Bright and early on May 17, we decked the halls of the Grid Auckland in orange and had our first in-person event of 2022 as part of Techweek NZ: a panel discussion with customer experience leaders Sarah Gunn from TheMarket, Mandy Tomlinson (formerly of Laybuy,) and Richard Fuli from GoSee, facilitated by Ambit’s CEO, Tim Warren.
Each of them shared their thoughts and experiences on digital employees and how they contribute and make a difference to their customer experience and their overall business.
Here are a few key takeaways from the event.
TheMarket: Creating a proactive customer experience
Launched in August 2019, TheMarket.com, a company of The Warehouse Group, is a curated lifestyle marketplace for Kiwis to Get It All Done, no matter what they are looking for.
As a digital-first business, TheMarket strives to proactively reach customers and take control of the conversation. This approach helps delight customers and manage the volume of enquiries.
From the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, TheMarket made a point to be the first to reach out to their customers. As it turns out, this meant a lot to customers who were thrilled that they actually knew what was going on, and felt like TheMarket was in control of the situation which at the time, was very unpredictable and unknown.
So, how does TheMarket manage to deliver on their vision of never missing a customer interaction?
TheMarket is no stranger to growth. In fact, they had to hire and train 36 people in the space of just two months in 2021 to manage a surge in orders and support the business growth.
After taking over as GM Customer experience, Sarah quickly realised that with the new forecast they had, they were going to hit their targets, but it was only going to be as a result of a lot more actual orders, and more customer interactions. And more customer interactions means that you need a lot more people to help manage them all. Or do you?
Bringing a digital employee, or intelligent digital agent, was a great opportunity to scale during an unknown time, and to automate and never miss a customer interaction. Typically, if a real customer ends up speaking to one of their support agents, it's because something hasn't gone right.
Not that that has ever deterred TheMarket.
"We love those real interactions with customers, and we see them as an opportunity to create a real brand advocate for TheMarket," says Sarah Gunn.
TheMarket's Digital Employee, Max is able to automate the easier FAQ-based enquiries that their customers ask on a regular basis, and will soon respond to customers who want to find out information about their orders, tracking details and make for a smoother customer experience.
Max also empowers the customer service team who are able to create rich, beautiful customer experiences when a human can assist them. In fact, many customers of TheMarket have had such a good experience with Max that they have told the customer service team they thought they were dealing with a real person!
"Many customers of TheMarket have had such a good experience with Max that they have told the customer service team they thought they were dealing with a real person!”
- Sarah Gunn, GM Customer Experience at TheMarket
Laybuy: Scaling globally while always responding fast
Buy Now, Pay Later service, Laybuy was launched in 2017. A New Zealand-based company, Laybuy offers customers the flexibility to buy products they want now and be able to pay them off in weekly instalments to spread the cost over time.
An innovative, fully integrated payment platform, Laybuy prides itself on giving its customers the most transparent, simple solution to purchasing products online, and providing round-the-clock customer service to assist users from around the globe.
Experiencing enormous growth with customer enquiries growing by 50% every year, and having already doubled the size of their customer service team, the business knew this approach wasn’t going to be a scalable solution, nor one that was affordable.
“Our customer satisfaction is directly linked to our response time,” says Mandy Tomlinson, former GM of ANZ at Laybuy. “Customers are not generally emailing us or messaging us to say we've done a great job. For us, it's about how quickly we can get to them, be where they want us to be, and how they want us to be."
Laybuy’s issue was clear; they needed to figure out how to better utilise their customer service team so they weren’t spending valuable minutes on simple queries. With the peak Christmas retail period fast approaching, they needed to implement a solution fast.
That solution materialised in the form of their Digital Employee, Hugo. Up and running in just 14 days, his impact on the company was immediate and allowed for Laybuy to improve their customer response times and better meet the needs of their nearly 1 million customers across New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Already an integral part of the team and based on Laybuy’s website, Hugo is able to instantly answer a wide range of common questions from customers and provide them with real-time responses.
“(Hugo) helped us to take the most simple queries that are easy for us to solve and get them off our plate,” says Mandy Tomlinson. “We developed simple queries first while we build the complex ones.” Now, he empowers Laybuy’s customer service team to work closely with those customers who might have more complex enquiries that require specialised support.
One of Laybuy’s mantras is that “we are building the plane as we fly it.” With Hugo on board, Laybuy’s customer service team have been able to access key insights into what customers were asking and how they were asking it.
This not only helps with their roadmap (such as what thoughts customers had, what they were wanting versus what they didn’t want), but it also helped them to pivot and become totally customer-centric.
“There is a fine balance between what you automate and what you don’t automate when you deal with people’s finances,” Mandy Tomlinson stresses.
It’s key to note that a Digital Employee is not just a set and forget solution either - like human employees, they are constantly learning and upskilling. In fact, Laybuy is currently recruiting for an optimisation manager to feed information to Hugo to continually enhance the conversations he can handle.
"Customer satisfaction is directly linked to response times... the faster we respond to our customers, the better they feel about us."
- Mandy Tomlinson, Former GM ANZ at Laybuy
GoSee: Designing a 24/7 multilingual online experience
GoSee (originally Online Republic, and a company of Webjet) offers an alternative way for travellers to rent motorhomes and cars online. When the full force of the pandemic hit, the customer service team of 171 dropped to 65.
"This had a massive impact on us," CCOO Richard Fuli says. "It was the worst possible situation for us as a business. For six months, we had to triage and manage refunds and cancellations, and during this period we were losing a lot of money. It was also hard for our people and our customers - the longer they waited, the harder the conversation."
As well as figuring out how to manage the sheer volumes of traffic they were receiving on a daily basis, they were also having to do this with a reduced customer service team. GoSee was no stranger to customers contacting them for support at 2-3 am New Zealand time to ask questions.
But how could a New Zealand company be able to answer these in a timely manner, especially with reduced staffing capabilities?
As it turns out, developing an automated solution through conversational AI was the key.
"This is definitely where channel strategy was really important,” Richard says. “We used to have staff in Romania, the Philippines and here in New Zealand. So when we lost that capability, we needed to manage that traffic through chat. And we also needed our chatbot to have language capabilities because we have customers from all over the world."
When GoSee’s Digital Employee Scout was launched in July 2021, the team noticed their newest team member was able to field a huge amount of customer service enquiries at any time of day, and in five languages (Spanish, French, German, Chinese and English), no less.
Of course, a lot of marketing had to be done beforehand to ensure that the bot was on brand and had the right tone of voice. “It’s really important when you’re implementing the solution to understand what the intent is as you’re developing it, because the capability and your intent will change over time,” Richard Fuli says.
The team had to be very clear on what they were expecting to achieve in each phase of implementing and training the Digital Employee, which, as GoSee found, was very much like training a human employee.
When it came to training Scout, GoSee’s customer service team started him off by doing induction and simple tasks, such as call routing. As he got more proficient, like a human employee, he was exposed to customers and their specific queries. Like Richard Fuli says, “Ultimately, your customers will tell you if they’re ready to accept the chatbot or not.” In Scout’s case, GoSee’s customers were very positive, especially those who were 25 years old and younger.
"When designing our customer experience, we focused on creating the right channel for the right transaction. We always looked at a smart chatbot as the right solution to give consumers information really quickly."
- Richard Fuli, CCOO at GoSee
How have these Digital Employees changed these businesses for the better?
Implementing intelligent conversational AI was clearly the right step forward to improve customer service and experience as Laybuy, TheMarket and GoSee found.
From TheMarket’s Digital Employee Max who is already handling 30% of customer service chats, Laybuy’s Hugo who handles 20% of overall enquiries (and remember, Laybuy receives 30,000 queries a month), to GoSee’s Scout who handles 20-30% of chats, it’s evident that these Digital Employees have already made a positive impact.
No longer are customer service agents stressed out by thousands of tickets asking the same questions, now they can actually focus on high-level queries that need the human touch.