“… the technology revolution (e.g., the cloud and AI) has made everything possible, and brought the opportunity for a re-establishment of industry standards.”
— Ding Yi (Allen), Director of Customer Service
COPC Inc. recently sat down with Ding Yi (Allen), Director of Customer Service, who oversees the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer service at Ant Financial.
Being responsible for the deployment and innovation of the “datafication” and intellectualization of services, Allen and his team established a data-driven intelligent customer service approach which connects customers, services and products, which has achieved excellence in customer experience. We asked Allen about this, as well as Ant Financial’s foray into AI solutions for customer service contact centres.
In Part 2 of our interview, here’s what Allen had to say:
Q: What has been the biggest challenge in the deployment of AI technology at Ant Financial, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been Ant Financial’s vision of our Customer Service Department achieving innovation with the assistance of new technology and improving its capability with the transformation of digitization via bold exploration.
We want to focus on the value of customers, boost their service experience and provide safe, easy and transparent services to consumers, small businesses and micro businesses.
We eventually want to enhance mass financial education for consumers in China and help more people enjoy better, equitable service.
Our next-generation customer service system is the bridge between Ant Financial and our customers. It enables us to communicate with our customers, and allows them to obtain fast, easy, considerate and customised service anywhere, any time.
In realizing our vision, we have been faced with many challenges in terms of technology, data, AI logic, etc. However, the greatest challenge was building a “next-generation” customer service organisation, without which the transformation of our digital services would have been nothing but an empty theory.
The principle of the next-generation customer service organization is to empower our staff and give them the supportive environment and platform they need to provide our customers frictionless service support.
In the past, the organization of a typical contact centre was like a tall chimney – agents, products and operations were all lined up vertically, and each function did its own thing in its own silo, but no person or department was able to clearly see the whole picture.
With the new model of customer service, we need to provide a strong core; and we have found that the teams, individuals and KPI management in the organization all need to be changed as well.
We went through a long period of internal discussion about whether to build a core, then how to build it. Customer service is connected to technology and AI, offering various functions (operations, products and data) for service. The core provides elements for service, and these elements strengthen the connection between service and technology.
Putting the elements together is much like using Lego building blocks. Any specific function can be connected with any of the available elements in the capability pool. This shortens the time it takes for the technology department to respond to service requirements, making the whole service system smarter and more effective, resulting in higher efficiency and increased value.
“Putting the elements together is much like using Lego building blocks. Any specific function can be connected with any of the available elements in the capability pool.”
Q: What is the current status of AI development at Ant Financial?
Our AI customer service is linked to more than 420 products from the seven major departments of Ant Financial, including payments, insurance services, MYbank, international services, Zhima credit, etc.
By the middle of 2018, the average daily volume of self-service was 4.84 million from over 300 million users. Compared to 2015, our investment in human resources had reduced by half, but customer satisfaction was up at around 80%.
The contact centres were still successful, with an access rate of 99%, but we found that 97% of our total transactions were being handled by our unassisted channels, and that over one million users were being supported by our AI-driven proactive service.
The achievements of our AI customer service in the consumer finance business are the most successful of all the businesses in Ant Financial. First time resolution reached 90.7%, while customer satisfaction was at 87.9%, indicating that our customers were getting a good experience via our online service.
With the help of artificial intelligence, operational costs have been lowered, whilst the customer experience has been improved.
Q: What are the impacts on customer experience when applying AI-driven customer service?
When adopting intelligent customer service, we extended customer experience to the whole value chain of our business, as well as the full customer life cycle.
By analyzing customer features and looking into customer issues, we can identify customers’ service requests. With the voice of customers collected from various channels, products and service can be optimized on an ongoing basis to provide more intelligent, humanized and customized service experiences.
Under the next-generation customer service system, users can be serviced anywhere, and any time, as needed.
The online system helps intelligently solve the more standard and simpler issues, whereas the assisted channel solves the complex customer issues with the expertise and care of our human agents, whose efficiency and customer satisfaction are boosted with the help of AI tools.
Q: Based on your prediction of the development of AI, what challenges do you see in the industry, and how will Ant Financial adapt to these challenges?
In the digital era, we are facing three main challenges.
First, customers are now more and more self-aware and demanding, which means that standard, commoditized products and services are no longer sufficient. The question of how to satisfy each customer’s needs with personalized and customized interactive self-service is a huge challenge.
Second, the service industry has traditionally been very labor-intensive. Whether it can be changed to be driven by data and technology instead of traditional resources and turn itself into a value center instead of a cost centre will be the key to the transformation of the industry.
Last but not least, the technology revolution (e.g., the cloud and AI) has made everything possible, and brought the opportunity for a re-establishment of industry standards. That’s why we developed the innovative concept of “next-generation customer service,” which we believe will help open a new era for the service industry.
Next-generation customer service looks after the customer experience throughout the business value chain and full customer life cycle. It identifies customers’ requests by analyzing their features and observing their issues, then it provides customers with more intelligent, humanized and customized service experiences based on the voice of the customer regarding products and service collected from multiple channels.
Internally, next-generation customer service positions the customer service centre as a strategic value creation tool. The management of Ant Financial has built up, on a company level, a culture of service experience which breaks down the traditional barriers between customer service and other business functions. Ant Financial now requires our entire staff to contribute to the customer experience, making customer experience part of the DNA of our business.
About Ant Financial
Headquartered in Hangzhou, China, Ant Financial is a technology company that brings inclusive financial services to the world. Ant Financial was officially founded in October 2014 and originated from Alipay, which was founded in 2004. With the mission of “bringing the world equal opportunities,” Ant Financial is dedicated to creating an open, shared credit system and financial services platform through technology innovations, and to providing consumers and small businesses globally with safe and convenient financial services.