Scotia reaches out with tech

Scotiabank is known for its roving ways. Although Toronto-based, the financial services firm has operations in Barbados, China and Peru, among some 56 other countries. But that’s not to say Scotia is too good for its home. Lately the company has put in place new voice and Web technology to better serve its Canadian customers.

Robert Rosatelli, Scotia’s vice-president, self-service banking, explained that the corporation’s domestic touch-tone system for phone banking was becoming cumbersome, and difficult for customers to use. “Our automated call tree had grown substantially. Some customers were having trouble navigating through that.”

So Scotia streamlined its automated services, and four years ago started investigating technology that would let phone banking users speak their requests, rather than steer their way numerically through various customer-service options.

Scotia looked at four potential technology vendors for this project. When the evaluations were said and done, the bank chose ScanSoft Inc., in part because the Peabody, Mass.-based speech- and imaging-solutions supplier offered the best support to get the voice recognition system up and running, Rosatelli said.

One of the biggest hurdles in implementing the technology had to do with teaching the voice recognition system to understand particular commands, Rosatelli said. The ScanSoft platform had to be taught the sorts of syntactical peculiarities that might be part of customers’ speech patterns, and the sort of information that clients might want.

“Ensuring we had a broad enough grammar database…was always a challenge,” Rosatelli said. But the bank overcame thanks to two things: for one, it rolled out the system slowly. Scotia turned it on for just a few customers at first in the 905 area code (near Toronto) last September and, as the technology’s vocabulary grew, the bank expanded the service area.

For another, the firm held focus groups to see how people say words particular to the sorts of services they might source through phone banking, Rosatelli said. He noted these practice sessions helped improve the voice recognition system’s ability to comprehend callers and give them the services they seek. It’s 89 per cent successful today; in case it fails, the system kindly forwards the caller on to a live contact centre operator.

Scotia’s new Web technology is just as courteous, judging by the description that Sharon Hodder gives. Vice-president, Internet services, she talked up the bank’s new online two-way messaging system. It lets customers ask questions of Scotia while they’re logged into the firm’s Web banking site,

Scotia already had e-mail on the site, but clients weren’t inclined to ask questions that detailed their account numbers, addresses and other personal information here. Scotia also already had a system — Ask Scotia — that let customers type common questions such as, “How do I get a new bank account?” The back end would source answers automatically (“Click the ‘Banking’ tab” in this case).

But the bank lacked a secure, in-site platform that would let clients ask more personal and complicated questions, such as “Why didn’t my bill payment go through?” That’s where two-way messaging came into play, Hodder said. Scotia built the system itself, leveraging existing contact centre processes to get questions answered in one to two days in most cases. It’s safe, locked behind’s 128-bit site encryption for logged-on users, so clients can rest assured that any personal information sent to the institution by two-way messaging remains secure. Contact centre agents can even call the customer on the phone for more information or clarification.

As for building the platform, “the effort was not significant,” Hodder said. Effort did come in, however, during the spec phase as Scotia documented the sorts of questions and calculated the query volume it should expect to receive via this new communication conduit.

Two-way messaging is so popular that customers are actually using it more often than the bank initially planned, Hodder said.

Scotia also had to work to show customers when to use two-way messaging, Hodder said. She explained that the firm devised a feature flow that takes users to Ask Scotia first. If clients’ questions aren’t answered there, they’re directed to messaging. Thus the contact centre operators only deal with queries that Ask Scotia couldn’t handle.

Scotia’s communication systems have impressed the bank’s customers, according to Service Quality Measurement Group Inc. (SQM), which benchmarks contact centre performance. In January SQM awarded Scotia’s contact centre the “world class title” after surveying users. Eighty per cent of the 400 clients surveyed said they were “very satisfied” with the support service that Scotia offers. According to a Scotia press release, only five to seven per cent of the 200 organizations that participated in SQM’s ranking achieved the world-class status.

Hodder advises other firms looking at two-way messaging to “be very diligent” about how new technology might impact existing systems. Scotia was sure to make messaging an additional feature, not a replacement for Ask Scotia, which does its job just fine.

As for voice recognition advice, Rosatelli said it’s important to stage the rollout. Give the system some time to adjust to callers’ speech patterns. Otherwise customers will eschew the newcomer, and make the firm’s investment obsolete. “It’s not something you would roll out in a day,” he said.

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