ClickZ spoke with Gonca Latif-Schmitt, Managing Director at Citi, to discuss their technologically-savvy approach to improving customer experience (CX) for their business card holders and clients. Citi engaged work with Interactions for their Citi Commercial Card initiative. Interactions is a provider of intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) focused on helping companies improve CX via the use of AI chatbot technology. They offers several products that fall within the customer experience space, including an IVA tool utilized by leading brands such as Hyatt, Constant Contact, and Shutterfly.
Example of AI chatbot agent answering a customer’s question—source: Interactions
As a credit card business within Citi’s institutional group, the commercial card team is focused on making the entire client experience frictionless and more digital.
Says Latif-Schmitt, “In our business of commercial cards, there’s been a significant shift with the organizations that run card programs who want individual card holders to be as efficient and as frictionless as possible in their servicing.”
Citi Commercial Card clients were receptive to solving problems without the need to speak with a representative for routine issues that could be effectively addressed digitally. To this end, adding an AI-powered virtual assistant was a natural next step for Citi.
The Innovations virtual agent is one of several tools that Citi rolled out to streamline CX for Citi’s commercial card clients.
Says Ramiro-Apsiolos, “Whether it’s more functionality in our app or more functionality for self-servicing online, we wanted to give our clients the option of solving basic issues through automation. There’s always a live agent available for clients who need that. Our strategy wasn’t to eliminate the live agent, but to provide a digital servicing platform that is predictive, intuitive, natural and consistent.
Citi’s discovery process when researching Interactions and other CX tools dates to an initiative they implemented within their Client Operations group. They did a landscape review of providers who were doing interesting new things in the service and ops space.
“We had a provider that recommended Interactions, so we went to Boston to meet with the Interactions team who did a really great job of demonstrating their expertise in this space, going beyond the typical generic virtual agent. They showed how their virtual agent dealt with queries in a really interesting way.”
After their initial meeting, Latif-Schmitt’s team went through a formal RFP process and looked at many other providers before deciding on Interactions. A cross functional team at Citi evaluated the tool, then their product, technology, operations and customer service teams worked closely with resources at Interactions to implement it.
Currently, the virtual agent has been implemented only in North America, but Citi hopes to roll it out globally.
From the selection process for Interactions through the first live test call, the onboarding process took about 11 months.
Says Latif-Schmitt, “We integrated Interactions into our platforms so that the virtual agent could, in real time, ping our system to get the answer and execute the appropriate action. So, for a lost card, the card must be suspended, the new card issued, and all the actions that come out of the service call have to be integrated.”
Citi spent time writing the script for the virtual agent, including considering what conditions would require directing the customer to a live agent.
“The scripting ran in parallel with the implementation of the tool. Determining what we wanted the client to experience was more of an operations business function. So, end to end, it took about 11 months to build,” says Latif-Schmitt.
Currently the chatbot initiative is still a pilot program. The tool addresses five relatively simple issues that can be easily addressed with an automated agent. These include:
“These are the types of issues that a virtual agent is perfect for,” explains Latif-Schmitt. “They don’t require a lengthy conversation and are pretty straightforward.”
Citi wanted to launch the pilot with the most straightforward issues that typically involve independent prompts and aren’t very complicated. They hope to expand beyond these issues in the future, with the goal of managing as many straightforward queries as possible. This will enable their live agents to be available for more complicated issues.
“Our best-case scenario is that the basic issues are handled by the virtual agent,” says Latif-Schmitt. “This makes us available to service cardholders for more critical issue, like figuring out how to get home if they’re stranded.”
Citi has seen positive, early results from the pilot program, largely due to the preparation and foresight they put into the initiative prior to launch.
A key part of Citi’s CX strategy was to notify their commercial card clients before rolling out the pilot program. They presented the concept to some of their biggest corporate clients and learned that companies viewed the tool as a great opportunity because it promised to make managing the cards and card holders easier for them.
Says Latif-Schmitt, “Once we began implementation, we communicated the initiative more broadly to our client base. We did this with the idea that when someone calls in and they experience the virtual agent, it would not be a surprise to them.”
Preliminary results reveal that the virtual agent has helped improve Citi’s speed-to-answer, an important metric in their business model which ensures that customers are able to access support no matter what time they’re calling.
Since the pilot started, Citi’s had about a million calls which have a containment rate (e.g. the virtual agent can fully service the call without switching to a live agent) of roughly 40%.
Additionally, in the process of rolling out the five inquiry types with the virtual agent, Citi also rolled out an FAQ to address some basic questions (e.g. how long does it take to get a replacement card?). The FAQ plays a large role in fueling that containment rate of 40%. Since the inception of the pilot period, Citi has had 153,000 inquiries that are common questions which can easily be answered by the agent via the FAQ.
Latif-Schmitt’s parting recommendation for B2B-focused companies who want to implement effective CX strategies was to pay attention to what’s happening in the B2C space and emulate this.
“When you’re a B2B provider, learning from what’s happening in the consumer space is really important. In the end, even though you’re operating in a B2B ecosystem, customers want a frictionless, easy experience regardless of whether it’s in their personal life or in their professional life.”
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