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Can artificial intelligence, automation take customer experience to the next level

Digital transformation is changing the way banks talk to customers, but forward-looking financial institutions in the region are looking at how they can deploy artificial intelligence and automation to transform the customer experience. By  Danny Drew, Avaya’s Managing Director for South Africa.

When was the last time you actually visited your bank branch? For most people, the answer is likely to be somewhere in between the last time you had to do a major financial transaction, such as applying for a loan or a mortgage, and… you just can’t remember.

The way consumers interact with banks has fundamentally changed over the past few years as trends like mobile and online banking have become increasingly important.

If anything, these trends are accelerating. A recent study conducted by Avaya and BT shows that the number of consumers using mobile apps for financial services over the last few years has more than trebled, while web chat has also significantly increased in popularity.

This has been triggered by an ‘anytime, anywhere’ digital culture as consumers and businesses demand financial management on their own terms. Of course, this is creating its own challenges – banks are having to invest considerable resources to meet their customers’ increased demands. With 89% of organisations today expecting to compete primarily on customer experience – up from 36% just five years ago – meeting those enhanced expectations isn’t really optional any more.

One area  banks and other financial institutions are increasingly exploring here in the region is increased use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI)  – not so much to replace human agents but to help free up their time to allow them to provide the personalized service customers still like and want.

Automation in customer experience is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers – so we don’t have to repeat ourselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organization.

Accordingly, banks are increasingly “employing” chatbots to help take some of the stain. Chatbots funnel and streamline conversations, making contact centres more efficient and responsive. They can provide standard replies that are appropriate and informative, and once the conversation becomes more complex, or a more in-depth solution is required, a human agent can step in and help.

fa4a8347When it comes to tapping the full potential of chatbots and AI, however, we’ve really only just begun. Visitors to the Avaya stand at the recent GITEX Technology Week event in Dubai were able to see the future of customer experience in the banking sector, with a showcase of the potential benefits of an AI solution. Our “Noor” virtual assistant demonstrated how banks can combine a range of technologies, including biometrics for identification and analytics to predict behaviour patterns, to go beyond basic service.

More than just answering basic queries, the Noor solution helps to anticipate and articulate customer desires – so if a customer has been talking on social media about liking a new model of sports car, then the bank could approach them about financing purchasing one.

And how about the bank takes it a stage further and co-operates with the car dealership to arrange a test drive for them? Banks today are re-engineering themselves as next-generation service providers, extending their relationship with customers beyond basic financial transactions to help in every area of their customers’ lives. By cross-selling services and offerings from other companies, banks can provide real value to consumers, making interactions more engaging and personal – and more lucrative for the bank as well. After all, if your customer is going to be these services from somebody, why not ensure you are involved?

With a young tech-savvy population and some of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world, then it’s hardly surprising banks are keen to deploy mobile banking applications. Some banks are exploring taking this further and providing their customers with a platform for a wider range of transactions. So for instance, a bank could have one mobile application that can be used for whatever the customer chooses— booking show tickets, hiring a car, or any number of other, similar transactions. This way, instead of going through 10 different apps, a customer only needs to go to one and channel out from there – which means the bank keeps their attention for longer.

The business benefits are clear. Companies that can keep customers satisfied, engaged and coming back have a competitive advantage. And by taking data the company already has and putting it into the decision-making process, they can make smarter decisions that enhance the customer journey in terms of speed and quality of service.

Achieving this with yesterday’s technologies is extremely difficult, which is why the banking industry should not rely on old processes to achieve new results, as outdated contact centres and communications platforms weren’t built to support modern interactions. While the data surrounding these interactions may be stored and possibly be relevant at some further point, it can’t be qualified to inform intelligent decision-making. This is why digital transformation has become a critical differentiator.

Using Omni channel customer experience technology, banks can track a customer’s activity on any channel and register it as part of the customer journey. Based on insights contained in this data, contact centre teams can proactively anticipate a customer’s intentions and instead of greeting them with a generic recorded IVR message, can generate a personalised opener, for example: “I see your recent transaction was not successful, would you like me to connect you with an advisor to discuss this?” Smart apps can reach out while the customer is active online or on their banking app, using proactive chat or even offering video interaction.

Banks that fail to extend their service offerings in this way are likely to find themselves struggling in future. It all goes back to meeting the customer’s expectations – and exceeding them.

Banking and financial-services providers have more data than any other industry at their disposal – it’s time to make the most of this, for the benefit of customers themselves.

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