EBO’s virtual agent proves a game-changer for mobility company eCabs

Dr Gege Gatt, CEO of EBO

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Ten years ago, eCabs set out on a mission to become Malta’s main private mobility company by adopting innovative and smart technologies that drive efficiency and sustainability across its operations. ‘With our latest virtual agent project, we are helping eCabs to remain true to its mission,’ says Dr Gege Gatt, CEO of EBO

What led to this collaboration with eCabs?

The predominant booking options for eCabs were the mobile app and telephone channels, making the service entirely dependent on 24/7 manual customer support. The overload on staff, especially during peak seasons, demanded a rethink of the process to increase efficiency, shorten customer on-hold time and reduce the rate of abandoned calls and sales. The company needed a fast, scalable system to automate the repetitive processes and enhance the customer experience. eCabs approached EBO to build a solution based on advanced AI conversational technology.

Is it hard to convince companies about the benefits of a virtual agent?

Companies are aware that their ability to compete will largely depend on their capacity to leverage data to bring better value to the customer. Artificial Intelligence is a game-changer as it uses big data to perpetually improve and automate core business processes. eCabs looks at technology as a prime enabler and the management did not need convincing about the potential of AI to optimise their customer experience. The company was quick to adapt to the new technology and the virtual agent has lifted a substantial workload off the service centre and reduced customer wait-time while opening a new touch point with clients.

What goes into such a project before it is implemented?

eCabs wanted to establish the virtual agent as a key differentiator in its customer experience, so we first needed to understand the customer journey. Following a series of workshops, research and data mining, our data scientists narrowed the opportunity to a clear use-case – 74% of all inbound requests were cab bookings and had a similar request pattern. We integrated the virtual agent into eCabs’ Facebook Messenger and website, allowing customers to find support from the customer care team with the same level of intelligence as an interaction with a human agent. The virtual agent – named Sam – guides users through a natural conversational flow to solve their queries, including placing a booking. 

Why is this technology a ‘game-changer’ for eCabs?

The bespoke virtual agent was developed by our engineers from the ground up to cater for eCabs’ unique technology and requirements across the customer journey. For example, our solution allows the virtual agent to answer service questions, manage pre-bookings or update the eCabs booking schedule without the need for manual confirmation by service agents. This contributes to a significant reduction in waiting time for customers while easing the workload on the service centre since EBO is fully interoperable with eCabs back office systems.

What other advantages does the virtual agent offer?

This virtual agent serves as an incredibly effective FAQ source, automating conversations about all aspects of customer care 24/7. Crucially, the Facebook Messenger integration gives customers a convenient alternative to app downloads, minimising mobile data usage and doing away with verification processes, connecting them directly to the eCabs support team. From the operations side, the instant automated service led to a sharp fall in abandoned calls and relieved the customer care team from repetitive manual tasks, allowing agents to focus on more complex requests and business opportunities.

The effectiveness of virtual agents is often tied to their conversational design and machine learning capabilities. How does that work?

Human conversation is the foundation of effective customer service, which is why the EBO virtual agent is built using Natural Language Processing (NLP) – or the ability for a machine to understand language just like a human. Besides delivering the technology, our team of NLP experts also designed the conversation model using existing customer utterances and cases from past data to create intelligent workflows. Once in use, the technology applies Machine Learning capabilities to keep updating its language library, allowing the virtual agent to adapt and interact with a wider range of complex tasks and customer requests.

To what extent can a virtual agent emulate human conversation?

eCabs’ virtual agent is a case in point because it has been designed to emulate human conversation faithfully, thanks to its context and sentiment awareness capabilities. It correctly assesses customers’ emotions to adjust conversations accordingly, giving the virtual agent that element of agility and responsiveness found in natural human interaction. The system understands a large variety of requests, regardless of conversation intricacies or changes in context. On top of that capability, the virtual agent makes Return customer journeys smoother and more personalised by remembering unique client preferences from previous conversations. This provides an edge on customer loyalty and drives customer lifetime value.

Does the virtual agent replace human agents?

AI is not there to replace human capability but rather augment it. One of the major benefits of the virtual agent is that it identifies conversations that require human attention and escalates them immediately to the human agents. Moreover, agents are able to take up the interaction from the virtual agent should their intervention be required.

The new solution helped eCabs to decrease the cost per customer interaction substantially, allowing the company to scale up or down according to need, without increasing staff or costs. At the same time, eCabs retains full control over conversational workflows and can manage, improve or design new models through the system backend. With further related innovations and projects in the pipeline, eCabs has only just started to unleash the power of AI in its industry.

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In 1994, the Malta Business Weekly became the first newspaper fully dedicated to business. Today this newspaper is a leader in business and financial news. Together with the launch of the MBW newspaper, the company started organising various business breakfasts to discuss various current issues that were targeting the business community in Malta.