Intelligent virtual assistants: a smoother customer journey

A new generation of AI-powered virtual assistants is further digitalising the customer experience, for a faster, more reliable and transparent journey.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a paradigm shift in the norm for business operations, pushing many businesses into a new digital reality. Part of this was accelerating the growing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) powered virtual assistants as a means of improving client experience and efficiency. 

In 2019, NOA (NextGen Online Assistant) was born: an AI-powered virtual assistant that has transformed the customer journey for BNP Paribas Securities Services. At VivaTech 2022, we spoke to Suzana Tadic, Securities Services’ AI programme leader in charge of NOA, and Thierry Bujon de L’Estang, Head of Digital Bank for Clients at BNP Paribas CIB.

Suzana Tadic, AI Programme Leader, BNP Paribas Securities Services

Thierry Bujon de L’Estang, Head of Digital Bank for Clients, BNP Paribas CIB

Hi both, could you tell us a bit more about NOA its journey at BNP Paribas Securities Services? 

Suzana: NOA was first implemented in July 2019, as a result of our efforts to keep improving client service by investment in AI-based innovation. During the pandemic, we saw a dramatic increase in client enquiries, rising by 365% between February and April 2020; naturally, clients had questions about the impact of the health crisis on our operations. NOA – as a virtual assistant capable of managing such a high volume of queries, and available 24/7 – became central to our client response during this period, freeing up our teams to focus on value added tasks.  

Thierry: NOA’s technology combines AI and machine learning, and is capable of helping clients find the information they need by searching instantaneously. It can adapt to the user on the other side of the screen, and if it can’t solve a query, it can route directly to the right team. It is really changing the face of how we interact with our customers.  

Can you explain the difference between NOA and a standard chatbot, for example? 

Thierry: Chatbots are largely text-based decision trees, producing yes or no answers; the scope of what they can deliver is limited. In contrast, a virtual assistant offers a much smoother experience, mirroring natural, organic conversation. It can recognise users, remember their client history and preferences, and adopt a particular tone of voice. It even has ways of ensuring conversational flow, and reacting to emotions when engaging with a user.  

Suzana: Beyond that, NOA is capable of interacting with our underlying systems, and, by working with our teams, can develop an unlimited number of use cases simultaneously. Simply put, it provides quality, scalability and cost efficiency.  

Are there any other benefits that a virtual assistant can offer? 

Thierry: NOA has potential benefits for internal support teams, helping them solve client queries based on previous use-cases and experiences, and sharing an extensive knowledge base. 

Suzana: It’s also helping us to gain better insights into what our clients want and need, with analytics and insights that would otherwise be obtained only with manual processes. We are creating a virtuous circle by responding to clients, better understanding their preferences and then continuously evolving our products and services in response.  

What are the challenges of implementing a virtual assistant? 

Suzana: Not so much a challenge, as a process. Naturally, when we implement a new technology, it involves a wide scope of internal teams, from the project team itself to IT, sales, marketing and client-facing teams. We also need to on-board champions across the business that can help offer use cases and client communication norms. A well-designed change management process is crucial. 

It’s also important to take the time to really understand client pain points and how NOA can solve them, as well as implement a pilot and monitoring phase to make sure we’ve refined the technology in the right way.  

How can AI-powered solutions complement the work of customer service teams?  

Thierry: From our perspective, there is no man versus machine; they work together. Our business teams are an integral part of helping to refine NOA’s characteristics and customer experience; and in return, NOA can free up much needed time and provide crucial insights that fuel business growth.  

Hear more from Suzana and Thierry at VivaTech 2022: 

Suzana Tadic and Thierry Bujon de l’Estang at VivaTech 2022
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