Creating a Colleague
Even though Niva can answer an unlimited number of calls, she doesn’t ever get tired of dealing with upset customers. And not only does she provide support to customers contacting PostNord – but also to those working in customer service.
One thing all customers have in common – regardless of what country they live in or whether it’s a business or private call – is that they hate waiting in a phone queue. The waiting time for the PostNord Customer Service line used to be 20 to 40 minutes. Sometimes over an hour.
That’s why Anne-Christine Lane and her team started mapping the needs of PostNord customers. Why do they call customer service? What do they ask?
It turns out most callers, businesses as well as consumers, want to know where their parcel is and when and how they will get it.
“We wanted to invent something that speaks all languages and can talk to all customers,” explains Anne-Christine, Head of Analytics & Automation at Group Function Nordic Strategy & Solutions. The “we” refers to her colleagues Mikael Myhrberg, Product Owner for Niva, Emilio Marinone, Data Scientist, and Åsa Edde, Product Owner.
At first the team invented a simple chatbot to see if customers were ready to talk to a robot. Developing it further using artificial intelligence was a given, since PostNord is an early adopter of AI. The next step was to develop a more advanced digital solution in close collaboration with the PostNord customer service employees: a virtual Post-Nord colleague with AI that could step in and handle large volumes of calls and answer the most frequently asked questions. The obvious goal was two benefits for the price of one: cut the waiting time and raise the level of service.
“We developed a smarter version of a virtual agent: Niva. We wanted her to be female, like many of the other speech services on the market, and have a pleasant and polite voice,” Anne-Christine explains.
As a key representative of PostNord, Niva must be amiable but accurate.
“She can’t be funny, as humor can be misunderstood in the wrong context. And we certainly don’t want customers to get angry if she gives the wrong answer. A big plus is that an AI machine always has the correct information to hand. Niva never hangs up and always asks if you want to talk to customer service to get further help.”
Niva instantly gathers information on current orders based on the caller’s phone number and can suggest solutions to the most common problems. Through AI and machine learning, Niva gets smarter and more solution oriented the more she talks to customers. And your virtual colleague is a fast learner; as of now she only speaks Swedish, but she understands English and can quickly be programmed to pick up the other Nordic languages.
Niva usually handles about 12,000 customers per day and resolves about 20–25 percent of their issues. The rest is passed on to the ‘human’ customer service agents. But even when Niva doesn’t find a solution, she saves time for her human colleagues by gathering information about the customer and passing it on when handing the case over to her human colleagues.
In the Nordic countries, a total of about 500 people deal with PostNord customers in need of service on a daily basis. In Sweden around 300 people are needed to handle one day of incoming traffic in customer service, and Mikael Myhrberg provides assurance that no full-time customer service staff will be replaced by Niva. On the contrary:
“Niva is a great assistant that works 24/7 all year around; she keeps providing support when staff go on vacation or sickness leave, during peak periods and so on.”
Now, thanks to Niva, new employees receive more specialized and targeted training and can start taking calls after just a few days. This makes a real impact on productivity, since customer service is a demanding job. People usually don’t stay long and there’s a high level of staff turnover.
The aim is to get Niva up and running in the other Nordic countries as well.
“Our goal is to become truly Nordic and offer the same fast service to all Nordic customers.
The intelligent virtual agent was hard to invent and implement, but it’s easy to teach her new things and we can quickly prepare her to start working in our other markets as well,” Anne-Christine says.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans, and exhibit traits associated with a human mind, such as learning and problem solving. The virtual agent Niva can simulate human intelligence processes such as voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP).
Get to know Niva
- Niva speaks Swedish and understands English – but can pick up any other language within days.
- Niva works 24/7/365 and always answers after one ring.
- Niva always gives the correct answer to your PostNord questions.
- Niva can answer an unlimited number of calls at the same time – and handles about 12,000 phone calls per day.
- Niva has cut the customer waiting time for initial response to just a few seconds.
- The name Niva occurs in several languages and means “expression”, “speech” and “sun”. But it was initially an abbreviation of New Intelligent Virtual Agent (NIVA).