If there is a determining factor when choosing a bank, it is its customer service. And if there is one thing that can provide better care and experience, it is technology. In the banking sector, any action that generates well-being for the citizen makes a difference: simplifying procedures, automating processes, guaranteeing security and having 24/7 availability.
In an environment so focused on the simplification of processes and in such a competitive scenario, only innovation and creativity, backed by the experience and leadership of a technological benchmark, produce true revolutions. That was Bancaribe’s commitment: to go beyond the traditional to create a virtual assistant that is so real and natural that it will increase its customer service capacity and satisfaction with the service.
The public health emergency and the restrictions that it brought with it accelerated this project, an important part of the ambitious digital transformation process that the entity had begun at the end of last year. “With the pandemic, we understood that it was the best time to accelerate the implementation of this important customer service project and to continue advancing in the bank’s transformation”, Explains Mariela Cabrera, Vice President of Bancaribe Customer Services, an entity that last November 3 completed 66 years of operation. “The restrictions imposed by the public health crisis made the ability to serve our clients 24/7 with Aria, our virtual assistant, decisive to provide the best service and to be always available without the limitations imposed by the rules of social distancing”Adds Cabrera.
The initial mission was to automate the chat service on its website, which until then was attended manually by Customer Service personnel, by a bot that multiplied the service capacity, provided an effective service, close to the citizen, agile in its processes and offer solutions at any time. But, above all, it was about creating a very natural assistant, one that learned and improved day after day, that did not generate the loops or customer circles, which can sometimes be frustrating when using automated services.
Explains Antonio Martínez, commercial vice president of CONSEIN, the consulting company, Microsoft partner, which implemented the solution for Bancaribe “Aria is not only based on artificial intelligence, but also has the tools to improve itself day by day and also to know when it is necessary to resort to people so as not to leave any demand unattended: refer to customer service specialists – people of flesh and blood – those complex queries about which they do not yet have the information ”. His answer for these cases: “Sorry, the information you request I do not handle yet, but I can take your request and send it to the area in charge”Is part of the ‘humanization’ process, adds Martínez, because even if he doesn’t have the answer, he maintains an active conversation with the client and directs him immediately with specialized personnel.
Although this is a recent implementation, the customer service assistant has exceeded all expectations of the bank. In just over a month and a half, Aria has started more than 142,000 conversations and served nearly 20,000 clients and users. Likewise, it has referred nearly 8,900 highly complex queries to customer service specialists. “Having an overflow has been key, because specialists are in charge of contacting clients to complement the requirement”, Adds Cabrera.
An authentic and connected development
For this technological development to truly integrate the knowledge and experience of all the bank’s staff, it had to be authentic and unique. For this reason, Bancaribe opened an internal call to nurture the project and give life to this assistant: his appearance, his way of speaking and, of course, his name, were discussed with everyone. Through a contest it was defined that she would be called Aria and that she would be a young woman, with brown hair, black eyes, a white blouse and a blue jacket. Even the avatar is an internal creation; Aria is totally a product of the bank’s feeling and culture. His training enriched him in his previous stages with the internal staff and the community and the priorities of Venezuela are connected, and that is why he wore the pink ribbon of the fight against cancer, for example, on his lapel. When asked about the mandatory use of the mask, Aria clarifies that her assistance is virtual, which avoids any contact or possibility of contagion. And incidentally, it reinforces protection measures and the proper use of biosecurity elements.
Bancaribe clients have adopted Aria with enthusiasm and leave hundreds of messages of love and gratitude, which Aria is already learning to process and respond to as well. Since the beginning of operations, the assistant has received inquiries as curious as what her religion is or if she has a boyfriend. Some already have an answer: if they ask her if she has a partner, she answers: “I only dedicate myself to my work.” The positive messages on the bank’s social networks support this ambitious, transformative and creative commitment, and give free rein for Aria to continue serving users with her usual warmth from the greeting: “Thank you very much for your affection, my intention is that everyone love me and feel comfortable with me ”.
For the implementation of this service that seeks to put the customer at the center of its operation, Bancaribe opted for advanced Artificial Intelligence technology and the capacity and security in the Microsoft cloud. “The bot is supported in the Azure cloud and uses two additional tools: Q&A Maker, which works with questions and answers, and LUIS, a service based on machine learning, which develops understanding of the language.”Explains Martínez. “Platforms like LUIS go far beyond the textual understanding of the language: they interpret the intention of users’ queries, capture regional expressions, accents and even the multiple ways of formulating the same question to find the appropriate answer.”Adds Martínez.
Setting up a virtual assistant to handle the volume of inquiries from bank users is a major challenge. Not only because of how complex it is to cover such broad service portfolios, but because each case is unique. Likewise, the diversity of expressions and ways in which we ask questions requires a much deeper preparation. With these challenges in mind, the starting point for Aria was the creation of a document with frequently asked questions that are received in call centers and the most recurrent queries from clients, such as Conexion Bancaribe -the Internet banking-, affiliations, blocks, credit cards, claims, and location of branches and ATMs. It was about 2,000 questions and answers for Aria’s first workout.
“The activation of Aria allowed us to implement greater rotation in the area. There are 85 people in Customer Service and mobilizing them all in the midst of the restrictions we had due to the pandemic was very complex. The different call centers had to limit their operation, because initially we were open 24 hours a day, then we could only do it from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and when the restrictions increased we had to suspend the operation on Sundays. Fortunately Aria arrived to complement those spaces in which the specialists were not present”, Adds Cabrera.
For banking services, just as customer service is critical, the other fundamental variable is security. In the case of Aria, the data runs encrypted in the Azure cloud during customer service, but no data is stored. “Once each interaction is complete, the information provided is erased. The same happens when the conversation remains idle for 3 minutes; this, to protect user data, as required by bank security policies and regulations of the Venezuelan authorities”Explains Jackson Jiménez – Vice President of Innovation and Research at Bancaribe.
A process that continues
The implementation of Aria took about 60 days and is currently operating in its initial phase, which will evolve according to the experience and feedback from customers. “This stage is the most complex because it included the inclusion of a wide file of questions and answers, the tests to go on the air, the training of Artificial Intelligence and the integration of the LUIS and Q&A Maker engines, which are the brain”, Says Martínez. However, for the Bancaribe team and that of CONSEIN, the business partner in charge of development, this month and a half of the virtual assistant’s operation has been a satisfactory experience. “With Aria we increased our customer service capacity, we have achieved a response effectiveness of 95%, well above the 70% we had before”, Cabrera acknowledges.
Those who were in charge of manually operating the old customer service chat now fulfill other service functions within the bank. And while in this initial phase Aria is only available on the website, the goal is to migrate soon to other digital platforms. “We want clients to always have assistance in any channel or medium through which they connect with us. That they can interact with Aria in Internet banking, on social networks, and that they get answers to their needs 24/7”, Adds the Vice President of Bancaribe Customer Services. Aria will need to multiply quickly to serve effectively and safely. Fortunately, as she herself answers, she is dedicated only to her job and will have more and better answers for more than a million Venezuelan clients of the bank.