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HSBC knows the measure of a great digital assistant

HSBC knows the measure of a great digital assistant 1120 840 Ben McCulloch

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of HSBC as it’s Europe’s largest bank with nearly $3 trillion in assets. It found that its customers were asking for a service that it didn’t provide yet – they wanted to speak to their bank via digital channels.

This revelation led HSBC to begin automating their customer service and Andy Kingston, Head of UK Customer Service Strategy and Transformation, spearheaded that campaign. He got into the nitty gritty with Kane Simms in his VUX World interview discussing how HSBC is using conversational AI.

an image of various bank notes

Can you remember paper money?

Meet the customer where they want to be

HSBC embarked on its automation journey around four years ago. At the time, it had a contact centre, it had IVR, and it had email, but Andy and his team discovered that customers were increasingly keen to communicate via digital channels.

HSBC wanted to meet the customers in their preferred domains – websites, internet banking and mobile banking. It found that all customers have gradually migrated to mobile banking, and so it didn’t want to redirect those customers to a contact centre when they ask for assistance. Customers wanted their banking to be on-demand.

“Customers want the same control in their banking as they do with television, online shopping, food delivery”, says Andy.

Automation starts and ends with people

Although customers want more control, the stakes are higher in financial services than when ordering a pizza. HSBC saw the importance of humans in their digital channels, ensuring that customers received the correct information.

“You can blame processes, you can blame technology, but often it’s the people in the middle of it… it’s people-on-people issues every day”

That’s why the HSBC bot’s conversations are designed by frontline contact centre agents. They’re the ones who know exactly what people will ask, how they’ll ask it, and what they’ll struggle with. With some conversation design training, they can excel at this task.

Delighting customers needs great backend integrations and data, but the quality of the interaction really comes down to the ones who understand the customers.

“Now I’ve got some super talented IT colleagues, but actually what it shall shine a light on is that it’s the people who are serving the customers that know the customers the best.”

Image of an HSBC bank

You may never have to walk in a bank again

Chatbot first, voicebot second

HSBC began with a chatbot on its website, then it added it to internet banking, and finally, it became available on mobile banking. It’s this chatbot that sees the most activity these days.

While it’s available to answer FAQs (and take those repetitive queries from their contact centre agents, so they can deal with the harder stuff), the chatbot can also deal with some complex common scenarios.

Let’s say a customer bought something online and their HSBC card’s been declined. The customer is likely to fear the worst – that their bank account’s empty. However, often, these scenarios occur simply because the payment hasn’t been processed correctly. Now, the HSBC bot can reassure the customer that this issue is often resolved by asking the retailer to try again, and hey presto – the payment gets accepted. That’s a scenario where the customer truly benefits from having quickfire advice and reassurance from a bot, rather than having to deal with lengthy calls.

HSBC also has a voicebot, which can cancel cards, replace cards or change a customer’s address and so on.

Learnings from the frontline

Andy shared some incredible insights HSBC have learned along the way:

  1. Only automate simple processes if you can improve the experience – for example, customers probably already know how to pay their credit card bill. A chatbot won’t improve the experience unless you add value – perhaps give them information that they can’t find themselves, such as insights into great personal financial management.
  2. Be wary of containment rates – Andy says “you can basically gamify any data or any single KPI you want to… So, the number one [measure of value] is and always will be NPS”. It’s not your job to trap customers, you’re supposed to ensure they’re happy with your service.
  3. Be customer obsessive – is it necessary to analyse the efficiency and effort of the bot? Isn’t it more important to analyse the customer’s effort?
  4. When customers want privacy, chatbots are better than voice – by virtue of being a silent form of communication, chatbots allow people to discuss their finances without being heard.

Customers want this

So, how successful have HSBC’s various automated conversations been since they began 4 years ago?

It seems it’s going very well indeed. Customers just want a great service when they deal with their bank, and they don’t care whether they’re talking to a live agent, a chatbot or anyone else. As Andy says, the numbers of customers flocking to their bots are growing hugely every day.

How do you do it like HSBC then?

Andy says the most important place to start is to get your team onboard – “invest the time to share what you believe with your stakeholders, your eternal sponsors, your execs, to get them to believe it as well.”

You can hear Andy’s full interview here.


This article was written by Benjamin McCulloch. Ben is a freelance conversation designer and an expert in audio production. He has a decade of experience crafting natural sounding dialogue: recording, editing and directing voice talent in the studio. Some of his work includes dialogue editing for Philips’ ‘Breathless Choir’ series of commercials, a Cannes Pharma Grand-Prix winner; leading teams in localizing voices for Fortune 100 clients like Microsoft, as well as sound design and music composition for video games and film.

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