What can global organisations learn from the AI-road being paved by Nordea and Nordic Choice Hotels?
Every now and then, I find myself discussing with acquaintances a phenomenon I usually describe as “The Nordic Innovation Paradox”.
Ask anyone in the streets, at the office or at home, what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they think about one of the Nordic countries? The overwhelming majority is certainly going to be faced with answers such as “IKEA, their flat packs and meatballs”, “LEGO is my whole childhood” or “I had a Nokia 3310, it used to last forever” – and yes, every single living soul at that time had a 3310 or a very similar-looking phone.
The paradox is, these five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), gave us so many innovations that are fully embedded in our lives. Yet, somehow the public opinion seems to only remember these three brands.
To name just a few of the most impactful inventions, we have the Finnish-born heart rate monitor (yes, the feature that allowed you to rationalise buying your fitness tracker or smartwatch), the Norwegian paperclip (yes, they are behind the seeming feeling of structure and organisation in paperwork) and the Swedish seatbelt (something you use every time you hit the road… or so you should).
Fortunately for us, although they don’t always get all the credit and recognition they deserve, our Nordic friends did not give up on innovating for everyone’s benefit.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on top of everyone’s mind and it isn’t surprising that some Nordic companies are party to it. And it’s time to discuss two examples of how these unsung heroes intend to enhance customer experiences in the very near future.
Putting customers’ time first at Nordea
Imagine a bank on a crusade to fit with customers’ schedules and that goes as far as operating around the clock, all year long. This is Nordea. And they decided to take it a step further by engaging in artificial intelligence.
It first started back in March, when they announced the hiring of Liv. What is so special about Liv? She’s a virtual colleague, performing repetitive tasks faster and more efficiently than their human colleagues, freeing them up to focus on more value-add tasks and thus providing enhanced experiences to their customers. Liv is not only a fast learner, she is also very easily empowered to make the right decisions through rule-based robotics initiatives.
And making colleagues more available to dedicate more time towards great experiences isn’t the only way Nordea is harnessing the power of AI for the benefit of their customers.
Back in July, they announced a partnership with a start-up called Feelingstream with the vision of tackling response times customers face when dealing with customer service. The AI-based text-analytics solution can interpret inbound customer communications (reportedly hundreds a second) and intelligently forward them to the right recipients within the business, cutting away the agent-based sorting (or excess of handoffs) as witnessed in so many businesses around the world.
The solution is being trialled in Finland now and is expected to provide much shorter wait times before a customer can be put in touch with an agent. Should synergies between Feelingstream and Liv be explored, Nordea might well be on a winner and on the verge of reinventing customer services!
A digital-first hotel strategy at Nordic Choice Hotels
Experience in hospitality often leads to extreme emotional responses. One might be far from their family for business purposes and see it as a stressful burden, while on the other hand, someone else could be on their honeymoon, at their dream destination. Many businesses have been distinguishing themselves over the years, delivering stand-out, unique and memorable experiences.
Nordic Choice Hotels has committed $29 million to invest in their digital strategy, enabling their Clarion, Comfort and Quality hotels to stand out from the competition with a distinctive blend of physical and digital experiences. The architect making this transformation happen is NCH’s Chief Digital Officer, Lisa Farrar.
In August 2016, one of the hotels (Clarion Hotel Amaranten in Stockholm) within the estate reportedly became the first in the world to offer suites with a smart assistant to support them. The Amazon Echo found in the rooms is being enhanced with functions that are tailored to the hospitality universe.
Customer Engagement Strategies
But this is only the tip of the iceberg and NHC is only at the start of making their vision happen. Among the elements that have been revealed to the public, Nordic Choice wants your phone to be your hotel key (already released by Starwood Hotels and Hilton), to provide you a reception-free experience (like the Hotel Buddy in Germany), a voice-controlled room environment and room service, notably thanks to their own iteration of the Amazon Echo.
Farrar also believes technology should facilitate an increasingly more personal experience, with the room having your personal pictures and clothes of your size awaiting you. Obviously, a personal experience is already made possible through services such as Cachet World (a platform offering, among other features, the ability for guest to personalise their hotel rooms by purchasing add-ons such as designer bedding or beauty essentials) in high-end hotels, but the customer is still required to contribute and tell the hotel what they want.
There is little doubt that the latest technologies, such as AI, present the potential to deliver all the above in a seamless and delightful way – and that’s exactly what Nordic Choice seems to be aiming towards; they clearly are investing the required resources to make this vision happen.
Keep in mind that Farrar only started her journey last year, but it clearly is a journey to follow and keep up with, as it has the potential to inspire customer experience professionals across industries.
One thing seems clear, Nordic companies such as Nordic Choice Hotels and Nordea are prime examples of paving the way in harnessing AI for differentiated and enhanced customer experience. This simply is customer experience next practice in the making.