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Chat-first banking: pandemic trend or long-term change?

Last updated 09 April 2024

While, to a degree, restrictions of the early pandemic have lifted, a striking impact that remains is the proliferation of digital banking in its wake. Specifically, chat-first engagement by financial institutions’ customers. What for some banks may have served as a necessary channel to circumvent in-person interaction, has become a continued engagement point with customers. As the practice continues, this transition to a chat-first approach may give some financial institutions pause. Placing that trust in technology requires consulting organizations institutions themselves can trust. Fortifying customer experience is a delicate, but necessary, process and when applied properly this approach doesn’t sacrifice integral headway made in CX.

Even before the pandemic, banks were exploring the use of artificial intelligence in customer service. Throughout the duration of the lockdown, the scales may have tipped in conversational AI’s favor due to its enablement of self-service and ability to handle high-volume queries. As apprehensions soften, the next step for conversational AI is one that sees customers initiating transactions via virtual agents, and exploring new products at the suggestion of a virtual agent.

A current look at digitization in banking

A 2020 survey of executives found companies have accelerated digitization of customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years compared to before the pandemic Whether by need, convenience, or choice, this rapid shift impacts consumer adoption as well. Projections show chatbots will reach their “plateau of productivity” in the banking sector in less than two years.

What that plateau looks like is the evolution from chatbots as an informational tool, to one that is both transactional and transformational in nature. Today’s virtual agents have evolved leaps and bounds ahead of first-generation chatbots, and with the time to mature, AI trainers and developers have fine tuned their capabilities. A chat-first approach to banking is one that sees CAI applied in and beyond customer service, including in key processes like account management and transaction enablement.

Evolution and implications of CAI

When a customer has a query concerning banking activity or their account, it’s important resources be available at any given time. With the potential of 24/7 availability, virtual agents are a critical tool in offloading certain requests from contact center staff. This doesn’t exclude the ability to connect with human agents. Improved continuity between those agents and conversational AI, however, alleviates the potential for negative impacts.

In terms of functionally, application processes can be made more dynamic, with options for personalization that are tailored to individual customers. Transactions that used to take hours or days can be completed in seconds or minutes. This functionality is constantly improving, and according to projections by this year 70% of white-collar workers will interact regularly with conversational platforms.

Scaling up with conversational AI

A driving force behind a chat-first strategy is to expand the experience virtual agents provide, while maintaining customers’ access to human support. This builds a more comprehensive customer experience that frees up human agents to focus on the most meaningful queries, while CAI is an entry point, responding to and routing queries as needed. As customers and financial institutions continue to use conversational AI, especially in functions supporting account growth, banks and credit unions will be able to scale up operations rather quickly.

Perhaps an institution has found many customers still prefer interaction via voice. The groundwork laid for a chatbot can be reapplied to launch a voice assistant, or vice versa, with the same workflows and intents adapted for voice interaction. Virtual agents and voice assistants are consistently gathering customer feedback, and providing data-based insights for institutions to leverage across all communication channels. This represents a tremendous growth opportunity.

With virtual agents in place, financial institutions can continue to nurture customer-focused initiatives and expand their ability to personalize interactions. Whereas in the past, decision-making at the experience level was more process-driven, institutions are now able to embrace a data-driven approach. The breadth of information virtual agents collect can be applied across an enterprise, fueling growth in and outside of the realm of customer experience.

A chat-first strategy is cross-functional, in some cases cross-channel, and ultimately will lead the enterprise into the next generation of digital business if implemented properly. Specifically in the banking sector, chat-first can be used to foster an experience ecosystem that proactively leverages customer feedback to improve functionality. While the interest in these services can be in part attributed to the digital growth in the pandemic, how enterprises decide to leverage and iterate them for years to come should be their focus.

Article originally published on Global Banking & Finance Review

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