“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” “Play a Rolling Stones song” “What meetings do I have today?” These are just some of the most common requests made to smart voice assistants such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home.
But we should not forget that Amazon is first and foremost a marketplace. That’s why Alexa is not just a meteorologist, DJ or personal assistant, but also a salesperson. Do smart voice assistants have the potential to revolutionise the world of European retail?
Roger Niederer, Head Merchant Services of SIX Payment Services, give us a much-needed reality check.
Check 1: Does shopping via a Smart voice Assistant have a future?
Shopping using voice commands is already possible, even if it is only used to a relatively modest extent. However, experts predict considerable growth in this sector in the next few years. According to a survey of 1,500 owners of smart voice assistants in the USA by OC&C Strategy Consultants, the US market will expand from its current value of $2 billion to $40 billion in the next five years. Currently, 66 per cent of adult Americans use smart voice assistants or chatbots, 21 per cent even undertake e-commerce tasks such as paying bills and online banking through these devices, as illustrated in a recent study by Mastercard and retailer Mercator.
Voice shopping, also known as Conversational Commerce, creates a faster, more convenient and seamless consumer shopping experience. Instead of typing and clicking through multiple links, the user asks a question and promptly receives an answer.
Check 2: How will this trend affect European merchants?
Worldwide trends do not go past European countries, although some may hit some countries a little later. Online shopping has been well established for some time and continues to grow with Amazon dominating the sector. According to the German industry association HDE, Amazon already accounts for 40 per cent of all orders placed online in Germany with the Amazon “Marketplace” particularly popular with merchants. As the trend towards extended use of smart voice assistants continues, Amazon will continue to expand its leading role in online retail. This should be of particular interest keep to merchants when they consider their online strategies for the next few years.
Check 3: Is competition distortion pre-programmed?
The problem with buying goods using voice commands is the final product selection. If, for example, a customer searches for cleaning detergents in a traditional online shop, they will be shown a wide variety of products to choose from. But how do Alexa, Siri & others deal with a request to “order detergent”? Below are two suggestions for merchants to consider in order to remain competitive and relevant:
- Voice requests tend to be longer than typed enquiries. For example, a customer types ‘shoe shops near me’ into Google, but when making the same request by voice command, the enquiry might be ‘Which shoe shops are open now in the city center of Hamburg?”. It is this crucial difference that merchants must understand in order to reconcile business, product and payment information to the new way that consumers search for goods.
- To date, Amazon, Google and others have developed more than 15,000 so-called ‘skills’ apps that can be accessed using smart voice assistants. What initially served as a means of contacting customers and answering their questions has moved on and outgrown a pure customer service initiative. Banks and financial institutions are currently working to provide personalised services that make payment processes even easier, faster and more convenient than sending a message online. American Express, Capital One and US Bank have developed skills for Alexa, while Barclays, ICICI, ING and OCBC are working on systems using Apple Siri.
Conclusion: Comfort is trendy
New technologies always succeed when they make life easier for us. Smart voice assistants have the potential to significantly influence consumer purchasing behaviour. For online merchants, this is both an opportunity and a challenge. Merchants can differentiate themselves from the competition with compelling offers, but they must also provide the necessary technical support and a selection of convenient payment options supported by the right payment service partner.
When the processes in the back office are efficient and reliable, merchants will have the time to focus on what is really important – creating a seamless shopping experience for the customer across all their sales channels.
How technology has made us communicate better in crisis
By Pete Hanlon, CTO of Moneypenny
COVID-19 has taught us a lot. We have embraced technology, some might say, survived so far because of it, yet also craved that human interaction. Working hand-in-hand, these two elements will shape our future.
The impact of COVID-19 has been immense, not just health-wise but also economically. To date, people have shown their resilience, adapting quickly to a remote way of working and through the use of technology.
We have embraced working remotely, using video conferencing tools, for example to give us some contact, some ‘normal’. We have proven we can do it, so the question is will this new normal we have adapted to, be sticking around?
Pre-pandemic, Moneypenny was operating in thrive mode and we rapidly had to switch to survival mode. The first challenge was arranging for our 1,000 employees to all work from home during the initial lockdown whilst offering a near seamless service to our customers. No mean feat for a company that had always been office based for our front line people.
Luckily for us, the first Covid lockdown happened 3 weeks after we’d just finished an 18 month long tech project to move our telephony system from on premise to the cloud. This meant we had some options but we did need to work tirelessly to get everyone home without missing any customers call.
We spent February and March trialing solutions and coming up with a plan and then we moved people to home working, team by team to assess call quality. Three weeks later everyone was working from home and it was service as normal for our clients.
This wouldn’t have been possible without a little strategizing and a lot of tech, not to mention a superb team that worked tirelessly to make it happen. Using our already brilliant tech as well as working with tech giants including Microsoft Teams, Twillio, Workplace by Facebook and Amazon Workspace, for example, who have all reported record levels of usage, we were able to look after our customers and our people. Our weekly mindfulness sessions took place online instead of in the office, team meetings happened virtually with vouchers for pizza, chocolate brownies were delivered to employees doors as a well-earned treat and our management teams shared their business and personal experiences via video conferencing.
Maintaining communication was, and remains, key. The very nature of our business gave us a head start in helping businesses, large and small, manage their calls throughout this, specifically tailoring our systems to their specific needs at any given time. Yet, we have embraced further new tech to work alongside our people for our clients: We quickly integrated Microsoft Teams into our systems so that our PAs could keep a track of their clients’ availability and efficiently manage calls whilst clients were working from home; We developed new online screening bots for clients to use in order to give them piece of mind that customers were symptom-free before any necessary meetings and using the same innovations to ensure social distancing and wellbeing to those who come into the office when restrictions allow. It seemed a very natural extension to the support we provide for businesses.
We are also finding that our customers are using our in-depth analysis systems to get a better understanding of call duration and patterns in calls and so on, as well as for reporting. And we are using them alongside deep learning technologies to identify common requests and common themes so that we can better serve our clients.
Before the pandemic there was significant movement towards more of a conversational and interactive experience when it comes to digital assistant technologies. This has only been heightened as natural language processing is advancing exponentially.
This demand for digital switchboard and new innovations has been a growth area during lockdown as companies were looking at ways to manage all their calls without in-house receptionists and switchboards.
As part of our business model, we offered digital switchboard for free to businesses for three months to help them at the start of lockdown allowing people to engage with an automated assistant by simply talking. Through this use, we’ve found that a voice-controlled switchboard is really gaining in popularity following the widespread adoption and acceptance of technologies like Alexa and Google in people’s homes.
A key area of focus for us, is the area of natural language processing (NLP), bridging the gap further between how we communicate and what a computer can understand. The field is advancing rapidly, and we are actively leveraging pre-trained transformer-based models such as BERT, RoBerta, Longformer to analyze and summarize live chat content. We are also monitoring and testing emerging deep learning models, such as Bigbird from Google and GPT-3 from OpenAI, to help advance our chat and digital switchboard offerings further.
Speech detection continues to get stronger. Currently the technology does not outperform our brilliant people, in my opinion, but it is starting to get closer to the matched experience. For us, however, our tech works hand-in-hand with our people enabling them to deliver brilliant and highly efficient customer service. I can’t see technology replacing people anytime soon. I do see it super-charging people in a way to be even better at what they do so we will just have to watch this space.
We always put trust at the heart of our tech roadmap and ask ourselves ‘Do our customers or our customers customers’ benefit from this tech innovation and does it improve the overall customer experience’. If the answer is yes, we progress
And finally, linking back to the relationship between humanity and tech, I believe that the future will be in video-based communication. It is increasingly important to us and we are investigating how deep learning can be applied to real-time video in order to power the future.
Why cybercriminals have ‘Gone Vishing’ during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- More than 215,000 vishing attempts in the last year alone
As new coronavirus restrictions look set to confine much of the UK population to their homes this winter, cybersecurity specialists Panda Security are warning consumers to be on guard for an explosion in ‘Vishing’ attempts by cybercriminals.
Vishing, or voice phishing, is a social engineering technique used by fraudsters posing as someone from an IT helpdesk or support services, in order to obtain personal information from a victim. They will then look to use this information to hack into secure systems and defraud victims.
Vishing has increased as hackers are taking advantage of employees working remotely. Since August last year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has received reports from the public of more than 215,000 vishing attempts. These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-19 related financial support.[i]
The hacker can be very convincing and will often have done a lot of research into the company and the person they are contacting, to make what they are asking you for sound plausible. At times they even spoof phone numbers, so it looks like the caller ID is authentic and the same number as the real business.
European Cybersecurity Month: Keeping the ‘Vishers’ at bay
During European Cybersecurity Month, Panda Security is raising awareness of the dangers of vishing and is calling on consumers and businesses alike to take some simple measures in order to protect their data. Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security, gives his top tips to avoid being a victim of a vishing attempt this winter.
- Never give out your personal details: You should never give anyone your personal details such as bank details or passwords verbally over the phone or via email. Hackers will often find data about you on the internet and through social media networks and use this to convince you they are legitimate
- Be suspicious: It is right to be apprehensive of unknown callers, particularly if you are not expecting the phone call. Ask the caller questions or give deliberately false statements, and if you do not feel comfortable with their answers, hang up and phone the company or person back directly
- Don’t always trust caller ID: Hackers can often spoof legitimate phone numbers and make you believe that the phone call is coming from a credible source. Remember that legitimate businesses will never ask for your personal details unsolicited over the phone
- Install security measures: While internet security will not completely protect you from fraud, installing measures such as antivirus software will help protect your digital identity and make the job of the hackers much more difficult
- Keep calm: Often the hacker will try to panic you into reacting very quickly and scare you into providing them with your information. Take a moment to breathe and slow the conversation down
Commenting on the raise in vishing attempts, Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security says: “Vishing is not a particularly new or sophisticated technique, and yet the “new normal” of working from home has been a boon for cybercriminals looking to exploit vulnerable people in this way. Hackers will scour the Internet and social media networks for any information they can glean about a potential victim before making a call. Once they have secured the victims trust they are then in a position of power to defraud them.”
Lambert continues: “It is essential that consumers take preventative measures to protect their digital identity, while remaining vigilant and question anything that seems unusual. Our key piece of advice remains: never give out your personal details over the phone.”
Five golden rules of recruitment
Former investment banker and entrepreneur, Connie Nam, discusses five ways in which basing your recruitment process around understanding a candidate’s personal passions, motivations and personality can improve staff retention and strengthen your workforce.
Ex-investment banker Connie Nam saw a niche in the UK jewellery market and built a £10m business from her kitchen table in just eight years. Today, as CEO and founder of cult jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu, she is continuing to grow her business as well as her team despite the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic.
As founder and CEO of a rapidly growing business, Nam’s role is ultimately to create a clear vision, run the business, continue its growth and – most importantly – lead and support her team in their work and in their progression within the business. Nam started her business on her own and, as the brand grew exponentially, she had to become quickly accustomed to managing people and continually refining her recruitment process to attract and retain the best talent to grow with the business.
Now, with a team of more than 80 across the business, Nam and her senior management team have built a rigorous recruitment process, driven by strong cultural values, to identify the perfect candidates and ensure there are world class managers heading up each department as her team continually expands.
The key to recruitment and retention according to Nam, is that the people and culture element is part of the wider company strategy, not just part of a HR strategy in silo. Nam believes that people should be at the heart of any business and that taking the time and asking the right questions to understand a candidate’s personal passions, motivations, goals and personality during the recruitment process is vital to building and retaining a unified team. Here are five key benefits of taking this approach, according to Nam:
- Bring any missing qualities into a business
We’re always reviewing our business and team which allows us to identify gaps and bring in missing qualities into the business. One thing I do – which I’d recommend any business leader does – is hold strategy meetings with my leadership team every quarter where we review the brand, business, and above all team strategy. These meetings allow us to find out what we’re missing in a team – in terms of communication, skillsets, values and personalities – and look to bring people in to fill those gaps.
- Craft a cohesive team
When crafting a cohesive team, it’s important to recruit based on values and ensure that a candidate’s own values align with those of the business. Values are such an important part of our business and this is true to everyone’s heart in the business; it’s not just coming from me – or from the top – it’s not corporate spiel rather it is instilled in everything we do.
We recently redefined our values which are: grow together, celebrate each other and break all boundaries (or throwing out the rulebook!). We take these values very seriously and build the team on these foundations. Whenever we recruit, we look for these three signals and if people don’t fit into these three values then they won’t be hired – values are not just a company buzzword, they are important and just underpin everything you do as a business and as a team.
We are also planning to put these three values formally into our appraisal system so when we do our biannual reviews with colleagues – aside from the business KPIs – these values will be a very important factor in their progression and development within the business. I would advise any business leader to make sure you take the values seriously and live and breathe them so everyone in your team feels equally passionate – that is the secret to crafting a truly cohesive team.
- Enable empowerment of individuals
Empowering individuals in your team is so important, not only for their own personal development, but for the benefit of the wider team and even the business as a whole. It’s important to allow people to play to their own strengths and give them a sense of ownership if you want them to fulfil their role with as much passion as though it was their own business.
As we have grown so rapidly, it has put a lot of challenges and pressure on the team, but at the same time they have been able to grow as individuals and step up very quickly to becoming industry leaders in their fields. Our last value is to break all boundaries and we give a lot of freedom to individuals and allow them to take risks (within the means of their roles). Everyone at Astrid & Miyu owns some segment of the business; they have clear boundaries and budgets but –if they act within that and meet business targets and KPIs – they’re free to do their job however they like. They can take risks and if they fail, we don’t have a blame culture. If they fail within the means, we actually celebrate it as it allows people to reflect on the key learnings which I think is quite powerful in terms if empowering individuals.
- Enhance job satisfaction
Job satisfaction seems like an obvious one, but it really is one of the most important elements of maintaining a loyal and motivated workforce. As I’ve already mentioned, we ensure everyone has a very specific role with strong sense of ownership, and we let people run with their work within very clear boundaries with clear expectations. Aside from business KPI reviews we also carry out regular personal development reviews where every individual comes up with what they want to learn for the full year or for the quarter and how they want to develop and their manager will guide them – even if it’s not related to their immediate job – so they have something to look forward to which keeps them satisfied in their role and motivated. That learning and sense of ownership, development and progression really enhances employee satisfaction.
- Improve staff retention
Clearly, staff retention goes hand in hand with job satisfaction – if people are satisfied, they will stay in their role. As well as having a sense of ownership, having clear goals and enough progression opportunities form a big part of staff retention; teams and individuals need room to grow. We have always made sure there are progression opportunities for our people, though we have been lucky to experience continual growth that allows us to have even more progression opportunities for those who are able to keep up.
We have a very transparent progression scale, which includes total transparency when it comes to pay – something that isn’t common in the fashion industry or a start-up environment but is vital for ensuring teams are motivated and trusting of the company. Everyone at Astrid & Miyu knows what their salaries would be if they get promoted to certain levels and what their band is – if they’re on the same level, everyone is on the same pay, so I think that’s highly motivating. This is something we implemented at the end of last year to make things very transparent and open and I think people are definitely more motivated because they’re not left in the dark, which can be the feeling when remuneration is done on a case by case basis. Now we have a very clear process and salaries attached to job titles so there’s no room for complaints and the team all know exactly what they need to do to progress.
The fact it’s very clear and transparent makes people trust the business and trust the leadership. Our transparency when it comes to pay is reminiscent of the structured progression routes you see in the corporate arena of banking and accountancy which is where I started my career – I know it can become political and chaotic if you don’t have this, which is not going to aid staff retention, it will do the opposite.
Though these are the five building blocks of a successful recruitment and retention strategy, I would add that businesses should not be afraid of making hard decisions. Although it’s important to foster a supportive workplace culture and help your people with their career progression, the onus needs to be on the individual – if they are not working hard and to the business’ values, their role within the company should be reviewed – don’t let people slip at the detriment to the wider team. This can be avoided if you find the right people at recruitment stage which is why recruitment is so important because, if it doesn’t work out, companies should not be shy of letting people go if they are not committed and the right cultural fit. I think that is motivating for the people who do work hard – it can be very disheartening for employees who are working hard to see one of the team is not pulling their weight. It is important that businesses are constantly reviewing their recruitment strategy and that there is a strong set of values and a clear onboarding process to ensure a strong and united workforce.
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