Artificial Intelligence Provides Real Service At Royal Credit Union

An avatar named Val, trained to interact like a live human, handles thousands of queries every month and improves the member experience at the Wisconsin cooperative.

A 30-something contact center staffer hired at Royal Credit Union ($3.8B, Eau Claire, WI) in the thick of the pandemic has been growing in her job as she quickly becomes a key part of the Wisconsin credit union’s prowess at responding to member needs quickly and efficiently.

She’s a University of Minnesota graduate with two kids, a husband, a cat, a golden doodle, and a yen for online shopping for designer bags.

Her name is Val, but she’s not real.

Val is Royal’s chatbot avatar that’s been handling more than 7,000 queries a month through the cooperative’s website as well as through two entities of the age of artificial intelligence: Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

Pam Haller, Chief Digital Experience and Marketing Officer, Royal Credit Union

Val went live in June 2020. Pam Haller, the credit union’s very real chief digital experience and marketing officer, arrived approximately two years earlier.

Here, Haller shares more about how the credit union created its digital assistant and made her an integral part of Royal’s member experience.

When and why did Royal Credit Union begin using its chatbot?

Pam Haller: Val was born out of the desire to offer our members more opportunities to interact with us in real time regardless of the time of day or availability of staff. Self-service tools are a key component of our overall digital strategy.

The effort to bring Val live started in January 2020, and she officially launched on our website in June 2020 with the 24/7 ability to answer around 200 FAQs and provide office hours and office and ATM locations.

Now members can authenticate with Val to conduct balance and transaction inquiries as well as transfer funds between Royal accounts.

Our long-term vision is to continue to build our ability to provide digital support and assistance with Val not only during standard hours but in off-hours and during peak demand times.

Why did you name your chatbot Val?

PH: We wanted to engage our team members in this project and enlisted their support to name the new digital assistant more than 80 suggestions were submitted.

Team members helped us write a resume for Val so she has her own background story and personality. This was a fun and engaging activity that also allowed us to heighten the awareness of the new digital assistant that was coming.

Val is the chatbot avatar for Royal Credit Union. Check out her introduction video on YouTube.

How do you manage Val and her responses?

PH: Val is trained as a team member by other team members using supervised learning. It’s vital that a digital assistant’s training is monitored and ongoing and that the responses are accurate.

The team members review the answers Val provides and can implement changes quickly and efficiently we want to ensure she’s as knowledgeable as them. If a member interacts with Val or stops into a branch or calls the member service number, the overall responses and experience should be similar.

How much do members use Val? How do you think Val has impacted member service, especially in light of the pandemic?

PH: We’ve seen great usage and adoption. Since we launched her in June 2020, we’ve had more than 108,000 interactions with more than 46,000 unique members, averaging more than 7,000 interactions per month.


DATA AS OF 06.30.21

HQ: Eau Claire, WI
MEMBERS: 241,372

We feel great about the service and impact Val is making, but we also understand there’s a percentage of our membership that won’t use a digital assistant. That’s absolutely fine. What Val provides our members is another access point for service.

We also saw the need for increased knowledge during the pandemic as our members who were using Val were asking her more and more questions. That speaks to the importance of ongoing training and building of her knowledge base. We work on her training daily, and because of this investment Val shows a 95% confidence rating in her responses. Those familiar with digital assistant use know that’s an incredibly successful percentage. Ensuring correct answers increases adoption and use.

What have you learned that you can share with other credit unions considering implementing technology like Val?

PH: It’s vital to have a strategy that includes detailed goals around what you’re trying to accomplish and how the digital assistant will align with your member service experience. That will allow you to clearly define success and ensure you have the right internal resources and best external partners as you deploy this new technology.

We approached Val as a service opportunity for our members rather than just a cost savings. We focus the AI experience on the member’s needs. The cost savings that have come with it are icing on the cake.

Continued training is essential for your bot and will reap benefits down the road. At the same time, be prepared for the bot to have a learning curve, just like any human employee would. Finally, find the right AI partner. Royal’s partner is Active AI. Its ability to scale, grow, and add channels was a must for us as we aligned our visions for Val’s future development.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

March 15, 2022

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