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Enhancing Online Banking: Designing Chatbots

hand holding smart device with network of multi experience interactions surrounding it

Chatbots have made incredible advances in recent years, spurred by rapid developments in AI and machine learning technology. Chatbots are no longer the clunky, glitchy website accessories they once were; today, they’re able to have intelligent conversations and perform valuable functions. Thanks to those advances, there has been exponential growth in the number of brands offering chatbots, including for mobile apps. This trend has accelerated in 2020 and extends to online banking, where some very exciting developments have been taking place.

We recently participated in an informative panel discussion that covered recent research from Informa Financial Intelligence about trends for best-in-class chatbots, an overview of our live engagement technology and implementation best practices, and first-hand accounts of implementation strategies from NatWest Group and Eastern Bank. Below are some highlights from the discussion. You can view the full discussion here.

What can a chatbot do?

Several different kinds of chatbots exist in the banking sector. We can define those types, briefly, as follows:

Help and support: these bots are often the first point of contact between the customer and the bank. They typically help with frequently asked questions and simple queries.

Transactional: these bots can perform simple online banking transactions, like checking a customer’s balance, sparing customers the frustration of waiting to speak to a live agent.

Financial virtual assistant: help customers manage their money. These bots can track customer spending and can answer some questions about financial products; they can also point customers towards the right place to get help with more complex issues.

Full virtual assistant: the least commonly deployed of the banking chatbots to date. The full virtual assistant is proactive, rather than reactive. Most importantly, this bot acts like a one-stop shop for customers, taking them through every step of understanding and using a financial product.

Every bank is different, and any move towards building chatbots should start with a thorough consideration of the customers’ unique needs and the bank’s digital capabilities. Some banks often find they are best-served with agile help and support and transactional bots that address a very specific use case that is causing friction for bank employees or customers. Large banks may deploy virtual assistants and be working towards creating a full virtual assistant to best meet their customers’ needs. Regardless of the starting point, AI-driven chatbots with deep learning technologies that continuously learn from multiple data sources allow rapid advances in chatbot deployment by digital banking teams 

The personal touch

This may sound counter-intuitive, but in fact, deploying chatbots can actually help banks to create a more personalized experience for their customers. This works in a few ways. 

Chatbots optimize call center resources by resolving basic queries quickly. When bots can handle routine questions, live agents are freed up to work on complicated customer engagements, or to help in situations that truly benefit from the human touch. 

For smaller banks, in particular, reducing call center queries might be the most important thing that a well-designed chatbot can do. Relieving pressure on call centers , especially as fewer people are using in-branch services, can make a huge difference to how effectively a small bank can provide satisfying customer service.

Chatbots can also improve the long-term customer experience. Ideally, a chatbot should be understood as part of a larger ecosystem, or as one element of the bank’s broader interaction with customers. In this sense, chatbots are a great way to learn more about the customer’s needs and preferences. Bots have an amazing ability to engage and save information across different channels, creating a fuller picture of the customer.

For NatWest, for example, chatbot-driven data collection allows them to enhance the customer experience by offering just the right services to each customer. The bank’s overall goal is to continue using data from bots to personalize the banking experience for every customer.

Meeting customers’ needs

Banks report that customers are now expecting the same level of interaction from banking sites as they’ve grown accustomed to receiving on retail shopping sites. So, as retailers continue to roll out ever more intelligent virtual assistants, customers are being more comfortable with and are likely to want the same level of experience from banks.

But what does that experience look like? Above all, it looks like continuing to offer customers as much choice as possible. Chatbots should never be the customer’s only option; rather, it’s crucial to offer customers the option to speak to a live agent when needed. This is key for building trust.

Chatbots are also not a set-and-forget technology; they require training. If they are to be an effective part of the banking experience, bots need to be continuously taught and tweaked. Conversational analysts will need to work, well beyond the bots’ launch, to allow chatbots to answer more questions and build on new abilities.

What does your organization need most to successfully develop a bot?

As with most webinars, we asked the audience for their feedback. The answer to this question sheds light on where many banking organizations are in their chatbot implementation journey.  Lacking the internal expertise or buy-in from upper management, many digital leaders are wondering how to start.

Online customer experience technology is experiencing a rapid surge in popularity, and it’s being deployed at what feels like lightning pace. It’s important that digital leaders don’t allow chatbots to turn into just a website accessory or another box to check on the tech to-do list. The right chatbot should deliver real business results that can be proven with metrics. Identifying the one or two use cases that are causing the most friction for bank employees and customers, using specific chatbots to streamline these engagements, and continuously optimizing them can bring real results almost immediately.  And, even the savviest digital leader should have the support and guidance of a trusted partner who can advise them on how to best deploy secure, convenient, high-performing chatbot technology.  

Final thoughts

In order to create a chatbot that works for your bank and your customers, you’ll need to do a few key things. First, decide exactly what you’re looking for from the bot: how will it support customer needs? what tasks will it fulfill or process will it streamline? how will it bring value to customers? Second, make sure that your team is on board with this new project: what business results will it bring? what metrics will be used to measure performance?  And finally, select a partner that can provide best practices advice and thoughtful implementation guidance based on your specific use cases throughout the project, and even beyond the launch of your bot as you continuously innovate and optimize.