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Shall We Chat? The State of Automated Chatbot Services

A seismic change in how financial services are being delivered to the consumer is upon the industry worldwide. As the pandemic deepened, the use of technology and artificial intelligence seeped in to fill the gaps.

As the specific and personal needs of the customer continue to find new digital channels, how these needs are met has become increasingly important to companies across the board. According to a recent survey of customer service managers by Axys Consultants, 83% of companies believe that the pandemic has increased the importance of providing good customer service, whilst 56% agree that it has accelerated the deployment of AI.

One of the major concerns faced by those at the front line is being able to redirect the best resources in the most efficient way. It is clear from the recently published data of Cynergy Bank, which highlighted how 68% of UK SMEs desired a higher level of human interaction in their banking experience, that to totally automate the process would ultimately cause more harm than good. Companies must incorporate the best of both worlds to cultivate a better response from their consumers.

This is to say that whilst human agents should respond to the most complex queries, AI, and more specifically chatbots, should be harnessed to treat the less quizzical inbound queries first. Having the two work together could drastically reduce operating costs for businesses. As seen in data from Juniper Research, the use of chatbots is expected to save businesses $7.3 billion by 2023; a figure that has been significantly rehashed from their $209 million 2019 former estimate. Juniper Research has also suggested that chatbots will cut processing time by 2.5 billion hours within the same period.

As many benefits as there are, alongside the tidal wave of digital adoption set on by the pandemic, it comes as a surprise that chatbot technology has yet to be wholly embraced by the financial sector.

According to research undertaken by Cornerstone Advisors, at the beginning of the pandemic, a mere 4% of mid-sized banks had implemented the use of a chatbot in their customer service capabilities. By the end of the year however, this figure had tripled to a 13% uptake. Cornerstone’s research also points out how a further 16% intend to invest in the technology by the end of 2021.

We can find the answer to perhaps why exactly this is by returning to the data of Axys Consultants, who pointed out the current under-utilisation of chatbot technology. Whilst they found a sharp increase in the number of incoming queries (87% compared to the 65% recorded in 2020), their data also recorded how the use of chatbot technology remained vacant from the top three B2C service channels; despite the fact that the technology was the most holistically utilised by customers in 2020.

The data also provides a solution to why exactly this is. 63% of respondents reported that human interaction would yield better results in the handling of requests than their automated counterparts; a figure that rose by 58% from the previous year.

Similarly, 52% stated that AI was too complex to implement, whilst 61% agreed that the technology was too costly to develop and maintain. Likewise, 78% stated that corporate culture had prevented the implementation of such technology, and that employees were not sufficiently aware of its full capabilities.

Perhaps this could be better understood by further developing the idea of what exactly companies are looking for from their level of customer service. According to the Axys data, customer service remained the top priority for 96% of the companies they surveyed in 2021, but the route to how exactly this priority is met has changed. Before, the full automation of processes was the most important aspect for half of the companies surveyed, but now, this has changed to only one in three companies currently focusing their efforts on it. Instead, 52% agreed that how they managed their customer’s data to improve the customer experience was the top priority.

Because of this, at least 55% of companies plan to deploy chatbots, data mining, or automated customer inquiry analysis over the next 18 months.

Andy Wilkins, CEO and Founder, Futr
Andy Wilkins, CEO and Founder, Futr

To better gauge the full capabilities of contemporary chatbot technology, and what that would mean for financial-based customer service queries, I spoke with Andy Wilkins, the CEO and Founder of the chatbot development company Futr.

Futr has designed a new front line to the traditional customer service model, with their AI-powered chatbot technology being capable of hosting over 120 different languages. Although the company has provided solutions to financial companies, holding contracts with the likes of NatWest, their chatbot technology has also been utilised by a collection of government and policing bodies.

“We provide superpowers to support teams, and those superpowers can range from automated chatbots, right through to sentiment analysis tonality, making your live agents multilingual in 120 languages,” Andy tells me. “Essentially, we’re a UK software startup that’s really trying to revolutionise the way support teams deal with customers.”

When discussing the adoption of this nouveau form of technology, Andy comments, “I think if we go back even two years, there was still a lot of history around adoption of chatbots and partly that was because people were still a little unsure of the quality and the ability to represent a brand and the voice of an organisation accurately, alongside a slow uptake amongst customers.

“But I think what the last 14 to 15 months of Covid has done is really accelerate that digital transformation. So what might have been planned over the next three to five years has really been squashed down inside the space of 12 months; a process that has been really interesting to witness.

“I think part of that is because there’s been a necessity, there’s been that increase in demand. And part of that has been acceptance by the public. We’ve all got used to dealing or accessing services and goods through digital means. It’s both the supply and the demand that’s driving that change, which is really encouraging to see.”

As seen in the Covid Crime Index of 2021, 74% of financial institutions have experienced an increase in cybercrime since the beginning of the pandemic, and as reported by The Fintech Times, 16.4 million Covid-19 related cyber threats were detected online in 2020.

It is clear to see that amongst this growing sense of user vulnerability, the security of user data remains a prevalent concern. When talking to Andy about what Futr’s design is doing to actively protect sensitive financial data, he told me, “The government’s Economic Crime Campaign objective is to coordinate a better understanding of the challenges and activities across government and the private sector delivering the government economic crime plan but not limited by it, so that industry can proactively address these problems through their products or services, identify opportunities to help or recommend changes to the approach or policy.

“Futr is assisting by democratising access to the reporting and feedback process for citizens that find themselves victims of fraud. Accessing easy reporting 24/7, in natural language, on web and social channels of choice, and in any language is crucial to ensuring that everyone is protected.”

Futr’s chatbot technology sits upon a proprietary channel adapter, which allows for a diverse range of content to be supported through various existing interfaces, like WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and Twitter. When quizzed upon how this design was improving the global rate of financial inclusion, Andy told me, “It really sits at the heart of what we do. I think that any process really should and could be made accessible through the most popular channels, like WhatsApp and Facebook, and that they should be available through the channels that we all use. It’s something that certainly the government’s been trying to implement for some time in terms of offering financial services to citizens through those most accessible channels, it’s suitable for them and I certainly don’t see why financial technology shouldn’t echo that.”

Only time will tell if chatbots become a fully integrated part of the customer experience. Having grown from relative obscurity in recent years, to finding its roots in the solution to a worldwide problem, the service that such technology is already capable of providing demonstrates huge amounts of promise. However, it is up to the consumers of this technology to ultimately decide where this promise takes them.

Author

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.

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