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Conversational AI in Banking – Top Tips to Survive and Thrive

Top tips to get your financial institution surviving and thriving in the AI world from leading experts.

April 28, 2023 by Jean-Rémi Larcelet-Prost
Conversational AI in Banking – Top Tips to Survive and Thrive

Conversational AI in Banking – Top Tips to Get Your Financial Institution Surviving and Thriving in the AI World from Leading Experts

What if, when your customer called your bank to pay off their debt, they had a digital agent congratulate them with an excited voice and celebration music? Or educated the 18 year-old opening their first bank account on how to do it while advising them on things to consider to grow their wealth? This is the power of conversational AI – and it’s redefining the customer experience in the banking and finance industries. As technology moves faster and better ways of interacting with others come into play, the expectation to have these same options available from a business will become the norm. Large banks and financial institutions have been around for decades and the best way to survive and thrive in the changing landscape is to meet customers where they’re at when they need the information they need. It’s not about losing the human touch, but rather employing technology like conversational AI to help scale one to one experiences.

Conversational AI Functionality

Conversational AI, whether it be through a chatbot, a voice skill, IVR or even a mobile device, allows a person to get the answers they need more efficiently and to feel heard. In turn, it helps a bank or financial institution do things like route the information much faster to a human as needed, keep record of the information taken, keep costs down, use their people for more complicated conversations, gain data on what’s being asked, and create better content and ways to help their customers.

Showcasing Your Brand with Conversational AI

Beyond functionality and efficiency, banks and financial institutions also have the opportunity to make their brand stand out to create a customer experience that keeps people coming back for more while also referring their organization to others. From personalized music and sounds to a specific AI voice that speaks back to your customers with emotion like some of the examples here,to the right conversation designed to sound and feel like your brand, conversational AI will provide the feeling and experience that’s 100% your own and let you stand out from the competition. We recently spoke with some of the top leaders in the banking and financial vertical about how they’re using conversational AI to grow, and why it improves and enhances the customer experience. Each person provided a ton of insight, but we asked them to focus on specific advice regarding the hows and whys to use conversational AI to stand out and build their brand, to drive customer loyalty, and to gain customers. Here’s what we learned.

Starting Out with Conversational AI

Innovation can cause anxiety,” said Blair Gatchel, VP, Growth Strategies at BOND.AI.Do a candid assessment of where you are with AI in your organization. It’s okay to be at the beginning, but know where you are and then be comfortable experimenting. Start small and have a clear definition of success and then build on top of that.”

That’s why, “before you create a product and can launch it, enterprises need to adopt an AI first technology and mentality,” said Sibel Ciddi, Sr. Voice UX Architect at US Bank.Even if an enterprise has a great conversational AI design team [as well as great] tech and creative talent, if the enterprise does not have an AI infrastructure, then it can’t create great experiences.”

Maybe your organization feels they are already doing enough with AI, but “digital transformation is not enough,” said Ray Wang, Principal Analyst and CEO of Constellation Research, Inc.See if you can join with others to get to where you need to be. Everyone’s competing on data supremacy, so capturing the right information you need to [obtain] better customer insights is important too. [Continue to] build bigger networks and communities. And lastly, how are you looking at digital monetization and how can you bring it into what you’re doing with AI?

When starting out, Mike Zagorsek, COO at SoundHound Inc. suggested, “It’s really about focusing on what channel do they [the bank or financial institution] want to work on first and what ultimately do they want to own versus who do they want to partner with. Do they want a more classic build or a partner approach and then see what’s available.”

In fact, quite a few suggested getting over the fear and just giving it a try. “Do it now. Get in there, start small, think big, get the feedback, don’t be afraid to be wrong, get it right and keep moving the ball forward,” suggested Jason Fields, Chief Strategy Officer at Voicify.

Ganesh Padmanabhan, Investor, Entrepreneur and Head of Partnerships at BeyondMindsAI added that, “If you have not started in AI, you’re late. Look for a partner who will help you accelerate it. Ask your partners to help you with solutions that will give you a little bit of an edge and look for partners that can help you take pilots and use cases and push them into production.

What Every Strategy Should Include

But when it comes to a conversational AI strategy, what should it include?

Todd Robinson, Head of Strategic Accountants and Accounting Channel at Vic.ai simply suggested to, “Embrace it, sooner rather than later and ask yourself two questions. Do you have an AI strategy in mind and two, what is that AI going to solve for us?”

Also, a lot of conversational AI systems use and benefit from using the cloud. You can move to cloud based systems with confidence because it can constantly be evolving and improving and help you move faster,” said Srikanth Chinmay, CEO at Engati.

Sunjay Pandey, CEO at Woven Money breaks it down even more. “Think about your experience as a stack. You need data to power the experience. There’s a data layer, there’s a machine learning layer, and then there’s a conversational layer. All those things have to be integrated well and they all need experts in them. Then launch and ship all the time. Testing your experiences with real live users is a huge part of getting this right. And also look at metrics that are quantifiable.”

Adding to the conversation on strategy, Gunasiri Perera, Senior Director of Technology at Virtusa suggested four important pieces to look at. “You have to design for the overall journey and so there are four main things I suggest banks and financial institutions think about: First, Platform – Choose the right technology selection for your needs (voice or chat). Second, Management – How will you manage this on a day to day basis? Third, Implementation and Business Connect – How and where will you implement and are you having constant conversations with the technical team and the business people? And fourth, NLP Engineering – Are you continuing to test and train?

How to Choose the Best Use Case

A variety of use cases were shared between all of these leaders and Mike Echlin, VP Customer Success at Smartbots.ai reminds banks and financial institutions that “there are hundreds of potential use cases for conversational AI, so take 30-60 minutes to prioritize 5 to 10 use cases and think through what does that conversation look like and where can you get the biggest bang for your buck for that conversation.

“Getting into voice is a commitment and a process and won’t happen overnight. The more we can get specific about people, the better, meaning humans want to feel they are not just a number with a company. The more a bank can cater to the individual needs and desires of their clients, the more the clients can feel they can trust their bank. Trust is a huge part of customer loyalty. What makes you stand out is when people feel like they’re special to that company and it’s what will separate institutions who will succeed and those who won’t,” said Alana Cortés, UI/VUI Designer at Waterfield Technologies.

Know what you want your bot to do for your clients. So make sure you know who your clients are, their needs, wants and how it will help them. Scope your use cases really well. Know what you want it to do and not want it to do. Start small, do it really well, then build on top of it. Once you have that, leverage the power of conversational AI so that your chatbot or voicebot is not just functional and boring. The way to a user’s heart is by delighting them and surprising them. Go for that personality and rich experience and make it as human-like as you can. If people love the experience they will come back,” said Tess Tettelin, Conversation Designer at Chatlayer.ai.

Address your brand first and you won’t be just floating around in the world,” said Colleen Fahey, US Managing Director at Sixième Son. And “don’t just go for the cheapest solution,” said Esther Klabbers, Speech Scientist at ReadSpeaker.Go for the solution where the company will give you their time and help you customize for your brand especially in terms of things like a custom text to speech voice. Look for high quality and customer care.

Sergio Trujillo, Lead Brand and Creative Strategy at USAA also added, “Don’t underestimate the power of music [in conversational AI]. It’s really about finding those elements, those instruments, that sound or the artist potentially that’s going to represent your brand and what you want to stand for.

Testing Your Use Case

So how do you know you’re creating an exceptional and successful customer experience? Emily Lonetto, Head of Growth at VoiceFlow said to “Storyboard the user experience. Not just what is being said but where they are and when they ask those questions. Are they at home late at night or on a run outside? Map that out and try to see how the user wants to perform those actions. Rob Hayes, Head of Product at VoiceFlow added, “Create tangible user experiences and keep it in the product development lifecycle. Conversations are harder to conceptualize if they’re just written on paper and so you need to prototype it. It will make the work more engaging and get stakeholders excited. Bring the work to life and make it tangible and you’ll be successful in this space.”

Lastly, Ciddi reminds all banking and financial institutions to also “remember that AI technology keeps getting better so remind users that errors happen and get corrected and improve every time so to keep interacting and don’t lose faith.

Want to learn more from these experts? Check out all of the interviews on our YouTube channel here and listen to our podcast Creative and Tech here.

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