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Mobile Virtual Agents for Self-Service Banking


In many industries, great customer service is all about facilitating pleasant, memorable interactions between customers and company employees. The banking industry, however, has recognized a paradoxical truth about customers: in certain contexts, the best customer service means giving customers the flexibility to serve themselves. Over the last century, retail banks have developed a range of innovative technologies that help customers get what they want faster and with less effort. From ATMs to state-of-the-art mobile apps, the banking industry has been ahead of the curve in terms of catering to customers’ desire for self-service.

The next frontier in mobile banking self-service has to do with providing a high level of attention to customers’ questions in a way that requires as little time and effort as possible on the part of the customer. In a world where customers are accustomed to finding an answer quickly by typing a question into a search box, the idea of having to speak to a live agent seems antiquated. In fact, a 2010 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” presented a range of loyalty-eroding problems involving customer service, with the majority of these problems having to do with breakdowns in communication when customers are forced to speak to live agents, which creates a negative effect on customer satisfaction.

Since customers can sort out the majority of their banking needs online and through ATMs, they tend to only come back to a live customer service representative when they have a complex question. Customers would much rather be able to find the answers to simple questions on their own, since it takes less time and effort. However, the sheer volume of possible customer questions cannot be easily addressed in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on the bank’s webpage.

This is why the mobile virtual agent is the next step in the evolution of banking self-service. Powered by software that allows customers to ask questions on their phone or tablet, virtual agents eliminate the need to use multiple devices or call the contact center. Virtual agent technology provides a single, accurate answer to customers’ questions, even when each customer asks a question slightly differently (by texting or by voice). These virtual agents are enabled with natural language processing ability so they are able to recognize the customer’s meaning and intent based on the way that questions are phrased.

Virtual agent technology is also self-learning. It becomes better at responding to questions as more questions are asked. The answer is then delivered on a mobile-optimized screen. This means that customers can quickly receive answers to their banking questions while they are on a bus or in the dentist’s waiting room. Virtual agent technology can also be equipped with voice recognition technology, enabling customers to verbally ask their question if they prefer. This is a flexible solution that enables customers to resolve their issues wherever and whenever they choose. Several forward-thinking banks such as Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) have already adopted this self-service customer service model and other banks will need to adapt quickly to stay competitive.

The next wave of virtual agent technology will be data-driven, recording every question, so that banks can keep track of the recurring customer service issues and respond to them proactively. This is arguably the most important facet of virtual agent technology. This vast repository of customer queries offers valuable, accurate insight into the voice of the customer. This means that with time, banks will become even more adept at pre-empting customers’ needs, reducing effort on the customers’ part.

In the midst of a tough climate for the banking industry, facilitating the best customer experience goes a long way toward promoting customer loyalty. Innovative self-service solutions, which are now affordable to banks of all sizes, can set institutions apart from their competitors and help them succeed.

Mr. Lloyd is CEO of Toronto-based IntelliResponse Systems Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].