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Taking the robot out of humans

Most of us who follow the latest themes and trends in banking are aware of the drive towards robotics and artificial intelligence. The consensus is that if you are in the call centre business, then it could be a good time to polish your resume and think about retraining. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are going to change everything and they will be replacing you (or will they?). In the future, customers will be speaking to robots, typing and texting them and, I am told, that we will not be able to tell the difference between the technology and the machine. This ‘will happen’.

Many of the Banks I meet around the world are busy putting in place the systems and technologies that we will be ‘speaking’ to and ‘chatting’ with in the future… but I am worried that, in the rush to robotize, they are forgetting some of the basics. In the future, in a world where most banks offer similar, or even the same suite of products, Brand, and Customer Experience are the most important differentiators between one bank and their competition. Those that win at customer experience (meaningful and personal relationships with their customers), will win in a big way… and those that ignore customer experience for the sake of savings to their bottom line will be the victims. In the race to cut costs, are bankers forgetting the basics and allowing technology to drive the customer experience and not vice-versa?

People like people… or do they?

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, the image I have of robotics is of Dr. Who and those dreadful sci-fi shows that filled the airwaves during my youth however, I have news for me and others of you like me, the new generation robots are nothing like that. Anyone who has used a ‘chat bot’ service - you know, when you go online and type into a chat box to ask for advice or information - will probably have ‘interacted’ with a robot… can you tell the difference between this and a human? I suspect not. The experience is pretty good and informative.

However, in my opinion, where AI systems fall over at present is in voice activated services. Let me qualify my opinion, as someone who has been working with voice activated services since the 1990’s, I am yet to see a system where the speech feels natural, where, you as a customer really believe that you are speaking to a human being and not a machine. This is a problem for banks moving forward. Remember, customer experience and brand are the major differentiators one bank will have over another. Experiences are built around relationships (big and small)… and the channels through which these are built. Relationships are quirky, and not logical. Whilst there is no doubt that robotics will deliver efficiencies, greater accuracy of information and fewer mistakes, it is difficult for a customer to have a relationship with a robot and hard for a bank to have a relationship with a customer if there are no humans in the loop.

There is an organization in the Middle East who have recently launched an AI system. As a text ‘chat bot’ it is great, I know I am ‘chatting’ to a robot and I make allowances for that. However, they have also launched a voice activated system and to be very honest, the experience is terrible. I suggest that in the rush to be first, they have launched a service that instead of being natural, helpful and a step up in service, it is the opposite. It is a service where customers feel that they are speaking to a piece of technology and there is an instant negative reaction to this. Once again, as a customer, I cannot have a relationship with a robot.

You see, as I have mentioned in previous articles, the benchmark for voice experiences is set very high… the benchmark is set by bank employees - real people - those of you who work in the call centers and customer facing roles around the world. Customers are used to speaking to people, with all their weaknesses and inadequacies, with their ‘I am focussed on you and what you want’ voice, their ‘I care about you’ voice, their ‘let’s make you smile’ voice, their ‘where in the world are you’ voice etc… You can praise a real person, you can have a relationship with a real person, you can empathize with a real person, you can even shout at a real person when something goes wrong… none of this you can do with a robot - or if you try, something about it just doesn't feel right - staccato broken sentences are just about as awful an experience and one could imagine when compared to a natural conversation with another human being.

Companies like Orange, First Direct and others spend months, sometimes years, selecting the right tone of voice, the right accent, the correct personality and language style for their call centre and front line staff - there is nothing left to chance. They focus on every detail to make sure that the human to human experience says something about their brand and expresses their brand values… this is especially critical in banking where conversations are often personal in nature and trust is important. If banks are to replace some of their interacts with customers using AI, it is important that they remember this and are careful about the race to be first. I suggest that banks consider the following:

  • Do not forget who you are and that every interaction a customer has with you says something about your brand

  • That technology should be beautiful, or invisible

  • That the journey to AI starts with a ‘chat bot’ and is focussed on specific fool proof tasks

  • Do not over complicate - keep it simple

  • Never over promise

  • Beware of the dancing bear

  • That people like people - especially when it comes to discussing their finances

  • Understand the use-case for AI technologies and thoroughly test these before you launch

  • That it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a moment to ruin it

If you would like to discuss my point of view then please get in touch.

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