Ido Arad

Servicefriend creating a better customer experience with hybrid bot model

While we are not yet at the point where bots can adequately manage the customer service experience by themselves, an Israeli company has found early success through the use of a model which may very well represent the next iteration of bot technology.

Servicefriend has developed hybrid bot technology that allows companies to provide a consistent messaging experience at scale, cofounder and CMO Ido Arad said.

“It’s currently quite obvious that a bank without 24/7 customer service is in trouble,” Mr. Arad began.

Most institutions should recognize that by now, but a solution is not as simple as turning on a canned product. One company Mr. Arad heard of instituted an SMS messaging program but after receiving 17 million messages in one month shut it down because they were overwhelmed. Like many other early efforts, it was intermittent in its effectiveness and at high volumes could not be successfully handled without detailed technology. That has left many financial services companies afraid of taking early steps for fear of providing a bad experience.

So some staff their call centers with legions of agents to handle customer calls or they deploy rigid bots to start the conversation. Both are unnecessary, Mr. Arad said.

“People want a consistent experience, like the conversations they have with friends. They want them to quickly answer and it’s hard for the center to meet their expectations of speed. Bots are still far from understanding what people are saying and they cannot show the emotional intelligence customers expect.”

Mr. Arad said Servicefriend’s recent work with Globe Telecom provides a good example of how they work with companies. The Philippines-based company has more than 62 million customers in a country laying claim to the title of “texting capital of the world”.

Globe Telecom wanted to communicate with its large customer base in a personalized manner while maintaining its customer service standards and alleviating pressure on its call center. They worked with Servicefriend, who created “Gie”, a bot personality Globe could use to communicate with its customers via Facebook Messenger. Gie’s persona is a digitally savvy millennial Filipina, one many customers could relate to.

No only is Gie cool, but she knows when to hand high priority queries over to a customer service agent, Mr. Arad said. Within one year Globe’s total call center costs dropped by 10 per cent, customer satisfaction was 22 per cent higher than it was with the call center, employee productivity increased 350 per cent and hotline calls were cut in half.

Mr. Arad went back to the beginning in discussing the hybrid bot’s success. Servicefriend executives met with many corporate leaders to learn about their experiences with customer service technology, what they liked, and what was lacking.

Clients wanted to choose a bot personality that aligned with their company’s values. They also wanted a flexible transfer from a bot to the agent. Service friend developed an algorithm that analyzes intent and at any point can initiate a switch to a human agent.

Ido Arad

“People don’t ask FAQ’s, that’s not the way they speak in customer service,” Mr. Arad explained. “People tell a story about what they need and why. It’s challenging for a bot alone to understand what the customer is saying.”

Keeping the human in the loop is crucial for maintaining the empathy customers want from their engagement with a company, Mr. Arad said. Bots can handle thousands calls per minute and can address roughly 40 per cent of queries without any human involvement. An agent can handle maybe ten per hour.

That 40/60 ratio will keep changing, Mr. Arad said. Servicefriend’s technology allows staff to train the machine by selecting the relevant intent and answer so the machine gets better over time. Companies also benefit from each other’s experiences as they can begin with sets of queries and answers common to their industry. Selected industries can have between 350 and 400 specific intents at the beginning through a JumpStart package.

When designing Servicefriend, the founders made the deliberate decision to be as flexible as possible in accommodating different systems, Mr. Arad said. They adopted the Messenger standard for their APIs so workflow is maintained across SMS, Messenger, WeChat, Line, Viber, Web Chat, in-app chats and across popular desks including Salesforce and Oracle. Servicefriend also heavily invested in 100 per cent open architecture so clients can essentially integrate any solution module with their own applications.

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