Voice First

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With 180 smart speakers being shipped every minute and 40% of Americans performing a voice search every day, the financial impact of virtual agents is explosive for banks. Institutions are poised to reap major benefits from these innovations:

  • It is projected that virtual agents will save banks over $8 billion in annual costs by 2022 (Juniper).
  • By 2020, virtual agents will handle about 85% of all customer service interactions (Gartner).

Historically, banking has been done through face-to-face interactions. Over the last few decades, new modes of engagement have provided increased flexibility and convenience to customers; for example:

  • In 1969, customers began withdrawing money using a keypad and a debit card at an ATM.
  • In 1994, online banking enabled customers to check balances and make payments using just a mouse and keyboard on a computer.
  • In 1999, European banks began using SMS to perform common banking tasks on a mobile phone 24/7.
  • In 2010, three years after the iPhone was released, banks began creating mobile online banking apps for touch screens.
  • In 2017, the first virtual agent was created for online banking, allowing customers to perform tasks through voice commands.

With each new innovation comes a spike in utilization, until that mode eventually becomes the primary engagement channel as other channels gradually decline. “Mobile First” was a battle cry for the last decade as banks scrambled to make all of their platforms responsive (i.e., mobile-friendly) and deploy native apps. By 2017, mobile had surpassed online banking in utilization. Now, “Voice First” has already become the theme for the next decade. Customers now expect the convenience of telling their smart speaker to pay their utility bill while doing Pilates on their living room floor. Google predicts voice searches to surpass text searches next year (2020).

The popularity of voice is not surprising. Customers now expect real-time problem resolution, which is just not possible financially with the traditional contact center model. Virtual agents are the most efficient way to handle customer service issues and can be incredibly effective in driving sales. They are always available, can handle large volumes of customers, are able to be continuously improved, and have no product or service bias. They also provide a private forum for customers to discuss their finances without judgement.

An entirely new digital experience skillset, called “conversational designer,” has emerged to handle verbal interactions. These experts must anticipate thousands of different customer intents with hundreds of thousands of different utterances (continuous units of speech) and responses. New virtual agents can provide more than just text or voice responses. They are capable of embedding HTML, dialogs, graphics, and buttons into the conversations to facilitate the communication and simplify the interactions. Tone and empathy must also be considered if the virtual agent is now considered a brand representative.

Natural language processing advancements have made virtual agent technology practical and usable. Using artificial intelligence and APIs (application program interface), virtual agents can effectively convert a voice command into text, analyze the intent, retrieve the necessary information, select the appropriate response, and convert the text back into a voice response—all while accounting for various accents and languages, misspelled words (text entry), synonyms, and even customer sentiment. Escalations to a live agent, data authentication and authorization, and department-based routing must also be considered as responses are formulated. Long-form responses are used to guide a customer through a series of questions and alternatives for product applications or a needs assessment.

Virtual agents can field routine questions and drive customers to the most effective and efficient channels. According to CRM Magazine, 67% of customers prefer self-service for finding answers, and 91% of customers would use self-service if it were available. Chat (voice and text) has also become the most socially acceptable form of personal interaction. People increasingly prefer chatting rather than personal contacts or even making phone calls.

The business case for virtual agents is often based on reducing contact center call volume. You can expect a 30% reduction in call volume initially and an 80% reduction within 2-3 years if implemented correctly. Some of the machine learning containment rates (successful resolution rate) have even eclipsed 90%.

It is time to rethink how your customer experience can best leverage voice interactions across channels. Using virtual agents as your first line of defense is essential to keep up with customer demands and growing expectations while being fiscally responsible.

Digital Banking Transformation LLC. is here to ensure the new voice experience exceeds customer expectations while providing a significant return on investment. We can help design the experience, define the appropriate strategic partnerships and integrations, and collaboratively deploy the platform across channels.

Posted in: NLP