Chatbots and the customer experience

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As our financial needs and capabilities evolve over time, new financial questions will be posed throughout our lives .

Whether it’s opening a new account, transferring money, asking for advice or trying to save, everyone has had something they have wanted to ask their bank at some point. The way we do this has transformed over time as well. From in person appointments to telephone banking and mobile apps, banks have always sought to stay one step ahead and use whatever technology is available to improve the customer experience (CX).

Entire organisations have built themselves around helping to solve the CX question, with analyst houses Gartner, Ovum and Forrester all releasing regular CX reports that identify the best new applications of technology.

One type of technology that already exists across many banking applications is chatbots, and these virtual helpers are expected to become a bigger part of our lives as customers. In fact, earlier in the year Gartner predicted chatbots are set to be integrated across a quarter of all customer service and support operations around the world by 2020.

In line with this prediction, Commonwealth Bank launched ‘Ceba’ this year, a chatbot designed to assist customers with more than 200 banking tasks. Even Facebook has been getting in on the chatbot hype by encouraging banks to offer automated customer service and support on Messenger.

The challenge with today’s chatbots

Chatbots are nothing new, and the benefits of existing applications are widely known. These automated helpers free up human resources which saves time and money, can be deployed easily and scaled up accordingly during times of demand, and they can answer simple requests below the skill level of human operators. So far, so good.

The problem is that few people will have much good to say about chatbots. Having to repeat the same question in ten different ways, being taken to the wrong department and an (unsurprisingly) robotic feel to proceedings means dealing with bots is often an unenjoyable experience. There is also the question of trust, especially when talking about money and when letting what seems like a slightly smarter but less endearing Microsoft Clippy give advice on our finances. Thankfully, the latest developments in cognitive applications are going to have a big impact on what we think about chatbots.

Revolutionising the chatbot experience

We’re seeing a significant shift in the technology underpinning chatbots that will take them to a whole new level of performance and interaction. The increased availability of data and cognitive machine learning capabilities will radically change our expectations of chatbots and how consumers view their relationship with them.

Increasing levels of autonomy, alongside the ability to handle complex tasks beyond even human abilities, will see bots take an even greater role within banking applications across the customer journey touch points. Through introducing conversational UI into the applications, banks will be able to successfully create natural conversational flow, alongside ‘training’ the chatbot like a person with a set of goals, examples and data from existing backend systems.

What do we get out of it?

Chatbots can have a transformative effect on banks aiming to enhance the customer experience and improve operational efficiency. Here are a few examples:

1. Retaining the impatient customer

The time from when a potential new customer initially accesses a website to leaving it is crucial. Being unable to find the right answer or section of a website quickly can result in an individual leaving the website frustrated, and into the arms of a competitor who can answer their questions quicker. By building in a cognitive chatbot with the ability to answer questions not only quickly but smartly, the chances of the customer being sent down a rabbit hole decrease.

2. A helping hand

Few people enjoy saving, fewer still are very good at it. Cognitive chatbots can help make payments, improve existing spending habits, check balances. They can provide personalised advice throughout the month to help keep us out of the dark. It is the focus on personalisation that is crucial here, as rather than getting one advice-fits-all approach, customers feel they are receiving the same level of advice as if they were talking to their bank manager.

3. No time wasted

One of the most frustrating CX issues is handling customer requests. It’s frustrating for the customer and it’s frustrating for the banks that have to spend time sorting through emails and phone queues. The benefit of cognitive chatbots is that they are available 24/7 and can provide smart responses quickly. They also possess the ability to remember previous conversations with customers and evolve as they talk more to understand the customer’s personality. This improves the user experience and makes the customer less likely to require an in-person or phone call follow-up.

It’s impossible to read any financial news publication these days without seeing active discussion around how technology is fundamentally changing the conventional relationship banks have with their customers.

Chatbots are going to be the gatekeepers in this changing dynamic for the sector. As cognitive learning gives them abilities beyond that of humans, they will become even more responsible for ensuring customers stick around.

Mark Troester is Vice President of Strategy at Progress

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