Chatbot empowers self-service to keep payment terminals working smoothly –
By Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT writes,
“EVO Payments International GmbH, trading as BOI Payment Acceptance, provides acquirer services including payment terminals and online payment services, including payment gateway, virtual terminal and other products, which are designed to make electronic payment acceptance easier for merchants and attractive to businesses of any size. BOI Payment Acceptance (BOIPA) is a marketing alliance between Bank of Ireland and EVO Payments.
Many of the retailers and sole-traders who use BOIPA payment terminals need assistance with setting them up. As more merchants adopt electronic and contactless payments, this can result in heavy traffic to BOIPA’s contact centre in Dublin, with agents handling up to 8,000 calls in a typical month and often repeatedly responding to the same questions.
During busy periods, this can result in merchants having to queue to get assistance, while also trying to serve customers and run their businesses.
BOIPA wanted to provide a more convenient and self-service process for handling payment terminal queries; payment acceptance queries; and changes to merchant bank accounts. They felt this could be achieved by implementing chatbot solutions.
Improving customer experience:
Jennifer Doyle, Head of Digital Platforms, at EVO Payments (BOIPA) comments, “About 18 months ago we started looking at introducing digital assistants as part of our digital transformation plan. We wanted to improve the customer experience on our website, enhance self-service, and modernise the way that we present BOIPA to customers.”
“We could see that a lot of merchants were calling us for the same reasons and asking us the same questions about setting up and operating their payment terminals or changing their bank account details. We don’t want them to have to wait to speak to someone, particularly if they’re having difficulty using their terminal and they’re unable to take payments from their customers. We knew that there was a more efficient way of resolving their queries.”
BOIPA decided to develop a Terminal Troubleshooter bot that would guide merchants through a clear step by step process to quickly resolve their issues and provide additional out of hours support, alleviating pressure on contact centre agents while also reducing the cost to serve.
Bank account change functionality would also be incorporated within Terminal Troubleshooter bot to assist with processing changes to merchants’ bank accounts.
Finding the right technology partner
BOIPA spent several months developing a proof of concept. However, the chatbot vendor that BOIPA was originally working with was using defined templates that the digital platforms team found to be too restrictive. After researching the market, BOIPA was introduced to ServisBOT, which provides a conversational AI platform that allows businesses to rapidly build and scale chatbot and natural language solutions across a range of different business use cases, such as sales conversion, onboarding, operations, service, and renewals.
“During the sales process, we provided ServisBOT with some high-level data and within three days they pulled together a demo bot that wowed us. It was clear that they really understood our business challenges and what we were trying to achieve and they showed us how they could provide us with flexible chatbot solutions that would really help our customers,” enthuses Jennifer Doyle.
Doyle explains that a key part of the selection process was the fact that she and her team could see how the bot could be developed to follow a clear workflow and how it enabled BOIPA to advise changes as needed. “We could see technically how the ServisBOT platform works and how easy and seamless it was to make changes to the bots. It was also clear that the platform would allow us to build an intuitive and engaging user experience.”
Demonstrating Agility During the Pandemic, with Call Deflection
Just as BOIPA was about to launch the pilot of its first bot, COVID-19 hit our shores and many of the businesses that use BOIPA payment terminals were forced to close their physical premises.
Doyle explains how the flexibility of the ServisBOT platform came into its own. “When lockdown was announced, we put the original bot pilot on hold. We had to adapt to accommodate the new challenges that we faced with our customer service colleagues now working from home, while at the same time the contact centre was inundated with merchant questions that had increased by approximately 30% overnight,” reports Doyle.
In spite of these challenges, BOIPA was able to integrate ServisBOT’s platform with its Avaya IVR system and Intercom live chat and deploy a call deflection solution within a matter of days, which eased pressure on their contact centre, while providing self-service options to resolve customers’ most common queries.
“We wanted to offer our customers an option, via our IVR, to deflect to SMS where they could engage with an FAQ bot that provides answers to COVID-related and other common customer questions, with the ability to seamlessly hand over to a human via live chat if the customer still had questions. We were able to build an additional feature into the IVR that allowed customers to divert to a digital assistant if they didn’t want to wait to speak to a human. If they selected1 on the IVR, the customer would enter their mobile number and receive an SMS that provided a link to launch an FAQ bot. The bot was transformational.” reports Doyle.
“We weren’t constrained at all, the platform gave us the flexibility to make changes within 24 hours if need be. A lot of providers claim that, but with ServisBOT we really could. It was great to have the ability to request changes and have a team that could deliver at the click of your fingers.”
Within three months of launching the call deflection solution, at least 10% of the traffic was being deflected to the bot.
Once the call deflection solution was launched, BOIPA deployed the Terminal Troubleshooter and bank account change bots on the BOIPA website and supporting pages within two weeks.
Of those visitors that clicked to open a bot, 70% engaged, with this split further into 79% selecting FAQs and 21% selecting Terminal Troubleshooter.
With an eye towards continuously improving engagement, bot accuracy and customer experience, Doyle explains that BOIPA invites regular feedback from customers to help continually train and improve the bot, including five-star feedback within the bot experience.
She cites the example of changing the call to action (CTA) for the bot on the website to a larger format button with subtle animation, which simply asks, “Need Help?” Small enhancements such as these are encouraging more customers to use the bot each month. “Initial bot engagement was 6 percent. After the CTA change, interactions jumped to 15 percent, increasing overall engagement by 150 percent with this small adjustment” reports Doyle.
Another key learning point was that BOIPA originally designed the Terminal Troubleshooter bot to dive deep into technical issues associated with the merchant terminals. However, after analysing conversational history and, specifically, where customers were abandoning conversations, it was determined that often customers just needed help with the basics of getting started with the terminal. In response, BOIPA created instructional videos, which customers can access through the bot, so that they can watch the steps to follow to get their payment terminal working at the start.
Shane Feenan, Senior Operations Analyst, BOIPA, reports that, at the start of the pandemic, the contact centre was handling up to 10,000 calls a month, about 20-30% more than average. In September this figure had been reduced to just over 6,300 calls, and by October it had reduced yet again to 5,824 calls a month. The number of calls handled by agents in the six-month period May to June 2020, even in the face of a pandemic, was down 34% compared with the same period last year.
“I’m a big fan. Data validation is a major help for our contact centre colleagues,” says Feenan.
With the cost to handle each call estimated at €1.75 a call, having the bots working together to help automate simple business processes, such as bank account changes, while providing technical troubleshooting and answers to FAQs, is helping to significantly reduce operating costs, in addition to easing pressure on contact centre staff.
BOIPA reports that the customer experience has been improved in particular by the bank account change functionality, because it is designed in such a way that customers cannot proceed to the next stage of the process unless they have provided a signature and uploaded the required documents.
“When merchants call in to change their bank details, contact centre agents sometimes forget to ask for proof of banking documentation while they’re on the phone, this can result in a three or four step process, where merchants have to call back and might deal with different agents, which can take up to three days. The bot creates a more seamless process for the customer,” reports Feenan. “Similarly, inbound emails are too free-form. The bot restricts incoming information to precisely what is needed, resulting in less room for errors and greater efficiencies throughout the process.”
This assertion is borne out in the data as 100% of merchants using the bot for bank account changes attach proof of banking in the first interaction, compared to just 40% of those who request bank account changes via email. Of that percentage, just 20% of emailed documents are correct, and, as a result, emailed bank account change requests require at least twice as many interactions with customer service agents.
“The bot definitely makes it smoother for the merchants,” agrees Doyle. “Our call centre can take five to ten minutes to handle an identical request. We’ve designed the bank account change process so that the bot won’t let the customer progress to the next stage until they’ve provided all required documents. Visually, it’s much easier for the merchants and it lives up to our model of modern customer service.”
The bots seamlessly integrate with BOIPA’s back-office systems, providing an interface for customers to upload electronic signatures and other personal documents without the bot itself storing any sensitive data. Designing the bot to pass customer data through to BOIPA, without retaining it, was vital for meeting the organisation’s strict security policies and industry rules and regulations around data handling. “For me, this demonstrates the flexibility of the platform, it allows us to transform customer engagement while still adhering to the rules and policies of our organisation,” concludes Doyle.
Encouraged by the success of its first bots and the flexibility of the ServisBOT platform, BOIPA/EVO is hoping to make multi-lingual versions available in its other European markets in 2021 and is exploring ways of using the bots to gather customer feedback by making them more interactive.”
U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The president’s poet woke up a superstar on Thursday, after a powerful reading at the U.S. inauguration catapulted 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.
Hours after Gorman’s electric performance at the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, her two books – neither out yet – topped Amazon.com’s sales list.
“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman, a Los Angeles resident, wrote on Twitter.
Gorman’s debut poetry collection ‘The Hill We Climb’ won top spot in the online retail giant’s sale charts, closely followed by her upcoming ‘Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem’.
While poetry’s popularity is on the up, it remains a niche market and the overnight adulation clearly caught Gorman short.
“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then’.”
Gorman, the youngest poet in U.S. history to mark the transition of presidential power, offered a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country in Wednesday’s rendition.
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol two weeks after a mob laid siege and following a year of global protests for racial justice.
“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
The performance stirred instant acclaim, with praise from across the country and political spectrum, from the Republican-backing Lincoln Project to former President Barack Obama.
“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A graduate of Harvard University, Gorman says she overcame a speech impediment in her youth and became the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.
She has now joined the ranks of august inaugural poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.
Her social media reach boomed, with her tens of thousands of followers ballooning into a Twitter fan base of a million-plus.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” tweeted TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Gorman’s books are both due out in September.
Third on Amazon’s best selling list was another picture book linked to politics and projecting hope: ‘Ambitious Girl’ by Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape
By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD
Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.
As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.
As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?
Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world
No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.
In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.
Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.
The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses
Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.
Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.
The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.
As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.
But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.
A digital world post-COVID
Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.
There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.
Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.
Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.
Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says
LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.
“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.
The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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