For Swedbank’s call center agents, customer service conversations took up valuable selling time. Instead of offering services to customers and prospects, representatives were busy handling basic service requests that customers could easily resolve on their own if given the right tools. Martin Kedbäck, channel manager at Swedbank, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how Nina, a virtual assistant on the bank’s Swedish website, has become a solid self-service channel that leaves agents more time to close deals.
eMarketer: What made Swedbank want to introduce a virtual assistant?
Martin Kedbäck: We realized we were spending too much time on transactional calls [dealing with issues] that customers should be able to handle online. We also spent a lot of time talking to colleagues or searching for information on the internet to find answers for customers, which we couldn’t find. Those were the key factors that drove us to introduce a virtual assistant.
eMarketer: What powers your virtual assistant, Nina?
Kedbäck: Our virtual assistant was built by Nuance Communications. Every time customers ask a question, Nina recognizes keywords and provides replies to our customers [through natural language processing]. There’s a lot of manual work involved too, though—every time a customer asks a question that we don’t have a reply to, we have to update our database.
“When we started this project, we filled the database with things we thought our customers would ask about, but we were completely wrong.”
eMarketer: Does Nina have the potential to replace part of Swedbank’s call center team?
Kedbäck: No. She handles almost 40,000 conversations a month for us, but we haven’t reduced any manpower because of that. Agents just spend their time on other types of calls instead, which increases value for the bank. Nina takes care of all the service calls so that our agents can spend more time selling.
eMarketer: Are you seeing any major improvements since launching Nina?
Kedbäck: Yes, we are. Of the 40,000 calls a month that Nina handles, she resolves 81%, which is a very good result for us. She also saves our agents a lot of time.
eMarketer: Have you run into any unforeseen problems with Nina?
Kedbäck: There have been some surprises. Nina is purely customer driven, so we don’t have anything in her database that our customers are not asking about. When we started this project, we filled the database with things we thought our customers would ask about, but we were completely wrong. They came back with a whole set of different questions than what we expected. It wasn’t so much a problem as it was an unexpected finding for our bank.
eMarketer: What are some of your goals for Nina in the future?
Kedbäck: Right now, Nina is only available on Swedbank.se, our main company site. We plan to expand her into Internet bank, our broader website. This means she will be able to help people with individual transactional business, such as displaying the balance of an account or transferring funds. Eventually, we’ll have her in the mobile app as well, and we’ll add a voice-driven functionality.
eMarketer: What advice would you give to companies in your space that are considering using AI?
Kedbäck: Do it. It’s a very customer-friendly way to get people to self-serve. One thing I would caution against, however, is going 100% live straightaway. If I had to do it again, I would roll it out to only 20% of the customer base initially. That way, the virtual assistant would have time to learn and grow the database.