How a chatbot taught us never to settle for complex technology

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Picture the scene – you’re a mobile mechanic helping a customer and you can’t log into your tablet. You’re on the side of the road at 11pm, and you just want to reset your password so you can finish up and send them home in the car you just fixed. 

The service desk is closed, so you go for the chatbot option. The chatbot is only too happy to help you – once you’ve filled in a form to register, verified your email address, agreed to the T&Cs, and set up a new account, all under the steely eyes of a customer whose car broke down on the M25. 

This is a user experience that nobody wants. But it’s what we faced in spring 2020, when my team launched a customer service chatbot for the AA, a British motoring association that provides vehicle insurance, driving lessons, roadside assistance and other services to UK drivers. 

We’d been developing the chatbot for six months, but at launch it wasn’t compatible with single sign-on and it alienated our first users. We went through two upgrades and tried everything we could think of to make it more engaging. But the best content in the world is no good if users give up before they see it.

Many sleepless nights later, it was January. I decided we needed a fresh start to kick off the new year. 

Finding the perfect fit

To get buy-in from management, I couldn’t just tell them our existing solution would never improve. I had to show them there was another way. Our ultimate goal was for the chatbot to integrate with the Now Platform®, and while we struggled to get our own chatbot up and running, we were pulling off much more complicated things in ServiceNow, much faster. 

The more research I did, the more I became convinced that ServiceNow® Virtual Agent was the answer. When I set it up in the development environment, everything started falling into place. Even the out-of-the-box functionality was better than what we’d been dealing with before.

At last the project began to gather pace. In two months, we’d written conversations, tested the features, and created dashboards to capture metrics, another thing the previous chatbot couldn’t do. 

When we got the go-ahead to launch the new chatbot, it was ready to release just two weeks later. In those few weeks we were miles ahead of where we’d been with the previous solution after a whole year!

Ask EvITa

Now we had a chatbot that met our needs and that we could put our own stamp on. We launched a campaign called #AskEvITa to introduce the chatbot to the team. EvITa has her own voice and personality. She’s even got her face all over her own line of merch.

The metrics we can now capture on EvITa’s performance help ensure she’s continuously evolving to meet users’ needs. A great example of that was when COVID-19 hit, and we had to send everyone to work from home.

Really quickly, we were able to add conversations to help with queries like how to request a laptop or monitor stand, and how to log in to the network. EvITa can even go through the diagnostic steps if the broadband isn’t working so we can pass better information on to the service desk when they do need to step in and help them resolve issues faster.

We’ve also added support for HR queries, such as who to notify if you need a sick day, and of course what to do if you start showing COVID-19 symptoms. It helps us keep calls to the service desk and HR departments down so they can focus on more valuable interactions, while still providing friendly and helpful first-line support to users.

Today, if we go back to our breakdown on the side of the M25, our mechanic could simply #AskEvITa to reset their password and be done in minutes, with the assurance that EvITa is right there in their pocket whenever they need her, 24/7/365.

If only I could #AskEvITa why we struggled on with complex technology that wasn’t meeting our needs when the answer was right there in front of us the whole time.

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