thinking they are getting it right. A separate study by Qualtrics suggests that, despite 90% of marketers claiming that they are “customer centric” in their approach, only 17% of consumers feel valued by brands.

The Qualtrics research, based on insights from 250 marketing professionals and 250 consumers, reveals a clear gap between the experiences that marketers are delivering and what today’s customers expect.

While 81% of marketers agree it is extremely important to understand their customers, only 46% of consumers say they are understood by the brands they usually buy from, and only 60% say brands put the customer first.

Almost two-thirds of marketers (64%) say they are being held back when it comes to developing customer insights. A lack of time and budgetary constraints are the primary reasons, but 51% also said that they did not know what they were looking for when it came to analysing customer feedback, data and trends.

Qualtrics suggests that this inability to understand customers is due to an over reliance on “Operational data” – data that states what consumers have done in the past. Instead, Qualtrics argues that brands must supplement their existing data with “Experience data” and identify trends that explain why consumers act in the way they do.


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