Interview: How Swedish bank prepared robot for customer services

SEB bank is currently integrating artificial intelligence into its customer services channels, following an internal trial of the technology

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After making the decision to look at the possible uses of artificial intelligence in its business, Swedish bank SEB ran a nine-month internal pilot of IPsoft’s Amelia customer services robot, before deciding to roll it out to customers in steps.

The SEB implementation, where Amelia speaks Swedish, is the software’s first non-English-speaking deployment. Because this is also a first for IPSoft, SEB is running the project as a joint venture with the supplier.

Mikael Andersson, transformation lead at SEB, talks to Computer Weekly about the project to bring Amelia on board, and the bank’s plans for the platform.

Started in 1856, SEB has 15,000 employees, and is predominantly a corporate bank. It also has about one million retail banking customers in the Nordic region, mainly in Sweden.

Andersson is the programme manager of the bank’s Amelia exploration project. He says, after identifying the potential of IPsoft’s technology in early 2016, the bank started to explore areas where it could use the supplier’s Amelia customer service robot.

Amelia, which was launched in 2014, has an understanding of the semantics of language and can learn to solve business process queries like a human. It can read 300 pages in 30 seconds, and learn through experience by observing the interactions between human agents and customers. If Amelia can’t answer a question, it passes the query on to a human, but remains in the conversation to learn how to solve similar issues in the future. It understands 20 languages, as well as context, and can apply logic and infer implications.

SEB wanted to become accustomed with the platform before offering it as a service option to customers. This meant an internal, but real-world pilot was necessary. “We decided pretty quickly to try this out in our IT service desk,” says Andersson.

This meant staff on the IT service desk were involved with the technology from an early stage. SEB staff shared ideas through workshops where Amelia could initially be used. “From about 80 ideas, we brought it down to four,” says Andersson.

These were chosen based on the volume of work, and whether there was an opportunity to test the different capabilities of Amelia.

Building knowledge

The four processes tested were unlocking a user account, password guidance, unlocking a customer mortgage account and a more general guide to help internal users find an IT service.

Reflecting on the project’s success, the IT service desk will continue to use Amelia. “Part of this initial project was about building knowledge of Amelia in the IT service desk, as well as in Amelia,” says Andersson.

SEB is now rolling out Amelia to all its users in steps. “We will continue to expand the help that Amelia can provide, which is driven from the IT service desk, which has already gained knowledge about Amelia,” he says.

“Part of this initial project was about building knowledge of Amelia in the IT service desk, as well as in Amelia”

Mikael Andersson, SEB

There have been huge benefits to the IT service desk pilot. Andersson says the company did not have a text-based chat channel for the IT service desk prior to Amelia, and the primary channel was phone support.

“Opening this to users gave them Amelia as first-level support on their terms, 24 hours a day,” he says.

Read more about Amelia

While the IT service desk will continue to use Amelia after the trial, the biggest challenge will be deciding where else it can be used. Phone contact is currently the primary customer service channel, although the bank is also active on different social media platforms.

The plan is to have Amelia available to customers by the end of 2016, which will be done in steps.

“We will use a kind of Alpha/Beta method, with our main website initially giving access to Amelia interactions. We will then expand its reach, for example, to our mobile app and other channels where we interact with our customers,” says Andersson.

Freeing up staff

To be considered a success, Amelia will improve service levels for customers by freeing up staff to carry out higher-value customer service work.

“Our main aim at the moment is to use this technology to improve our services and customer support, because we think using this technology will enable staff in customer support to focus on value-add work by removing mundane processes,” says Andersson.

The most overt improvement to customer services will be the reduction of queuing for the telephone bank by taking many tasks away from humans.

Andersson says there will be hurdles to overcome, because every customer is different and wants support in different ways.

There is a trust issue to overcome with customers, so Andersson says the company will ease the technology in.

“We will see which customer base this appeals to, but our hopes are that it will grow,” he says.

What should, help, he believes, is the fact the trial is taking place in Sweden. “People here are pretty fast at adapting to change,” says Andersson.

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