Frontline staff at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia have used a new platform to assist the bank’s customers more than 50 million times since it was launched. 

The platform solves a problem created by the proliferation of digital channels which complicates life for customer service professionals who often don’t have a complete record of their customers’ interactions. 

“Prior to 2015 our frontline teams were using multiple screens and systems to understand each individual customer’s need,” CBA’s Chief Analytics Officer, Andrew McMullan told Which-50. 

“At the same time, we were communicating to our customers through multiple channels such as email, direct mail and online without co-ordinating or prioritising the messages most important to them. We were also doing it without knowledge or reference to the fact they had just been into a branch or called through to our contact centre.” 

To address these problems CBA implemented the Customer Engagement Engine (CEE), a multichannel decisioning engine underpinned by machine learning that takes a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to serving customers.   

“We now have that single system in the CEE, which incorporates over 200 machine learning models running over 157 billion data points to make a decision on what is the Next Best Conversation to have with each individual customer – and it returns that decision through all of our channels in a few hundred milliseconds.” 

CBA’s CEE project was recognised as the Best Customer Service Innovation in the inaugural Which-50 Awards which celebrate initiatives that make life fast, simple and easy for customers. 

CEE is live in all 19 channels that CBA communicates with its customers, including call centres, branch, online banking, mobile, email, SMS, chat, ATM, and direct mail. Over 10,000 staff across CBA’s retail bank are using the Next Best Conversation suggestions provided by the CEE to have meaningful conversations with our customers at every interaction, McCullan said.  

Customer Service Innovation 

The project began as a pilot on a single laptop in one of CBA’s branches in St Mary’s, Penrith. “The branch staff drove the approach as they wanted to have more meaningful conversations with the customers they served every day,” McMullan said. 

After a successful trial the program was then scaled across the entire branch network to reach all its customers.

McMullan said the platform has changed the way the bank communicates with its customers, including being more proactive to nudge them towards making better financial decisions. 

“It is safe to say that this has changed the way we provide experiences to our customers,” he said. 

“We are really focused on improving their financial wellbeing. In the last year we sent our customers over 20 million smart alerts which have helped customers avoid unnecessary fees by alerting them to overdrawn accounts and missed credit card payments.” 

For example, rather than hitting customers with a fee for missing a payment deadline, CEE is used to send digital notifications to guide them towards making a payment before the deadline. 

The engine has also allowed the bank to identify which customers are eligible for the bank’s assistance packages when bushfires or natural disasters hit. 

This level of personalisation, aided by technology, is a key trend in customer service. 

“Personalisation through the use of data and analytics is critical, both now and in the future,” McMullan said. 

“CEE offers the ability for us to use the data that we have to ensure that we can really personalise the customer experience.” 

The data puzzle

Enabling these capabilities required the bank’s vast data stores be connected to provide a single view of its customers. That means the custom-built platform needs to connect millions of daily transactions, daily digital and front-line interaction points with the plethora of customer, product and system information that the bank owns. 

Consolidating the customer service approach on top of one platform required input from across the organisation. The project included stakeholders from product teams, marketing teams, channel partners in digital and CBA’s frontline teams. The bank also worked closely with Pegasystems, the vendor for the underlying technology, to help shape the way it continues to develop the product. 

CBA has continued to build on the platform since it was launched. It began as a retail bank project and has more recently been expanded into CBA’s business and private bank.

And new conversation topics are also being added to the platform, often based on input from frontline staff. 

“A couple of weeks ago one of our area managers from Queensland won a competition for a new conversation idea and she came to Sydney to build it and push the idea live in the system,” McMullan said.



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