This year has seen the rapid acceleration of the Work from Home (WFH) model as businesses rushed to accommodate the need for social distancing and reduced interpersonal contact.

By Harkrishan Singh, director, application development at In2IT

For the banking industry, which has traditionally been a bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face industry, this has been a particular challenge. Not only have they had to adapt their own workforce, they have also had to accommodate the changing behaviours of customers, who no longer subscribe to the 9 to 5 model of working.

Chatbot technology had huge potential to transform banking in this increasingly new digital age, helping banks to maintain customer service while minimising physical contact, and effectively streamlining processes.

A challenge of pandemic proportions

Banks have traditionally been built on a model involving networks of branches, designed to be physical interface points for customers. Many of their services required front-end banking customer support teams, who help customers with queries and banking services. Although certain elements of banking have become digital over the years, the majority of interactions still took place within the branch environment, until the Covid-19 pandemic happened.

When lockdown occurred, front-end banking teams were still available to assist customers in branches, but many customers did not want to physically avail themselves of banking services unless absolutely critical. However, customer issues still needed to be addressed.

Banks were faced with the challenge of not only having to support a WFH model themselves, but also adapt their customer services to a remote customer base. Services suddenly had to be provided digitally, via teleconferencing, mobile and net banking services, as well as intelligent digital workers like chatbots.

Automated and intelligent solutions

Chatbots form part of the evolution of conversational banking, a movement that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create digital customer support that emulates human-like conversations with the customers. Using chatbots, banks can serve their customers effectively, without interpersonal or physical contact, and importantly without the need to expend large amounts capital and manpower.

Chatbots can automate a number of tasks, which not only assist customers but also improve efficiency. For example, chatbots can be used to answer frequently asked questions, and to perform Know Your Customer (KYC) functions for onboarding.

Customers can also use a chatbot to check their account balance, block a lost or stolen card, obtain a transaction history, update their details, report issues or make complaints, check on the status of complaints or applications and more.

Taking this a step further, a chatbot can also help customers to select the right products based on their needs, and to book an appointment with a customer service consultant should their query need to be resolved by a live agent.

This all helps to reduce foot traffic in branches, which reduces health risks during the pandemic, while at the same time improving efficiency and customer satisfaction, as well as providing services outside of traditional banking hours. It also reduces the burden on contact centres, by taking over mundane, everyday queries that do not actively need human intervention to resolve them.

A natural fit into a digital transformation strategy

Unlike previous digital transformation solutions such as USSD codes and mobile applications, chatbots are intuitive and seemingly more personal, making them simpler for less tech-savvy users to understand. Interacting with a chatbot is as simple as typing in or asking a question, which is similar to interacting with a live agent, and the bot will understand the context of the query and respond accordingly. This frees up live agents to respond to queries that require human-level intellect.

More than 100 banks and other financial services organisations across the globe are leveraging conversational banking via chatbots. This includes iPal by ICICI Bank in India, KAI at DBS Bank in Singapore, and Erica at Bank of America and Stacy at Standard Chartered in the USA. Closer to home, Standard Bank has implemented a chatbot service via WhatsApp, which has been highly successful.

Chatbots are an economical solution that helps to resolve customer queries quickly while increasing efficiency. This means that time to resolve (TTR) customer queries can be greatly reduced along with the workload of live support teams, as queries of a simple to medium-level complexity nature can be confidently handled by chatbots.

Chatbots can also be scaled to support any number of concurrent customers, depending on requirements. They are the ideal solution to minimising human contact while maximising customer service and efficiency in a post-pandemic world, and an integral part of banking’s digital transformation strategy.