As a 100% renewable electricity generator and a retailer of electricity, gas, broadband and mobile services, Mercury is focussed on delivering its promise of “wonderful energy solutions” for New Zealanders at home, at work and on the move.

With over 780,000 customer connections, it’s an enormous job taking care of the tens of thousands of enquiries Mercury receives each month. The busy customer engagement team answers questions about all sorts of topics, from the basics like account balance queries through to more complex matters like medical dependency on electricity.

The great chatbot bake off

The Mercury team thought that a chatbot could have some significant benefits for its customers.

“Our motivation was not only to give customers more channels to contact us, but also to take the simple questions away from our agents,” says Sharon Carvalho, Product Owner at Mercury. “The question we wanted to answer was: What can a bot take away, so our agents can focus on having deeper and more complex conversations?”

To answer that question, in 2019 Mercury went out to its suppliers requesting their participation in a ‘bake off’. The suppliers would bring their showstopper chatbot solutions to Mercury for judging, and the winning option would rapidly be implemented on the Mercury website. The winning bid was a joint effort from Datacom and Nuance; Datacom’s longstanding experience and expertise in virtual assistant technology proved enormously helpful.

From 500 conversations a month to 5000

After the bake off, the chatbot was enhanced and aligned to the Mercury brand. An early iteration of the avatar included a potato with wires coming out of its head, but it quickly changed into the user-favourite Hiko, a stylised yellow lightning bolt. Its name, Hiko, is reo Māori for lightning, power, and means ‘to flash’.

“I think it’s one of cutest little avatars you’ve ever seen, and people definitely engage with it,” says Adrienne Merlo, Datacom’s Practice Manager for Conversational AI.

Adrienne says Datacom and Mercury developed great working relationships very quickly and worked closely to achieve a rapid deployment after just six months.

“Straight off the bat there was early uptake, with 566 conversations during October 2019 when it launched. At that point it was not as robust as the solution we have today, but we all wanted to get it up on the site and learn from users, so we could build out that experience.”


Screenshot of what Hiko can do

At first Hiko was available on a limited number of pages, providing ‘level one’ responses to frequently asked questions. After a few months of learning and improving based on user interactions, Hiko was rolled out across the whole website and could answer more specific queries.

Hiko’s use continued to grow steadily, but it was during the pandemic lockdowns when demand reached its peak. In March and April of 2020, there were 10,700 interactions with the Hiko chatbot. The results were impressive, with Hiko able to provide a final answer in 9,204 of those conversations – a massive 85% completion rate.

While demand fell away slightly after Covid, Hiko continues to draw in new and repeat users, handling between 4,000 and 5,000 queries each month.

Authenticated accounts allow for personalised responses

By working closely together, Mercury and Datacom have been able to improve Hiko’s responses, broadening the chatbot’s usefulness.

Initially Hiko couldn’t do anything account related, but now with authenticated accounts it can do a lot more, including provide customers with personalised information such as their account balance or invoice due date.

Hiko can now recognise the intent of the customer’s writing in 95% of instances, and in 86% of cases can provide the answers they need. Customer feedback has been positive with comments such as ‘It knew exactly what I needed,’ or ‘It was spot on – so helpful and polite’.

Screenshot of Hiko on website

By resolving thousands of basic queries each month, Hiko takes an enormous workload away from the customer engagement centre, cuts wait times for callers and means agents field fewer ‘admin’ questions, leaving them to focus more on having deeper and more complex conversations.

It has also proved invaluable in supporting Mercury’s launch of Mercury Broadbanda wonderful new home of rewards and the recent rollout of changes to its payment terms – all of which drove customers to the Mercury website to ask questions.

“It’s been great working with Datacom,” says Sharon. “They’re as passionate about Hiko as we are. They’ve been with us all the way along the journey and we’ve really enjoyed working with the team.”

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