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How to buy conversational AI: Interview with FedEx’s Paul Pugal

December 6, 2023


At PolyAI VOX 2023, Paul Pugal, the Managing Director of Customer Experience for FedEx, UK, and Ireland, sat down with PolyAI’s Brad Stein to share his approach to CX, customer service, and his journey deploying a PolyAI voice assistant.

On making a decision to automate

“In a large organization like FedEx, you need to have a need,” says Paul. “Sometimes a burning platform is a good platform to try new things, at speed!

“So when an issue suddenly came our way, we had the opportunity to try something new and do it quickly. Of course, you need executive sponsorship, and it takes a lot of pushing, but you also need a little bit of good luck to get a project like this moving.

For Paul, this opportunity arose during the COVID pandemic when more customers were calling in and more agents were calling out sick.

“The traditional way of solving this would have been to use external outsourcers,” says Paul. “But during COVID, we were working with Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) who had no idea of call volumes, or how many people had –or had not– renewed their passports, so was impossible to forecast for external resources. So we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try and bring in some new technologies.”

Navigating challenges and stakeholder management

“Managing stakeholders in a large organization comes with its challenges,” says Paul. “We faced numerous hurdles. IT, in particular, had strong opinions on the technologies we should adopt.

“COVID had brought a sense of urgency. We had a lot of things we needed to do very quickly, pushing us to adopt a non-traditional path as volumes went through the roof. We had to do things differently, and our stakeholders were all very intrigued by how we could make this happen.”

On taking the plunge

Thanks to previous generations of voice IVRs that sound robotic and often fail to understand callers, there’s naturally some skepticism around the promise of voice AI. With that in mind, we asked Paul what gave him and his team the confidence to move forward with the project.

“Before engaging with PolyAI, we did some homework, talking to various big providers like Nuance, Salesforce, and Genesys,” says Paul.

“What stood out during our conversation was PolyAI’s organizational flexibility and impressive language capabilities. Our initial pilot for the UK passport office wasn’t intended to be the final destination. We needed a European solution, which meant the need for at least a dozen, if not more, languages.

“With the integration between TNT Express and FedEx Express, we were bringing lots of organizations together at the same time and trying to standardize. We wanted to move forward with standardization in a multi-language form.”

On balancing CX and operational efficiency

“Customers are still using the telephone,” says Paul. “Everyone says we can move them all to online channels, and everyone is happy, but that is not the case.

“A big part of customer satisfaction is keeping things simple – giving customers quick, simple answers. To do that, we needed to make sure we could understand every caller’s intent and get them to an appropriate agent if and when that was needed. Experience was always critical, and it was one of the big question marks we had around what we could do and how far we could push it. We exceeded our target metrics for the Passport Office customer, emphasizing customer satisfaction through straightforward solutions.”

Stay tuned for part two of the interview, where Paul discusses the challenges of scaling the voice assistant across multiple languages and countries.

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