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Swedbank boosts customer service with a virtual assistant

Nuance Nina will offer basic frontline support for online customers

Swedish retail bank Swedbank has employed an automated virtual assistant to improve services for online customers.

Developed by US-based Nuance Communications, the assistant, Nuance Nina, answers customers’ basic banking questions while simulating a human conversational style.

When a customer types their query into a chat box on Swedbank’s website, Nina uses its language-understanding technology and accesses a database of approximately 250 answers to find a suitable reply.

The assistant also acts as an internal resource for Swedbank’s 700 customer service agents, essentially to speed up time spent on sourcing information.

“We have one common database, but with one additional layer for internal use,” said Martin Kedbäck, channel head telephony at Swedbank. “[If] an agent types in the same question as a customer, they get the same answer, but they are also supplied with an extra link that shows internal information.”

According to the bank, 75% of its customers prefer to use online or mobile banking services, as opposed to physical branches. In an average month, Nina handles over 30,000 conversations and successfully answers eight of every 10 questions.

Currently, Nina is only used in Sweden, but Swedbank’s subsidiaries in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to introduce the virtual assistant in the coming months.

Swedbank has around eight million private and 600,000 corporate customers across the four countries.

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Educating Nina

The system has come a long way since its introduction in October 2014. While Kedbäck said the initial implementation was relatively straightforward (because the software as a service-based system didn’t require back-end integration) the later challenge proved to be learning how customers would use Nina.

“We first loaded the database with the 100 most commonly asked questions on our search page,” said Kedbäck. “We thought those would be the most commonly asked questions [with Nina] – but they weren’t at all.”

Instead, Swedbank discovered that many customers first used the service to ask general questions about cash points or branches. Consequently, Kedbäck said the bank should have opted for a limited rollout, and then filled in the database with more content before a full public launch.

Live chat function coming

Currently, Nina can handle most basic conversations, but can only give general answers. So, Swedback is working on introducing a live chat function, where a customer service agent can take over from Nina if more specific information is needed.

Also, Swedbank plans to expand the virtual assistant’s presence and deploy Nina on its mobile app and for its 52 independent savings bank branches later this year.

“We want to move Nina into all our channels and make sure we can hold our customers’ hands during their journey when, for example, applying for a loan,” Kedbäck said.

“From an industry perspective I think assistants will become an overlay to apps. People can’t use as many apps as there are out there, so I see a role where the assistant becomes an integrator [of different services],” he concluded. 

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