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AI arrives in customer service

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Digital transformation is changing the way banks talk to customers, but financial institutions in the region are looking at how they can deploy AI and automation to transform the customer experience, says DANNY DREW, Avaya’s MD.

When was the last time you actually visited your bank branch? For most people, the answer is likely to be somewhere in between the last time you had to do a major financial transaction, such as applying for a loan or a mortgage, and… you just can’t remember. The way consumers interact with banks has fundamentally changed over the past few years as trends like mobile and online banking have become increasingly important.

If anything, these trends are accelerating. A recent study conducted by Avaya and BT shows that the number of consumers using mobile apps for financial services over the last few years has more than trebled, while web chat has also significantly increased in popularity.

This has been triggered by an ‘anytime, anywhere’ digital culture as consumers and businesses demand financial management on their own terms. Of course, this is creating its own challenges – banks are having to invest considerable resources to meet their customers’ increased demands. With 89% of organisations today expecting to compete primarily on customer experience – up from 36% just five years ago – meeting those enhanced expectations isn’t really optional any more.

One area  banks and other financial institutions are increasingly exploring here in the region is increased use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI)  – not so much to replace human agents but to help free up their time to allow them to provide the personalized service customers still like and want.

Automation in customer experience is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers – so we don’t have to repeat ourselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organization.

Accordingly, banks are increasingly “employing” chatbots to help take some of the stain. Chatbots funnel and streamline conversations, making contact centres more efficient and responsive. They can provide standard replies that are appropriate and informative, and once the conversation becomes more complex, or a more in-depth solution is required, a human agent can step in and help.

When it comes to tapping the full potential of chatbots and AI, however, we’ve really only just begun. Visitors to the Avaya stand at the recent GITEX Technology Week event in Dubai were able to see the future of customer experience in the banking sector, with a showcase of the potential benefits of an AI solution. Our “Noor” virtual assistant demonstrated how banks can combine a range of technologies, including biometrics for identification and analytics to predict behaviour patterns, to go beyond basic service.

More than just answering basic queries, the Noor solution helps to anticipate and articulate customer desires – so if a customer has been talking on social media about liking a new model of sports car, then the bank could approach them about financing purchasing one.

And how about the bank takes it a stage further and co-operates with the car dealership to arrange a test drive for them? Banks today are re-engineering themselves as next-generation service providers, extending their relationship with customers beyond basic financial transactions to help in every area of their customers’ lives. By cross-selling services and offerings from other companies, banks can provide real value to consumers, making interactions more engaging and personal – and more lucrative for the bank as well. After all, if your customer is going to be these services from somebody, why not ensure you are involved?

With a young tech-savvy population and some of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world, then it’s hardly surprising banks are keen to deploy mobile banking applications. Some banks are exploring taking this further and providing their customers with a platform for a wider range of transactions. So for instance, a bank could have one mobile application that can be used for whatever the customer chooses— booking show tickets, hiring a car, or any number of other, similar transactions. This way, instead of going through 10 different apps, a customer only needs to go to one and channel out from there – which means the bank keeps their attention for longer.

The business benefits are clear. Companies that can keep customers satisfied, engaged and coming back have a competitive advantage. And by taking data the company already has and putting it into the decision-making process, they can make smarter decisions that enhance the customer journey in terms of speed and quality of service.

Achieving this with yesterday’s technologies is extremely difficult, which is why the banking industry should not rely on old processes to achieve new results, as outdated contact centres and communications platforms weren’t built to support modern interactions. While the data surrounding these interactions may be stored and possibly be relevant at some further point, it can’t be qualified to inform intelligent decision-making. This is why digital transformation has become a critical differentiator.

Using Omni channel customer experience technology, banks can track a customer’s activity on any channel and register it as part of the customer journey. Based on insights contained in this data, contact centre teams can proactively anticipate a customer’s intentions and instead of greeting them with a generic recorded IVR message, can generate a personalised opener, for example: “I see your recent transaction was not successful, would you like me to connect you with an advisor to discuss this?” Smart apps can reach out while the customer is active online or on their banking app, using proactive chat or even offering video interaction.

Banks that fail to extend their service offerings in this way are likely to find themselves struggling in future. It all goes back to meeting the customer’s expectations – and exceeding them. Banking and financial-services providers have more data than any other industry at their disposal – it’s time to make the most of this, for the benefit of customers themselves.

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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