September 5, 2019
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.
“… 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
In Part 1 of our interview, here’s what Allen had to say:
Q: Why has Ant Financial been so keen to forge ahead recently with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer service?
In the last few years, customer expectations in China have changed rapidly and, at the same time, customer service centres have shifted from simply being seen as cost centres to now being viewed as potential value-creation centres. These changes have been strongly influenced by the development and adoption of new technologies.
We found that our service delivery capabilities were facing many challenges, as Ant Financial was growing so dramatically. We needed to work out how to ensure our service capabilities — as well as our resources — were keeping up with our phenomenal growth. Being an internet-based company, we instinctively started to think about how we could use new technologies and big data to overcome the obstacles we were finding in our service delivery.
Some of the operational problems we needed to solve included improving our service capabilities, particularly via digital means, and also managing our internal human resources by becoming more efficient.
We also realised that consumers in China are very keen to adopt technology-empowered customer service. Rather than just using the traditional assisted channels (such as person-to-person contact centres), Chinese consumers are willing to search for resolution via unassisted channels. They also have a growing expectation that enterprises will interact with them using a more creative approach, and provide them with customized services based on a much deeper understanding of their needs.
“Rather than just using the traditional assisted channels (such as person-to-person contact centres), Chinese consumers are willing to search for resolution via unassisted channels.”
Q: What do you feel has been the biggest benefit you have gained from the deployment of Artificial Intelligence at Ant Financial?
Ant Financial has had to build up its service capabilities with a “next-generation customer service” system which ensures our customers continue to receive an excellent experience even while the multiple businesses in our Group are going through rapid growth. Thanks to the development of the internet, the operation of what I call the “any time, any place, any needs” online service has become very important.
Let me paint a picture of the scenario we found ourselves in before we started to use AI in our service operations.
The volume of customers using our assisted channels had increased, as had the complexity of our customers’ issues. When we layered this upon the ever-growing range of products and services we were offering our customers, we found that we had some challenges in ensuring we could continue to provide consistently fast and accurate services for our customers.
Before implementing our new AI-supported voice interaction system into our service operations, we looked at what solutions were available through existing technologies.
In traditional contact centres, customers typically have to work through multiple layers in an IVR menu, which can take quite a long time, and they frequently end up having a poor experience. We definitely wanted to avoid this.
We also found that there are some slightly more advanced systems which ask customers to vocally describe their issues using one sentence, and then the system would attempt to identify what the issues were with the support of Natural-Language Understanding (NLU). However, due to problems such as having a limited database or background noise or the customer giving an unclear description of the problem, etc., we found that these systems could only support a small portion of the transactions that were traditionally handled by the assisted channels.
The AI system we implemented can conduct duplex voice interactions (these identify the start and the end of a conversation and allow customers to interrupt even in the middle of the system providing information), as well as manage conversations that last for multiple rounds (the approach and decision-making capability to lead customers to describe their issues, complete the description of the issues, confirm the issues, handle interactions stopped before expected, etc.).
Our new AI voice interaction system can even answer some questions before even being asked by predicting what the customers’ issues might be with access to customer identification details and other data.
Take the 95188 Hotline (Ant Financial’s customer service hotline) as an example. Ninety percent of our customers’ issues can be identified via our AI system; and the average number of rounds taken in conversations is only 2.1.
Q: How else are you using AI internally to improve operational performance?
By harnessing intelligent data analysis, we believe that services can be provided with almost humanlike thought; and this helps customers and enterprises improve overall efficiency, anticipate and prevent potential issues and offer solutions.
This is the “brain” that we have been working hard to build in order to eventually realize unmanned data analysis in various departments and divisions all around our enterprise, and not just in customer-facing environments.
For instance, accurate forecasting is the key to hiring, scheduling and real-time management in contact centres, as it helps guarantee customer access and avoids the unnecessary costs related to overstaffing.
Forecasting has traditionally been a major challenge for the whole contact center industry, but we have developed an overall forecasting solution with our product and technology teams which makes the most of intelligent data analysis. This solution, which combines AI technology and expert experience, has greatly improved our forecasting efficiency, stability and accuracy. In 2018, our forecasting accuracy had reached 96%.
Q: How have Ant Financial and COPC Inc. worked together, and what benefits has COPC Inc. brought to Ant Financial?
We recognize that COPC Inc. is a globally renowned consulting firm in the service industry, and that the influential COPC CX Standard has provided the industry with guidance and best practices in customer experience measurement and management.
As a rapidly developing internet-based financial technology company, Ant Financial has been exploring ways of creating data-driven service transformation with the goal of delivering our customers an outstanding customer experience.
With this in mind, we have found that the relationship with COPC Inc. has enabled the staff and management at Ant Financial to gain a better understanding and a comprehensive overview of what is required to deliver international-level standards of customer experience, which has helped with the innovation of digital customer service.
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.
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