How to win customers: Artificial Intelligence is the answer; see how
There is an app for that! It is such a common phrase. From finding phone numbers to scheduling upcoming meetings and even getting directions for best routes, apps have made our lives easier, thanks to technology. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba and Apple, often called GAFAA, are leading the charge for even more change. They are leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to mine data that is being collected by them from their users. They then use that information to provide bespoke customer offerings. Similarly, the auto industry is leveraging AI to develop self-driving cars, which in turn will impact the insurance and energy industry. Companies that use AI effectively are offering solutions that are revolutionary. Contrast this with banks. Many are still struggling with process inefficiencies and legacy systems. Recently, I applied for a credit card at a leading bank through the wealth management department. The card was sent to me and I began using it, but when I spoke to my relationship manager a few weeks later he had no idea I had even applied for a card. That lack of internal connectivity is unforgiveable, given the digital solutions at hand today.
We live in an era where consumers immersed in technology are willing to share personal data for more services. They are also increasingly using digital for their financial needs—mobile wallets and banking and at home and in offices many use new online personal finance management tools to simplify their accounting. But customers are benchmarking their experience with banks against GAFAA and they want more. Banks need to deliver. With several new payments banks on the anvil offering digital-only services (with a small branch network), customer loyalty is no longer a given, it is a precious commodity that banks must continuously earn to retain. Given that banks are one of the biggest repositories of customer information they should have a natural leg up on the competition. They know almost everything about a customer—earnings, transactions, spending habits and credit history. So why aren’t they acting more like GAFAA companies and offering bespoke services to their customers? Why does one arm of a bank still not seem to know what the other is doing? They could be offering real-time advice to customers on lifestyle-linked goal-based savings, such as when to pay what bills and where the best deals are, for everything from a new shirt to an airline ticket to a dinner out in the neighbourhood where their customer currently is located.
By gaining contextual insights into a customer’s account and preferences, banks could cross-sell customised solutions, such as helping identify property and offer mortgage in an integrated manner, and following up with suggestions on low-cost appliances and best deals on utilities for a customer who buys a new home, with loan options that perhaps leave cash leftover for investments. To be fair, banks are exploring and experimenting with these options, albeit at a slower pace and in pockets. Many banks in India are now open to move away from their reliance on low-cost, back-office labour, in favour of robotic process automation as this will improve productivity, reduce error rates and improve accuracy. However, that is only the first step. Some are already using analytics and AI for fraud detection and credit analysis.
The next step is utilising AI to enhance customer engagement, such as offering digital wealth advisory for masses using robo-advisory tools. According to Accenture’s Banking Technology Vision 2017 report, a global survey of more than 600 bankers, 79% of bankers globally and 87% of bankers in India believe that AI will revolutionise the way banks gather information and interact with customers. Such is the level of awareness of AI benefits amongst Indian bankers that 83% of them say they believe that within three years, banks will deploy AI solutions for interacting with customers. They foresee its usefulness, now it’s time to make it happen.
Banks should be offering, chat-bots, powered by conversational-AI based solutions to replace the automated interactive voice response system (IVRS) at banks’ service centers to deal with customers’ queries. If implemented, this would save customers’ time (and the aggravation) of enduring the seemingly endless steps of the IVRS to connect with a human for very basic questions. A chat-bot could interact with customers and resolve their rule-based queries. This allows the frontline team to then handle more complex customer issues that require an actual person. The real power of conversational interface is that the system can use the customer’s language of choice. Furthermore, the level of chat-bot engagement with customers can be made proactive. The bots can talk to the customers, informing them, for example, about their account reaching the credit limit, or about new offers. Since they learn from responses, customers’ answers would inform them on how to reach out in future engagements. In the next five to 10 years AI will radically transform our lives. From self-driving cars to voice recognition interfaces at homes, AI is likely to find a place at every human and machine touchpoint. The sooner financial services firms get on board and embrace AI the better poised they are to capture customer loyalty.
The writer is managing director in Accenture’s financial services practice and leads the banking practice in India