Telstra on a mission to fine-tune Codi into more than just a virtual chatbot

The telco wants Codi to become a "digital concierge".

When Telstra entered the chatbot space three years ago in partnership with IBM, customers were introduced to Codi. The chatbot was initially designed to help customers answer simple frequently asked questions before directing them to live chat with an agent.

At the same time, Codi was meant to help ease the pressure off its contact centres, which was taking some 50 million calls per year. 

"The purpose for us was to automate those simple interactions, reduce internal transfer rates, provide a better experience to our customers, and a provide a more cost effective channel for our customers," Telstra head of assisted digital Paul Rilstone explained during the IBM Think Digital event.

Since then, Codi has evolved into what Rilstone has dubbed as a virtual agent that can help customers pay or download bills, setup payment extensions, and troubleshoot internet issues.

The end goal though is for Codi to become a "digital concierge" that can provide real-time answers, Rilstone said.

"Previously, we were predominantly a voice contact centre. We're now looking at how do we expand that into things like messaging and in doing so, we're now looking at how does Codi support them as a frontal concierge, how do we remove those customer queries before it gets transferred to the agent, and how do we contain those customers with once again, a one-stop shop, one-click approach to providing them answers in real time," he said.

"And if not, allowing them to have that conversation offline."

See also: Google Cloud launches new AI chatbot for COVID-19 information (TechRepublic)

But more work still needs to be done before that goal is achieved, with Rilstone pointing to how Codi is currently being adapted to respond to coronavirus-related queries as evidence of this.  

"We have daily campaigns for COVID that we need to adapt Codi for, so on a daily basis we have to put new measures in to make sure customers are briefed on the new plans, or the free data, or allowing customers to ignore a promise to pay," he said.

"There's a lot of things we've had to do in terms of getting copy or content into Codi to allow us that first cut at removing that customer need.

"Because what tends to happen, it just snowballs. If the customer doesn't get the answer, they pick up the phone, then vulnerable customers that we want to speak to can't get through.

"So, we're looking at how do we have a blanket view of removing those low-hanging fruits and FAQs and just educating our customers as we go."

Beyond servicing customers, Telstra has created other virtual agents, such as its prepaid bot named Simmo and ACE to assist its field service engineers with troubleshooting in the field.

All up, Telstra currently has around nine chatbots integrated into its systems.

"We're using the chatbot framework and expanding them all to different use cases and businesses," Rilstone said.

"Every single one of them have similar use cases as we did: How do move those simple, low-hanging fruit of those answers that can be automated? How do we provide a better experience?"

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