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Bill Schwaab, Boost.ai: “more barriers in the customer journey will turn your customers away”

The need to stay accessible 24/7 was never an easy task. But the ever-growing population and constantly changing customer demands have made it even more impossible to ensure round-the-clock services.

But then AI-powered chatbots made their presence. It was, without a doubt, a complete game-changer. Today, with so many tools available, customer service can ensure a hassle-free customer journey every step of the way. While chatbot technology sounds so simple, it is actually more complex than we can imagine.

To learn more about what helps build more accurate conversations and who benefits most from this innovative technology, the Cybernews team spoke with Bill Schwaab, VP of Boost.ai – a “tech-first” conversational AI platform.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of boost.ai. Can you tell us more about your journey?

While I was not a part of Boost.ai’s founders' circle, my focus since day one with Boost.ai has been to understand where we have seen the most positive impact with our customers in Europe and reproduce the same results here in the U.S. where we are already seeing great relationships form. I come to Boost.ai with a background in banking, followed by more than a decade of work in the tech space in roles that span across AI, fintech, compliance tech, and more. Most recently I worked at Mya where our focus was on the benefits that Conversational AI can bring to the recruiting space.

What excited me most about my transition to Boost.ai was how revolutionary the platform is. I had seen a broad range of CAI technologies, but never anything close to Boost’s combination of scalability, accuracy, and ease of use. The power of the platform can be clearly seen by looking at both the amazing growth Boost.ai has experienced since its inception and the incredibly broad range of real-life use cases that the virtual agents have already deployed.

We have quite a number of really insightful case studies on our website that dive into the granular details about how we’ve engaged with our customers. But what I really want to highlight is the agility with which our AI has been deployed. In one recent case, as a result of Covid-19, we were able to respond to the need of one Norwegian bank’s mortgage department in under 3 weeks from start to finish as they started to receive an exponentially increasing number of customer service inquiries about the state of their mortgage as Covid swept through the region. The result of this one implementation was an increase in their support team’s capacity of 175%.

Can you introduce us to your platform? How is AI incorporated into your product?

Boost.ai is a leading conversational AI platform that is building the next generation of virtual agents. When the first chatbots were rolling out, consumers were underwhelmed. Customers and users were engaging with nothing more than interactive and stylized FAQ pages, which delivered very static conversational responses and ignored the deep needs consumers had. Boost.ai, however, goes much deeper, providing responses to and handling queries surrounding the often complex pressing needs consumers have.

Artificial intelligence is baked into our product, backed up by powerful natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language processing (NLP) to build more accurate conversations. Both NLU and NLP allow Boost.ai customers to automate conversations with an incredibly high and consistent level of accuracy. Additionally, training these virtual agents is accessible to employees at enterprises without technical backgrounds because it’s a no-code solution.

What this means is any employee can handle the training portion when launching a bot, and can easily update responses and conversation flows as a virtual agent learns. All of our bots are empowered with an en-suite platform that delivers analytics on our virtual agents’ conversion rates, customer inquiries, and options to implement new topics and conversation flows. It’s a user-friendly experience that provides a centralized view of Boost.ai at work.

In your opinion, which industries could greatly benefit from implementing conversational AI solutions?

I believe that while many enterprises may be heading back to hybrid or in-person operating models, consumers are going to remain digital first when it comes to engaging with their favorite retail brands or member-serving institutions. There is nothing more convenient than the ability to engage with any company you would like using the mobile device that you carry everywhere. SMBs and global enterprises both should take advantage of this opportunity and meet customers where they are. This transformation has somewhat started with the creation of mobile applications that are verticalized to the space that companies operate within. But they can all equally benefit from the implementation of CAI that can help boost the personalization offered through these mobile and more generally, digital, experiences.

When it comes to specific industries, I think that financial institutions are primed to onboard highly skilled virtual agents that will be able to assist with multi-step, complex, operations. As I mentioned earlier, our chatbot is able to integrate with already existing systems and provide help in executing multi-step functions that are specific to a user's individual account which gives a level of service in the online world that is very much like what someone would experience when entering a branch of the credit union or bank that they belong to. Any financial institution that doesn’t realize the benefit that this can provide in terms of not only increasing the quality of their online service experience but also the range of customers that they can now reach with the same level of service, is going to be left behind.

How do you think recent global events have affected your field of work?

The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the best stress tests of our conversational AI platform. Quite a few of our current clients came onboard during the start of the pandemic with a need to rapidly onboard an effective response to high increases in consumer demand for help in the insurance, mortgage, and banking spaces. Without being able to rapidly scale up live support teams as they were trying to figure out how to work from home, we were able to spin up bots to respond to their enterprise’s needs. A great example of this was our work with officials from the Västra Götaland region in Sweden, which is the second-largest in the nation and home to over 1.7 million people.

As they recognized the need to be able to respond more quickly to an increasing influx of questions regarding the coronavirus from residents both in and outside of the region, we were able to spin up a bot in 6 days that was able to alleviate pressure on their support team and offer 24/7 access to the latest local and state guidelines regarding the impending pandemic. Ultimately, I believe that these real-life examples will serve as case studies on how CAI can be rolled out quickly to help in emergency situations both locally and globally in the future and how onboarding them in advance of any emergency can help in rapid response measures.

Besides conversational AI solutions, what other technologies do you think can significantly enhance business operations?

When vetting technology of any kind that will be touching the CX side of your business, companies need to take a deep look at the value that this new technology will be providing to the customer. One thing that we’ve definitely found through our work with customers is that personalization is key in the digital age. The people in charge of seeking out new technology must ask themselves, will this technology just spit out responses that a customer could find on their own, or will it create a dynamic experience for each individual customer based on their needs in each given instance? Additionally, new technology must have the capability to scale with the growth pace of the enterprise. Tech integrations can often be costly both in terms of money and time. When looking at a new platform, make sure that it has enough agility to grow and change directions digitally as so many businesses will over the coming decades.

A great example of this technology is Zendesk, which we recently partnered with for a webinar outlining the omnichannel integration of their support ticketing system, which includes an instance of our virtual agent. Zendesk is taking service support to consumers, by offering multiple entry points to start a dialog with the service teams of the customers they partner with. By offering consumers a chance to interact with brands via WhatsApp, Messenger, and other social media channels, they are less likely to be frustrated with an unfamiliar service platform and instead focus on just getting their questions answered.

In this age of ever-evolving technology, what do you think are the key security practices both businesses and individuals should adopt?

From an individual or organizational perspective, two-factor authentication is key in protecting both personal and professional data. Cybercrime and large-scale cyber-attacks are unfortunately very common, so it’s best to take any precaution possible to look out for the information that is most valuable to you. Specifically, when considering the types of spaces that Boost.ai operates within, we prioritize authorization factors into our chatbot experiences. Boost.ai’s very first client was a bank, so we have had security and compliance as a top-of-mind priority since the very beginning.

Overall, I believe that there needs to be an increased focus on businesses ensuring that they meet compliance and security regulations, not simply checking off a box that keeps them from being fined. But in order to keep their customers safe and their business out of danger as much as possible from being sabotaged. The more personal information that your organization retains about its customer base, the bigger of a target you become for those who are looking to steal data that can be used to commit credit card fraud or other digital crimes. We at Boost.ai are proud of the compliance protocols that have garnered us ISO/IEC 27001 certifications as well as the ability to state that we are GDPR and OWASP compliant.

What tips would you give to businesses looking to strengthen their relationships with their customers?

I’ve mentioned it briefly before but I believe there are two key elements that will be the pivotal points in creating strong customer relationships in the future, personalization, and simplicity.

Wherever possible, companies need to make their digital experience as personalized as an in-person experience would be. Member-serving institutions often retain a large number of demographic data points on the customers that they serve, such as age, salary, and work experience. Using this information to personalize the engagement experience, not just sell them new products, will help to have every customer feel like they are being treated like a person, not an account number.

Additionally, I believe a personalized experience can be built upon the type of language that a person can use when interacting with something such as a chatbot. Being able to type as if you were talking to a friend makes the interaction between customer and company more enjoyable, instead of forcing customers to stress over whether or not they typed the magic keyphrase to get the response they were looking for. That is unnatural and unwelcoming.

In an age where every company is trying to have its own “best” platform for customer engagement, make sure to keep your UI simple and straightforward. The more barriers to entry for any customer experience with your business, such as complex user interfaces, or multi-step processes in order to gather simple information, will turn your customers away. An overly complex digital experience will drive customers away and have them resort to calling and asking for a live agent to run them through simple inquiries. This nullifies the purpose of having an engaging virtual agent.

Where do you expect to see AI-powered solutions be used more often in the near future?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe financial institutions are going to receive the next big wave of AI-powered solutions. They are constantly increasing their digital product offering in terms of the ability to sign up for lines of credit, open new savings accounts, and even complete a car loan without ever stepping into an office. That being said, a great financial product can quickly become a fiscal nightmare: if a customer doesn’t have the right opportunity to engage with a support agent when they are navigating sign-up.

For banks offering the ability to take out $10,000 loans at 3 in the morning on a phone, there needs to be a similar level of online support offering available to help with that process. I think that any member-service organization that offers products that can be engaged with at any time, day or night, will also be at the bleeding edge for the integration of virtual agents that operate at a high level of customer service.

Would you like to share what’s next for boost.ai?

What I’m excited about coming up for Boost.ai is our continued growth. What I know we’ll see in the near future is our greater expansion within the United States market in spaces such as credit union, banking, and insurance spaces. We’ve already started this work and absolutely have the track record to support it given what we’ve accomplished overseas. I think another integral aspect of that expansion is our work to always improve the technology we employ as a whole. The more capable a virtual agent is, the better it serves our partners’ customer and member bases, and our mission to provide personalized, effective CAI experiences.

On a more technical level, that looks like an improvement in voice protocols for our virtual agents, which an increasing number of consumers will encounter as enterprises take chat or voice-first approaches to customer service. Yet another integral aspect of technical improvement for us is the development of even more pre-built intents and industry specific-modules so that our virtual agents come out of the box more equipped to handle the specific use-cases of the industries we already serve, as well as ones we may look to expand into.

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