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How AI is helping banks serve customers during COVID-19

May 29, 2020 / Consumer Banking / Technology

For retail banks, the spread of COVID-19 has meant a huge change to how business is done as the workforce has suddenly shifted to remote work and there’s been a huge uptick in the amount of work that needs to be done.

Banks with digital-first strategies have been preparing for a situation like this for many years. Although few anticipated and specifically prepared for a global pandemic, the massive digital transformation has prepared the industry to satisfy its customers in ways that were unimaginable less than a decade ago.

A big part of this is artificial intelligence, which has been developing behind the scenes and has quickly become one of the industry’s key ingredients for success.

Conversational AI is particularly critical in fulfilling the promise of a digital-first strategy. Modern conversational AI, which has evolved a great deal since the proliferation of chatbots, is able to take the lead and carry out actual conversations with customers and employees. This enables modern digital-first banks to deliver virtual agents that actually help their customers solve problems – a particularly valuable skill at the moment.

Here are three important ways AI is helping banks serve their customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual customer support agent

Siri, Alexa and other mainstream solutions have brought simple AI interactions to the masses at home. In parallel, conversational AI has been developing deep domain knowledge in key industries, enabling large-scale deployments of AI at the enterprise level.

With banking call centers at limited capacity, virtual customer agents can help assist customers with daily requests. They are capable of engaging customers via phone calls, mobile apps, web chat, and smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

In some cases, the pandemic has forced IT staff to answer customer calls themselves because their contact centers could not operate from home. As a result, rapid deployments of skilled customer-facing virtual agents have taken on mission-critical status.


Virtual branch assistant

With stay-at-home ordinances in effect, the traditional bank branch has gone through a rapid transformation. A number of banks have shifted their branch employees to remote working, providing branch services over the phone rather than in person. As a consequence, branch employees are working in ways they never have before.

To help mitigate the disruption introduced by the new order, there has been a rapid adoption of virtual branch assistants striving to help branch employees through the new working environment. Virtual branch assistants are focused on helping branch employees answer common questions.

They are also capable of performing some tasks entirely on their own. HSBC Bank USA, for example, has deployed an actual robot at some of its branches, providing customers with tutorials and other information. The robot can even communicate with human bankers to help customers save time and reduce their wait.


Assisting customer agents

In addition to its role as a customer service specialist, virtual agents can also act as a whisper agent to assist humans on the customer support team.

The virtual agent is trained with call transcripts (which provide vital details), knowledge articles, process descriptions, chat logs and other information that human agents rely on. Once learned, the virtual agent will understand how to complete requests for customers, including how to better answer key questions.

But instead of going straight to the customer, the agent can then use that information to assist the human agent by providing answers and solutions. This guided process means the technology can stay on the back end, allowing human call agents to quickly and efficiently meet user objectives without them even knowing a virtual agent is involved. If necessary, the agent will even ask clarifying questions to better serve the call agent, who in turn can offer superior service to customers.

Before the shelter-in-place orders changed our everyday life experience, AI was already drastically changing the way banking institutions communicate with their customers. Now, with an influx of customer requests and a plethora of challenges to overcome, those investments have been particularly critical.

When we do finally make it through this pandemic, we are likely to see an even greater focus on digitally transformative technologies, such as conversational AI, as banks prepare for the next unforeseeable challenge.


Ergun Ekici is vice president of emerging technologies at IPsoft