A decade ago, if you had asked someone how they felt about talking to a machine, the answer might well have been negative. Yet, today, we happily follow directions given by the voice on Google Maps. While that voice is undoubtedly the most well-known and widely used Chatbot around, others like Siri and Alexa are not far behind in terms of usage by the common people, across the world. In fact, according to Gartner, 65 percent of smartphone owners already use voice assistants on their phone.
Simply put, Chatbots are software programs that we can interact with through text or voice. Corporates too are slowly but surely adopting Chatbots to solve their everyday customer service problems. This is especially true of financial institutions that are looking to build innovative customer experiences using Chatbots, virtual assistants, and voice. Chatbots are also being used to cut costs in job roles that can be automated.
The technology is here now, and the implementation of the technology does not require a significant overhaul of existing systems. Yet, when thinking through applications, businesses should keep the following points in mind:
• While there are several bot frameworks available, it does not mean that a business should build a bot themselves, place it on their website, and call it a day.
• Chatbots need to be integrated into the operational fabric of the business, and therefore, a clear roadmap needs to be created: What business challenge is the bot solving, how does it receive data, how does it handle exceptions, what is the customer experience like and more.
• To really become “smart,” Chatbots need to be combined with other technologies like Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, and Sentiment Analysis to enhance their ability to understand plain language, text commands and more complex emotions in order to make consumers feel like they are not just interacting with a machine but an emphatic assistant that can solve their problem as well if not better than a human.
• These are the techniques that will allow businesses to move away from automated voice prompting systems that historically have provided a poor customer experience and caused such frustration for consumers.
• Conversational AI is a way to better engage in a society where “Messaging-based applications are beginning to be the norm among users, particularly millennials… and voice (both speech-to-text and text-to-speech) [has] grown significantly since 2Q14.” *
For bankers contemplating how to implement a Chatbot, it is imperative that they think of "Conversational Commerce" as a way to turn dialogue into a more meaningful discussion with individuals and businesses.
Financial institutions primarily are looking for Chatbots to enhance their communication value-proposition across three key audiences:
1. Existing Customers: Servicing existing customers by helping them perform secure transactions and providing personalized information that they might otherwise get from traditional channels like mobile and online. Providing frictionless product onboarding identified through cross-sell and up-sell propensity analysis.
2. Prospective Customers: Helping and advising new prospects or potential customers on the products and services offered and assisting them to apply and onboard in a secure and compliant process.
3. Employees: Providing an intuitive and smart channel for helping internal staff get support for such things as IT, HR queries/requests and access to information that assists them to do their job better.
Financial institutions already have heartily embraced Chatbots across a number of use cases. Some of the Chatbot solutions already deployed by large financial institutions include:
Banking: Banks like Santander are currently using Chatbots to help customers find out their account balance, transfer money to friends at home or abroad and understand if they are on budget for the month. These customer-facing Chatbots tend to deal with most low-value everyday banking transactions while also facilitating services for onboarding more profitable products and services.
Trading: Is one of the most sought-after use cases for Chatbots to serve as virtual assistants to help support front-office trading activity. Market participants are interested in using Chatbots powered by real-time market data to provide information on equities, commodities, FX, or fund prices delivered using natural language that is engaging and personal. Both traders and investors want a bot that can give an update on how an investment portfolio is doing, what changes should be made to realign the investment strategy or execute orders like buying shares.
Mortgages: To help automate the mortgage loan origination process, Chatbots can be used to answer questions about mortgage facilities and integrate the responses into required forms, rather than going through a tedious tick box exercise. Businesses today are typically looking for Chatbots to create a straight-through, digital process until the home loan is received. After the loan origination, banks are also looking at how Chatbots can provide assistance with ongoing account maintenance related to everything from checking the mortgage account balance to making monthly payments and refinancing. As situations arise that require human assistance, these Chatbots should also be enabled to hot transfer customers to representatives that are already informed of their need (vetted by the Chatbot) in order to offer a higher-level of customer service.
Insurance: The insurance industry is also seeing a rapid wave of innovation as part of the current InsureTech movement, and Chatbots are playing a key role for customer facing application, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) around a number of processes including claims, driver verification, legal claims, and other business challenges. Chatbots are also being used in the insurance industry to provide advice and support to customers who want to understand more about a firm’s insurance protection products and services. These service bots can guide a customer through a range of insurance products that meet their specific requirements and then automate the process to provide coverage through a policy that has been underwritten.
With regulatory and operational cost-pressures driving change on one side and the desire to innovate on the other, we are witnessing a rapid rate of evolution in the BFSI industry. As part of that change, Chatbots and other technologies powered by Artificial Intelligence will be a key technique employed to help drive those efficiencies and accelerate the pace of innovation. Given Chatbots’ ability to help in both of these areas, and that fact that according to an Oracle study, 80 per cent of businesses in France, the Netherlands, South Africa and the U.K. have reported already incorporating or planning on adding Chatbots; we can confidently say that 2017 is the year of the Bot.
And, the reason the time of the Chatbot is now is because customer experience is at the centre of most businesses, which are looking to strengthen their digital capabilities to remain competitive and differentiate themselves in a saturated market.
*Gartner’s, Conversational AI to Shake up your Technical and Business Worlds Report, September 2016 - This indicates consumers don’t want to talk to a human, but they also don’t want to talk to a machine. They might, however, want to talk to a machine that feels like a human. The same report predicts "Conversational AI-first" will supersede "cloud-first, mobile-first" as the most important, high-level imperative for the next 10 years.”
The author is Co-founder and CEO of Synechron, a global consulting and technology organization providing innovative solutions to the financial services industry through its three main business focus areas: digital, business consulting, and technology.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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