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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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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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