How Fortum created an automated and personalized customer service at scale

Fortum has always been at the forefront of exploring new technologies. This time they wanted to build a Virtual Assistant (VA) that in the long term could become the customers personal assistant for Fortum related errands.

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Challenge: Limited capacity and high customer expectations

Fortum has for years provided great service to its customers. With over 30,000 monthly inquiries in Finland alone and a growing customer base, they work continuously to provide great customer service in an effective way. Fortum, like many other companies, experienced that their customers, while still appreciating human contact, were looking to solve their problems on their own at the time convenient to them. Fortum was determined to establish a new channel that would be able to serve customers around the clock, in an automated and personalized way at scale.

As curiosity is one of Fortum’s core values, they have always been at the forefront of exploring new technologies. This time they wanted to build a Virtual Assistant (VA) that in the long term could become the customer's personal assistant for Fortum related errands. The VA would provide personalized service to existing customers as well as recruit new customers.

The demands that Fortum had for its VA posed several challenges. When you build a solution that will drive cost reduction and sales in an automated way, how do you balance that with creating great customer experience? This is a kind of challenge that we at Avo were eager to help Fortum solve!

About Fortum

  • Fortum is a leading, international clean energy company that develops and offers solutions within electricity, heating, cooling as well as solutions to improve resource efficiency. More people are taking an active stand in the way they buy, use and live and choose environmentally friendly options. Fortum’s ambition is to engage its customers and the society to become a part of the change for a cleaner world. As that is said, customer satisfaction is their top priority in implementing their company strategy and growing as a business.

The collaboration between Fortum and Avo started in May 2019. Being an expert on new technology implementation, we know that there are a few critical success factors we needed to establish to create sustainable value. We proceeded as follows:

1. Establish ownership and long-term commitment

One of the main success factors from our experience is to establish a team with clear roles, allocation, and ownership of the initiative. The key is to ensure that commitment experienced during the project continues after the solution is up and running. Creating a new customer channel is not just about solution specialists developing an intelligent VA. They need the support of business unit owners, communications, IT, and management. During the project, the team was spread over three countries and five cities – keeping everyone informed and engaged was crucial to ensure fast decision making, development, and support.

2. Establish goals and metrics

Before you can succeed, you need to agree on what success looks like. Too many companies struggle to measure the value that automation initiatives create and a lot of this is due to lack of goal definition and measurement.

As one of the first steps in the project, we defined goals that the VA needs to achieve for it to be considered a success. The VA would create the following value:

  • 10% reduction in customer inquiries by phone
  • 1% increase in new sales triggered by VA
  • Customer satisfaction on the same level as other channels

All goals have defined metrics and owners that analyze and report on those. The progress of the VA is continuously visualized in dashboards to ensure that stakeholders can get an updated status on demand.

Measuring progress and making information available in the organization ensures engagement and ownership over time as well as the needed support to continue the development of the solution.

3. Build a solution that supports your business strategy

To build a successful VA, you need to focus on two things:

  • Understanding the customers’ needs as well as the current and ideal customer journey
  • Solving the customer’s problems end-to-end to remove the need to reach out through other channels and create excellent experiences

The goal of the virtual assistant is to solve customer inquiries efficiently and completely. To achieve this, we identified high-volume inquiries which we could resolve end-to-end through integrations with the back-end systems through available APIs. Customers can log in to access information and perform tasks through natural dialog with the VA.

Instead of creating a general FAQ bot, we focused on creating a full self-service solution within specific areas. This approach ensures great customer experience and a high-resolution rate. With 9 different API integrations, we were able to automate 13 processes that were previously performed by the customer service representatives. Fortum’s virtual assistant helps customers to handle most of the needs they have regarding payments and billing, whether it is to postpone a payment or to switch to e-invoice. The VA also generates and qualifies leads which are then converted to customers by the skilled salespeople in Fortum. The solution is multilingual and is built for scaling in the Nordics with a high degree of reuse.

  • Chatbots and virtual assistants (VA)

    An intelligent virtual assistant is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. Avo use the term virtual assistant to show that it is a smart chatbot solution that can do more than act as an automated FAQ.
Avo has from day 1 in the project proven to be the right partner and a great strategic fit for Fortum when it comes to chatbot development. They have proven good understanding of our business and daily issues, but also of our long term strategic needs and goals to be achieved. Doing this, they have adapted the way of work, project management and status presentations in accordance. They have held our hand in driving bot development, with a clear objective to make (Fortum) self sufficient in developing the bot ourselves moving forward. They also dare to challenge us and make sure we keep on our feet in order to deliver from our side. All in all, Avo Consulting has been a great partner, delivering to their promise and providing a lot of energy and fun to the mixture!
Kristofer Murby, Global Digital Services Manager in Fortum


Six months after the initial launch, Fortum’s virtual assistant has achieved the defined goals and is creating continuous business value:

  • The VA automates more than 10% of incoming calls within its scope
  • It performs over 4 FTE equivalent of customer service representative work
  • The phone queues are reduced and the agents have more time to help customers with more complex inquiries
  • The VA generates and qualifies leads resulting in several thousand EUR in sales

The virtual assistant initiative and the results achieved so far are promising and Fortum’s ambition to create a personal assistant for its customers will continue to be realized going forward. Scaling the VA to several countries, making it proactive, and increasing the areas that the VA can help with is on the roadmap and to be realized in the near future.

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Julija Pauriene
Director / Head of Analytics & AI