VIVID manages approximately 32,000 homes and has around 72,000 customers – a mixture of tenants, lease holders, and garage renters – and contacted CM.com to create a database of information that agents could refer to when dealing with customers. However, the conversation soon evolved into something much bigger.
“Initially, we were looking at how we could improve retention of – and access to – knowledge across our team, but as we started looking into it, we realised we could get much better value for money by looking at a hybrid system that gave us the knowledge database, but also another way for customers to contact us,” explains Head of Service Transformation and Innovation, Justin Crittall. “We want to be able to provide customers access to information 24/7 and free up our phone lines for those customers most in need.”
VIVID ultimately decided on CM’s Conversational AI Chatbot platform to build an omni-channel chatbot solution, which has been deployed both on its website and VIVID’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. The solution not only allows its agents to find answers to customer questions quickly and simply, but also allows customers to find answers to straightforward questions. The knock-on effect is that customer service agents have more time to deal with complex customer queries and it’s allowed VIVID to offer 24/7 customer service via the voicebot element of the platform. Call the company out-of-hours and you can self-serve via the voicebot. Equally, if you prefer, you can select the voicebot rather than being put through to an agent to discuss your issue during office hours. As the first CM.com customer in the UK to set up a voicebot, VIVID is truly ahead of the curve.
“The way that we’ve set up the Conversational AI solution means it’ll send us an email if a customer can’t find the answer to their query. That way, we can resolve their issue without them having to call or email us separately,” says Chantal Mitchell, Customer Experience Manager at VIVID. “We’re also using the chatbot to help our customers to fill in forms. Sometimes a lengthy form can be daunting, so the chatbot is a user-friendly way to collect customer information and guide them through the process.”
In many sectors, the key to success is just to provide better service than your competitors. Housing associations are in an unusual situation when it comes to competitor comparison, which can make things more challenging.
“Our customers don’t compare us to other housing associations, because they don’t get services from them,” says Justin, “they will, however, compare us to every other provider they use, so the bar is already very high. That realisation allowed us to free ourselves from the attitude of ‘this is the way we do it in housing’, which meant we could create a service that’s far more advanced than anything other housing associations are currently offering.”
Many companies inadvertently control the flow of information to their customers, either with their website architecture, or by holding that information in the minds of a handful of customer service agents. VIVID sees things differently.
“Think about the way we search for information; if you don’t know something, you look it up online. Our ethos is that customers shouldn’t be reliant on us to be information providers – we should make it easily accessible. There’s a lot of content on our website, but unless you know the hierarchy behind it, you may not necessarily know where to find it,” says Justin.
In addition to arming customers and existing agents with useful information, the chatbot solution has also allowed new starters to get up-to-speed more quickly.
VIVID’s Customer Experience Team Leader, Sarah Good, knows the pain involved in getting new starters ready to hit the phones, and the sheer volume of knowledge they need to succeed. “We have a very thorough induction process but it’s great not to have to worry about teaching all of those very detailed processes to new starters. We know that we can get them on the phones and up and running with basic training, and they know they can rely on the chatbot to find answers.”
VIVID’s Conversational AI implementation has been a big success. The chatbot has seen a steady increase in sessions from around 2000 per month in January 2020, to 3,500 to 4,000 currently. Meanwhile, the voicebot’s ability to offer 24/7 customer service has revolutionised the customer experience. So what’s the next step?
Justin, for one, is keen to open the chatbot to other platforms, “We want to bring in alternate chat platforms, such as WhatsApp, and use the chatbot for triage. So, if you get stuck, you don’t have to fill in a webform and wait for someone to reply; you can get passed through to a live agent.”
Sarah is keen to explore some of the ways connected technology can help VIVID manage their properties and help customers, “There’s so much that we could and should be doing within Internet of Things technology. People are used to getting information by asking their phones, or home speakers, for example. Beyond that we could use technology to monitor for things like damp as an indicator of fuel poverty, which would allow us to intervene earlier.”
Chantal takes a pragmatic view. “I’m looking forward to getting more people across the business using the technology to make their jobs easier. And, of course, I’m excited to see where we can go next with it…”