Providing around-the-clock call center support using a cognitive virtual assistant

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Call center support virtual assitantAccording to Investopedia, financial technology has grown explosively since the mobile internet and smartphone revolution. Originally referring to computer technology applied to the back office of banks or trading firms, “fintech” now describes a variety of financial activities, from depositing a check with a smartphone to managing investments, generally without the assistance of a person.

Headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, Allianz Taiwan is a life insurance company that provides private and corporate customers an array of life, accident and health insurance products.

Because the population in Taiwan is so tech savvy and keen to try new things, Allianz constantly strives to innovate to keep up with the demands of customers.

We at Allianz knew that artificial intelligence (AI) technology would be a way to enhance the customer experience and thus created a cognitive virtual assistant called “Allie.”

A virtual assistant any time

Allie is fluent in Mandarin and handles 80 percent of the inbound customer requests to call centers for Allianz. Callers can ask almost any question related to insurance policies at any time of day. Allie is not just a database for FAQs, she can also handle policy changes. Her answers avoid insurance jargon and complex terminology. Allie explains the answers in simple ways that people understand while following regulations and legal compliance guidelines.

We are focusing more now on the human component. To do that, we’ve included some small talk capabilities. Many customers begin their chats with questions like “How’s the weather?” and we think that enabling Allie to have natural conversations with people will drive social adoption.

Taiwanese people appreciate Allie’s cute answers to these types of questions, but in the end, it’s still an insurance business, so Allie keeps the conversation professional.

Working with IBM

Allianz worked with IBM Global Business Services to develop the virtual assistant. Allie uses the IBM Watson Assistant service and runs on IBM Cloud.

We chose IBM not only because we believe IBM Watson is one of the strongest AI engines on the market, but also because IBM developed a sort of middle layer, which enables our data to remain on-premises.

When the customer is engaged with Allie, the question that the customer is asking goes to IBM Watson on the cloud. Watson understands the question, determines the intent, then transfers the request to the middle layer, which either calls upon our back-end technology or provides the answer to the customer, but not through the cloud. This means that policy inquiry data and policy change items are more secure, which, from a legal and regulatory point of view, is a very smooth solution.

The middle layer is open source, so we can continue training IBM Watson and adding more to the knowledge base as well as integrate APIs all on our own. IBM delivered intensive training and our IT and business staff are able to execute certain scenarios without additional assistance.

So, for example, if we need to make a quick update, we can do this without any support from IBM. We are not totally dependent and instead, we can work with IBM on more complex aspects of the project.

Our first discussions with IBM about developing a virtual assistant were around October 2017. We officially kicked-off the project in November 2017 and launched at the end of May 2018. Our first minimum viable product actually had a very broad scope with more than 20 APIs integrated to get policy inquiry and policy change information.

We are very proud of what we have achieved with IBM in such a short period of time.

Positive customer feedback

We launched with a big media event together with IBM last year, and the feedback here was very positive from both the market and customers. Allie’s customer rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars, and the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) continues to increase, suggesting that Allianz customers would recommend Allianz to others.

Another key performance indicator (KPI) that we identified, which was surprising, actually, is that 45 percent of our requests come in before and after business hours. This is quite a high number, and before Allie, we were not able to answer all these requests because our call center is only open from 9 AM to 6 PM.

The next step will be to expand Allie across channels to offer virtual assistant capabilities to agents and bankers in addition to customers.

Read the case study for more details.

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