BECU Offers Members Virtual Interaction
BECU’s member account lockouts once caused frustrations and numerous dial-ins to the credit union’s call center.
Each time a member forgot his or her online banking password and became locked out as a result, the member had two choices: call BECU’s customer service line which was open only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday or visit a branch to gain access, unless he or she had previously enrolled in the credit union’s password reset service.
The call center at the $10.6 billion credit union in Tukwila, Wash., averaged 100 account access-related calls per day during business hours, said Howie Wu, vice president of virtual banking at BECU. At an average cost to the credit union of $6 per call, they carried a hefty price tag of around $600 per day.
In May, BECU decided something needed to change. The credit union partnered with Spokane, Wash.-based technology vendor Next IT in the mid-2000s and has been utilizing the company’s Intelligent Virtual Assistant technology ever since. With the goals in mind of allowing members to quickly reset their passwords at any time and to reduce call volume, BECU implemented a second Next IT tool – Access Assistant, a conversational online software solution.
Accessible from laptops, smartphones and tablet devices, the Access Assistant lets members who have been locked out of their accounts, registered for or enrolled in new accounts, or need to retrieve their user IDs and passwords, to gain account access by exchanging messages with a virtual assistant. The technology is designed to make members feel as if they’re communicating with a live customer service representative.
“It provides a human-like interaction with natural language, so it’s almost like you’re having a real conversation,” Wu said. “It delivers a rich experience.”
Wu said the implementation of Access Assistant involved minimal effort from BECU’s IT team. When enabled, the solution opens a chat window and allows members to type in a phrase that describes their problem, such as, “I forgot my password.” Then, the assistant talks them through the steps needed to resolve their issue. The addition of the Access Assistant solution overrode the need for BECU members to enroll in password reset services.
“Human emulation is what we do,” explained Fred Brown, CEO of Next IT. “When you’re talking to a human, there’s always a way to get through your issue. So, that’s what we’re doing with our technology. It’s like talking to a good customer service representative.”
Since implementing Access Assistant, BECU has seen some promising usage numbers. About 1,000 members per week use the technology to retrieve their usernames, around 2,000 members per week turn to Access Assistant to reset their passwords and approximately 3,000 members per week use it to reset their security questions, according to Wu. He said the solution’s 24/7 access is a major benefit.
“It allows members to complete resets anytime, anywhere,” Wu explained. “In the past, when members became stuck after 1 p.m. on a Saturday, they had to wait until Monday to call.”
Imitating live conversations is Next IT’s top priority with Access Assistant, he added.
“It frees up customer service representatives to do more helpful things, like consulting with members and helping them get better deals on their car loans,” Brown said. “While we always try to create an ROI, our biggest driver is creating a human-like experience in the virtual bank.”
BECU is currently Next IT’s only credit union partner, but Brown said the company has begun actively marketing to other credit unions. He said Next IT’s technology also includes speech recognition capabilities and that the company is working on introducing multiple languages into its solutions.
“We like to change the paradigm between user and computer,” Brown said. “Usually, you have to adapt to the technology, but we want the technology to adapt to you.”