ÉS Énergies Strasbourg, part of the EDF Group (Éléctricité de France), is the primary provider of electricity and gas in the Bas-Rhin department. Faced with frequent overload in its call centers, the company turned to the technology developed by Living Actor, in the form of a chatbot named Elsa, to respond to the simplest and most common user inquiries. Here’s their story.
A dual challenge: reducing call volume and improving customer satisfaction
As the provider of services targeted at the general public, ÉS Énergies Strasbourg has to handle thousands of telephone inquiries each day. Consequently, its three regional call centers had become overloaded, response times had skyrocketed and satisfaction rates had plummeted. At the same time, consumers have evolved: they use the internet as their primary source of information, and now that everything is digitalized, they’ve grown accustomed to having 24/7 access to services.
Read more: Chatbots—3 Uses for Your HR Department.
In this context, ÉS Énergies Strasbourg had a two-fold goal. According to Anabelle Alter, the product manager responsible for the chatbot Elsa:
- The first objective was to relieve congestion in the call centers by reducing the number of requests without value added, encouraging users to refer to the website or their online agency for simple inquiries.
- The second objective was to steer clients toward innovative tools that would guarantee a response even outside of regular call center hours, enabling them to help themselves, mainly through their cell phones, as 40 percent of website consultations originate from mobile devices.
The solution took the form of a chatbot named Elsa, based on Living Actor technology.
The chatbot Elsa, a very human virtual assistant
To respond to the problems faced by ÉS Énergies Strasbourg, Living Actor proposed a virtual assistant endowed with a face—an avatar—and a full-fledged personality. The teams then chose her name, one that was easy to remember and use, starting with an E for energy.
Thus, Elsa came into the world in November of 2011. She has progressively established herself on the space devoted to individuals on the ÉS Énergies Strasbourg website, with a number of resources:
- Continuous presence (24/7)
- User support and guidance in such activities as creating a personal space, subscribing to a service, etc.
- Response to basic user inquiries (regarding contracts, bills, etc.)
- Ability to redirect users to live consultants when necessary
Elsa has also been given a flowing voice with natural intonation. So natural, in fact, that some users honestly forget they’re talking to a chatbot. As Alter confides, some users imagine that there’s a real-life client consultant behind Elsa and even engage in personal conversations with her. Even the COO of Énergies Strasbourg has played along: he conducted an interview with Elsa during her implementation, which helped get employees onboard with the project.
Within the company, Elsa was quickly perceived as a veritable digitalized colleague, a representative of the consultants working in the call centers. That’s precisely what ÉS Énergies Strasbourg wanted: an almost human chatbot, a warm virtual consultant.
Moreover, Living Actor has given Elsa the ability to make continuous advances, thanks to an extensive knowledge base, reformulation scenarios and, most importantly, a dialogue engine. Visitors address her in their own words and the virtual assistant learns from them, continuously honing her skills.
As Alter explains, one of Living Actor’s missions is to identify any possible misunderstandings so they can optimize Elsa in real time. In the future, artificial intelligence will allow her to learn on her own. But while waiting for improvements in the future, the chatbot is already providing compelling results in the present.
Assessment after six years of use of the chatbot: progressively better results
What has been the outcome of Elsa’s six years as part of the ÉS Énergies Strasbourg website?
First, customer satisfaction has increased, as 60 percent of users affirm that Elsa has enabled them to get a response to their request for assistance in just a few clicks. It comes as no surprise that most of the dialogues with Elsa have to do with moving, the contract, paying the bill or consumption.
Second, the implementation of Elsa has made it possible to absorb the increase in customer inquiries, even if certain users still prefer going through traditional channels. Clients need to be reassured, even when they’ve already received a response, which is why a user can contact customer service through multiple channels with regard to the same problem.
Finally, it’s apparent that Elsa is gradually becoming a full-fledged communication channel. Five percent of unique visitors ask the virtual assistant at least one question, and her comprehension rate is upwards of 80 percent. With these constantly rising figures, one can easily imagine a significant increase in the use of chatbots over the years to come. On the horizon, there are many opportunities for improvement to ensure that Elsa responds to inquiries with ever more precision.
What does the future look like for the virtual assistant Elsa?
Elsa is now a fully integrated part of ÉS Énergies Strasbourg’s customer service. She has multiple prospects for evolution, including:
- Heightened skills
- Availability on an increasing number of webpages
- Intervention within the client space, forging a personalized one-on-one relationship
- Extension to professionals (companies and communities)
There are even plans to update her appearance!
Much more than a simple virtual assistant, Elsa has become a genuine ÉS Énergies Strasbourg customer service associate, appreciated by colleagues and internet users, alike, and capable of adapting to the needs of the company: today, to improve customer satisfaction and relieve congestion in the call centers; tomorrow, to forge personal bonds with each individual user.
The problems encountered by ÉS Énergies Strasbourg are the same ones experienced by any public service provider, and renewal of the customer relationship is definitely in order. Even more so when you realize that, between now and 2020, 85 percent of the client relationship will take place without direct interaction with a flesh-and-blood person!1 You, too, can take advantage of Living Actor technology to give a human face to your customer service.
1Gartner Customer 360 Summit 2011, accessed January 2018.