WaFd Bank And AWS Improved Phone Contact Center
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From remote deposit capture to personal payment apps like Venmo, Cash App and Zelle, a significant number of bank customer use their phones for banking. WaFd Bank (WaFd) wanted to improve the customer experience in its contact center by using conversational artificial intelligence (AI) for customers whose idea of phone banking means calling the bank.

By investing in its contact center, WaFd was an outlier among banks. In a 2023 technology trends report, Celent said only 18% of bank leaders said contact centers were a priority for them.

Robert Meara, a senior analyst at Celent, said banks may be misreading their customers and overestimating the percentage who use digital channels — fully a third of their customers don’t.

“Pre-Covid, most banks (particularly smaller ones) had customer/member digital utilization of around 50%. That is, half of their retail banking customers were ‘active users’ of the digital channels. While definitions vary, active users generally log-in at least monthly, many at considerably higher frequencies. Covid-19 saw those numbers grow by 20% industrywide, meaning the 50% became 60%. New digital users continue to come onboard, but at much slower rates than during lockdown.”

Working with AWS and an AWS contact center solutions partner, WaFd implemented a new customer contact platform that has reduced the time to make a balance inquiry by 90%, from 4.5 minutes to 28 seconds.

Voice and chat operate on the same tech stack, allowing internal transfers to respond to a customer issue. The system also provides voice authentication so customers don’t have to spend their first five minutes of a call proving who they are. Anytime a person wants to get out of chat and speak to an agent, she can. Now, the call and chat systems are interoperable, and chats can be escalated to agent assisted calls when needed.

When a call gets passed to an agent, the system also passes the full chat record and an analysis of the customer’s tone so that the agent is prepared to address the client’s needs and be empathetic toward the caller’s sentiment. WaFd uses a data lake on AWS to store and analyze data from phone and chatbot conversations.

“We’re getting incredible data from AWS through the conversational logs,” said Hubbard. “That has given us insights into what our customers are asking for so that we can add more self-service functionality.” The data also gives WaFd more insight into call volumes, so the call center can better manage staff schedules.

Celent’s Meara thinks more banks should pay more attention to customers who want to call in.

“There are still millions of retail banking customers who have chosen not to engage with their bank digitally – and they have the same needs as digitally active customers, but choose different ways to engage,” said Meara. “In my opinion, wise banks will automate the routine so staff can focus on exceptions – whatever the routine may be.”

The technology can understand intent, not just the words spoken, said Dustin Hubbard, WaFd Bank’s CTO.

“People might ask for their checking balance in 30 different ways — from ‘Show me the money’ to ‘What’s in my checking account’ so you have to populate all of those,” he said. “The Talkdesk cloud platform combined with conversational AI from AWS offered a comprehensive stack of contact center technologies that I wanted to use,” says Hubbard, who had worked with AWS before.

AWS does conversational AI really well, he added, and its AI can understand a lot of different accents and speaking styles. The bank’s prior system was a Cisco traditional IVR system coupled with a Fiserv phone banking system. It had a clumsy handoff, he said. Fiserv is still the bank’s core provider, but the bank has built a lot of architecture around it and improved the integration.

“Fiserv has a lot of products, but it also requires a lot of jumping around. We have created a single identity for our bank clients and we can offer them a single user experience. Before you had to go to one website for checking and a different website for your credit card. We have abstracted those away so you can see it all in one view.”

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