Optus says its digital self-service tools are now handling 84 percent of all customer service related inquiries, with a positive impact on its customer satisfaction scores.
Digital consumer vice president Vaughan Paul told a Trans-Tasman Business Circle roundtable that customers were reacting well to sales and support experiences that combined “digital and human” elements seamlessly.
Like other telcos, Optus saw digital service channel usage increase initially out of necessity, as Covid-related lockdowns wreaked havoc on offshore call centre operations.
Digital experiences between telcos have varied significantly, but Paul said Optus had worked hard to give customers a choice of digital channel and to make their experiences “frictionless”.
“We really pushed digital and our digital assets,” Paul said.
“We leveraged the messaging platform, we leveraged our chatbot and some of our automation assets in order to keep customers connected or to serve them.”
As Optus relied more heavily on its digital channels to serve customers, Paul said the telco was cognisant that it only took one bad experience for customers to “turn away” and re-join more congested channels.
“Since the start of Covid, particularly on service, we've shifted our digital self-service percentage from 70 percent to 84 percent,” Paul said.
“That means the app, bots, etc are taking 84 percent of all our service traffic.
“My hope is that it stays there. I don't want to see that go back - in fact, I want to keep going.
“I'm actually just looking at how I digitise the whole [contact centre] business so that the 10, 15 or 20 percent of calls are really just on the complex stuff.”
Paul said that digital experiences, when done well, gave customers the impression that they were “in control”.
“They can do pretty much most things they want to do, and they actually say to us, ‘Why do I need to call you? I don't want to call you. Give me the self-serve features and I'll do it myself’,” he said.
Still, Paul noted there were times when a bot may need to escalate to a human agent - again, Paul said, this was an area that Optus had tried to optimise.
“I absolutely think the power here is to get digital and human working together to create a better experience rather than just going human on their own,” he said.
“By combining the web with retail, combining the app with call centres, I see a much stronger NPS [net promoter score] result where the two work together.
“In fact, just to show you on the service side, we're getting about a 10 percentage point improvement when digital and human are working together, than for humans on their own.”
Net promoter score is a common metric in telecommunications, banking and other service industries that tries to ascertain how likely it is that a customer would recommend the company to others.
Paul noted that making any transitions between the bot and a human agent frictionless formed a big part of how happy customers were in initially interacting with an automated channel.
“Customers don't mind [bots], as long as when it does pass to an agent, the agent goes back to the history and can see everything that's already passed [in the chat],” Paul said.
“You get very frustrated when you have to re-identify yourself again and then go through everything you've just been through with the bot.
“As long as you're managing the intents and making sure there's no dead ends, and [escalations are] seamlessly passing to an agent, I think it works and customers are happy.”
Paul noted the importance of personalising the bot’s interactions, rather than it simply acting as a glorified Q&A.
He said Optus had learned “a few good lessons” around optimal interactive bot design.
“The last thing you want to do is create a loop where the customer just keeps spinning, so if the bot has asked the same question a couple of times it will say, 'Would you like to speak to someone',” he said.
“The second thing is what we decided was in order to make the experience good for the consumer, the bot repeats the question.
“So if you go into My Optus App and then into the bot, if you're talking to the bot and you say, 'Could you show me my bill?' it will say, 'Yes, Vaughan, would you like to see the bill?' just to confirm.
“We've created a situation where there's a repetition just for clarity, and if you say 'No, that's not right' it would say 'Would you like to speak to an agent?'
“In automation, the job to be done is to make sure it's a very simple process, and the bot's always checking that it understands. I haven't found any particular issues with customers with that repetition.”
Paul said he took pride in the Optus bot’s positive contribution to NPS.
“I'm pretty proud of our bot,” he said.
“It's in every message, so when someone goes into the messaging platform, the bot greets them, and triages them.
“We've just past 3.5 million interactions with the bot, and the NPS is good.
“Bots are here to stay and they're only going to increase in terms of usage.”
Paul said it was not just younger customers that had embraced digital self-service.
“We've seen really good takeup of digital in the older generations as well, so people adapted to it.”
He added that there was more Optus could do to further optimise its bots, as well as with related technologies such as artificial intelligence.
“What we're looking at now is the use of AI,” he said.
“Some of technology enables you to do far more interesting things with language and to tailor to different groups who may not be vulnerable but where there's a language barrier etc.
“So I think the rise of some of the digital assets means that we can just get better in this space and there's some exciting things underway that we're looking at in particular.
“There's more to be done.”