Indian Banks Should Welcome Virtual Agents in 2017

Date:   Sunday , January 29, 2017

Headquartered in the U.S., [24]7 is a customer engagement platform that assists several hundred million visitors across all channels, and engages in 1.5 billion conversations annually, most of which are automated.

If Indian banks were asked to make New Year resolution, I hope they all commit themselves to bettering their customer experience! Clearly, banks have a lot of opportunities to enhance their customer experience and have a lot riding on it. This should be their priority for multiple reasons. Competition in the banking sector is intense and will become fiercer with emergence of payment banks in the near future. Further, customer stickiness is low as it doesn’t cost much for a customer to move from one bank to the other. Therefore, in addition to acquiring more customers, it is imperative for the banks to hold on to the existing customers. Banks must strive to become one-stop-shop for all their banking and financial needs and increase their customer Life Time Value (LTV) by deepening their relationship with them.

Banks have multiple touch points with customers, both inbound and outbound. While a significant number of customers start their journey on the websites and apps, they mostly end up reaching call centers to seek clarifications or additional information and very rarely complete the non-trivial transactions online. Given the scale of their operations, banks are looking at staggering call center costs while their customers spend long waiting times on IVR which irks them to no end. Banks are also losing out on creating a differentiated customer service experience and opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell meaningfully, by intervening at the right moment.

But banks need not despair. The technology to overcome these challenges and unravel new opportunities to delight customers already exists in the form of chatbots a.k.a. Virtual Agents powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Decreasing cost of computing power, availability of huge amount of data, quantum improvements in deep machine learning algorithms have made the Virtual Agents far more intelligent, sophisticated and affordable. We are not talking about simple bots which can only handle basic Q&A; we are talking about far more evolved systems which understand natural language, can tap into right knowledge base and keep getting smarter by learning from the past interactions, to constantly improve their responses for similar queries in the future. Banks can take the customer experience to the next level as the Virtual Agents can offer a great deal of accuracy, consistency and convenience across several channels.

Timing matters when it comes to better customer experience as well. Banks could delight their customers by intervening at the right time when they are on the website looking for information. For example, based on the customer journey and past data, the Virtual Agent could pop a comment: ‘I see you are looking up credit card options. Can I suggest you a few?’ Smart information cards that pop alongside the chat window could help a customer compare the features of different credit cards that she is eligible for and conclude the transaction without any human intervention. In a normal scenario, such a customer would have ended up calling the bank, braved the long wait-time, repeated her questions, and compared the different card features in her head. The effort involved would probably turn her off and she might end up postponing the transaction.

Consider another scenario: A customer enters a question: ‘Can I use my card when I am in U.S.?’ in the chat window. In addition to providing the precise answer to the customer’s question, the Virtual Agent can automatically recommend that the customer is eligible for a higher credit limit and can increase the limit by simply signing up an online form at a click of a button. The Virtual Agent can accurately locate the right moment when the customer may consider increasing the card limit – before the impending travel! It can understand the real intent, deliver the correct answer, and top it up with a highly-relevant o?er that’s hard to ignore based on the customer data.

Customers can be transferred from one channel to another more suitable channel seamlessly, based on their need. For example, they can be transferred from an IVR channel to a Virtual Agent and from there to a human agent or vice-versa. But it is imperative that such hand-offs are smooth and the context of the transaction until then is not lost. While pervasive adoption of AI across all functions and processes will take time, banks can give their AI journey a head start in 2017 by introducing AI based Virtual Agents to redefine customer engagement, and stay ahead of competition.