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How Conversational AI Will Save Call Centers

Financial Brand | Bill Streeter

When the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread branch closures and restrictions, financial institution call centers were nearly overwhelmed by the ensuing traffic spike. The challenge grew especially acute as these centers -- in-house or outsourced -- struggled to deal with social distancing, absenteeism and other issues.

Various solutions were rushed out including work-from-home arrangements, which helped in some cases but were not viable for many. Chatbots were looked to as another option, and vendors of such solutions report increased interest and usage. From March to April 2020, some conversational AI platform providers saw user inquiries rise by 35%.

While the Covid-19 crisis ramped up interest in these automated solutions, particularly for handling customer inquiries, the tide had already begun to turn for chatbots and their close relatives, virtual assistants. Various conversational interfaces have been around since at least the 1960s, but interest in chatbots soared in 2016 only to plummet within a couple of years. "Building a real virtual assistant capable of understanding context and responding to unclear queries proved to be much more challenging than building a simple chatbot," CB Insights observes.

But that challenge has now been largely met. In fact several chatbot vendors now offer pre-packaged bots with data already built in that are tested and trained for a specific industry vocabulary and domain terms. Further, several vendors have products that can work with financial institutions far smaller than Bank of America, Chase or even Ally Bank, all of which offer AI-powered virtual assistants.

One example is Advia Credit Union, with assets of $1.7 billion. The Michigan-based institution uses a platform from LogMeIn that incorporates natural language processing. NLP helps the bot "understand" what consumers are looking for and respond in terms they can understand, Rey Chavez, Director of Member Contact for the credit union, states in a LogMeIn white paper.

Also commenting on the use of conversational AI HSBC Banks Kate Jenkins said "Conversational banking and messaging and chat isn't a niche channel for us, it's a significant part of our strategy."

Gartner research stated that by the end of 2020 at least 80% of new enterprise applications will make strong use of chatbots, with 47% of organizations using the applications for customer care, and 40% deploying virtual assistants.This kind or adoption is being fueled by the rise in the use of messaging apps and voice-based assistants. WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app, has over 1.6 billion users, followed by Facebook Messenger with 1.3 billion users.

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