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The rise of virtual agents: the future banking experience

Doug Overton, VP Consulting & Analysis at WDS Global, a Xerox company, explains how machine learning technology and virtual agents are the next step in honing the customer banking experience.

Doug Overton

A positive customer banking experience must obey some basic principles: informative, efficient and trustworthy.

When this happens, customers understand what state their finances are in, and what their options are. They receive services quickly, and, because it’s their money after all, trust that their assets are safe and well managed.

Thirty years ago, we would only trust the bank manager to deliver this sort of banking experience. But in the near future, with the next wave of technology nearly upon us, I see machines earning our trust too. So much so, that technology will become our de-facto way of receiving customer service from our bank.

The role of technology already has established much more of a prominent role. The ATM can provide a bulk of everyday services, giving us the efficiency we need, and practically all of the information we require can be acquired through live chats or contacting the bank’s call centre. Let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon.

The power of self-service

The biggest leap forward we’ve seen is in machine learning software, which allows computers to read, process and regurgitate information that is fed to it. You’ve read about the computer that can beat humans at Go; it’s the same principle here. Machine learning has reached such a level of sophistication that it delivers a near-human customer care experience. Which is why Atom, Britain’s new mobile-only bank, is handling all customer service queries with its ‘virtual agent’.

The technology, developed by WDS, embedded within Atom’s mobile app, progressively learns the quickest and simplest way to deal with a multitude of queries, based on individual context. Crucially, this offering gives customers the power to self-serve by getting immediate answers directly from the app. No waiting in line, no weekend closures, no journey required at all.

The pure convenience makes it a compelling option for the customer and it also engenders trust. The technology uses analytics to capture every inquiry, understand its context and deliver relevant responses and solutions. As the agent continues to analyse customer behaviours (including tone of voice), the options they select and the time taken to resolve cases, its effectiveness will increase over time. Similar to a human, as the virtual agent becomes better accustomed to its job, it gains expertise.

Customer experience drives all change

We have a positive attitude towards change in the banking sector, as demonstrated by the amount of customers that have joined up with Atom Bank since it launched earlier this year. Of course, not every customer will be keen to work with virtual agents, and sometimes the machine might not have the answer. The use of machine-operated agents is not about replacing humans, it’s about allowing humans to increase quality of service. This is why human customer service agents will continue to be available. But as banks deploy machine-operate agents to handle more tasks revolutionary ways of handling customer service become possible.

Imagine being able to call up every interaction a bank has had with an individual customer, purely from memory, and apply that information to a customer inquiry. Imagine an agent that never takes a day off and never gets tired. Imagine an agent that can store every new conversation to instant-recall memory for eternity.

That’s how customers can experience new levels of efficiency, information and trust, and ultimately that is what will drive the change. We have been guided by the customer experience for generations, and the next evolution is here.

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