Financial institutions know they need to adapt to the omnichannel reality. A 2015 survey conducted by Backbase and EFMA shows that 61 percent of banks believe it’s extremely important to create a seamless omnichannel experience. Yet delivering on the omnichannel promise has proven challenging. Recent PWC research indicates that only 17 percent of financial institutions feel “very prepared” for a move towards customer-centric, omnichannel business models.
Just as banks and other financial service providers start to wrap their arms around the dynamics of multichannel delivery, they must now go a step further as the channel landscape continues to evolve and expand. This is where a third “e” word comes in: engage.
Chatbots Are Quickly Emerging as a Preferred Engagement Channel
2016 seems to be the year of chatbots, with major players such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple opening their platforms to third-party developers. The rise of the bot is fueled by two trends moving in opposite directions:
- For consumers, app fatigue is setting in. It’s reached a point where close to a quarter of downloaded apps are abandoned after just one use. Most users have just a handful of applications they use on a regular basis.
- At the same time, the instant messaging space is expanding rapidly. As many as 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed and 3.6 billion are expected to have one in the next couple of years. Time spent on messaging apps has surpassed usage of social networks, averaging hundreds of minutes per week.
There Are Good Reasons to Like Chatbots
Chatbots are casual yet useful—just what millennials seem to like. There’s no need to download a new app for every service. You can chat with your friends, order food, get a ride with Uber and transfer money, all without leaving your favorite messaging app.
Chatbots are conversational, so you don’t have to learn a new interface or navigate hidden menus. And they are always available to serve millions of customers at the same time: a perfect fit for our instant gratification consumer culture and corporate cost-cutting drive.
As customers move more fluidly between channels in the digital world, chatbots will become an integral piece of a larger omnichannel strategy. Their importance is indisputable, as engagement over messaging apps is rapidly rising while engagement over other channels begins to plateau.
Sometimes, Not All It’s Chat Up to Be: Initial Chatbot Experiences Fall Short
At the same time, it would be a mistake for financial services to rush a chatbot solution as a standalone experience. As attractive as the chatbot may be for consumers, the experience will quickly sour if it becomes yet another silo disconnected from other digital and non-digital channels.
Unfortunately for many banks, their initial foray into the messaging channel failed to provide the responsiveness and level of service consumers expect.
Customers who are currently attempting to communicate with their bank through Facebook Messenger all too often encounter responses that fall short of basic expectations. Response time is less than adequate for many, and the quality of responses leaves a lot to be desired.
Sample responses from banks clearly illustrate these shortcomings:
- “Please note we’re not set up to respond to customer service request.”
- “You will need to call one of our locations in order to discuss details of any of our offerings.”
- “We’re sorry but the app doesn’t allow change of address updating.”
- “I am sorry, I am unable to confirm your credit limit.”
- “Unfortunately, we don’t have access to interest rates. Please contact our call center for any questions regarding rate information.”
Bot Ought: Six Things Your Bot Should Do to Support Your Omnichannel Strategies
Omnichannel strategies are all about delivering smoother, more consistent customer experiences across all channels. Your bot should do these things to deliver on this promise:
- Work seamlessly across channels: Customers expect a consistent experience across the digital landscape—online, mobile app, Facebook Messenger, Amazon’s Alexa, etc. A conversation may start in Facebook Messenger, move to Amazon’s Alexa, and continue in the bank’s online or mobile app.
- Engage in personalized conversations: If all the information is generic, it will be shallow and unengaging. A smart bot is able to understand each customer’s individual situation and needs.
- Access real-time customer data: If the data is not consistent across channels, the customer will not trust the experience.
- Access existing content (e.g. webpages, FAQs): The bot channel should be at least as knowledgeable as existing channels, and it’s impractical to create new content for each channel.
- Be useful to the customer: If the bot can only deliver a customer balance, it won’t increase engagement. The bot must have deep enough knowledge to carry an intelligent conversation at least on some specific topics (e.g. help save more, manage rewards, etc.).
- Learn quickly: The bot must keep up with new information and adjust to personal preferences over time.
Are You Ready for the Bot Channel?
Some may dismiss the chatbot as an overhyped fad. But for traditional institutions aiming to survive the digital disruption, it’s a business necessity to engage customers through a conversational channel. If the chatbot is not part of your plans today, now is the time to figure out how you can leverage this new channel to engage and serve your customers—all while making it an integral part of your strategic omnichannel delivery.
David Sosna, the founder of Personetics, is a FinTech pioneer and leading authority on the use of AI and predictive analytics to redefine and personalize the financial customer experience.