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article imageOp-Ed: Bank rewrites call centers with chatbot ‘virtual bankers’

By Paul Wallis     Sep 3, 2017 in Technology
Sydney - The National Australia Bank (NAB) has sent shudders through the call center sector with a new move. “Virtual bankers” will replace call center staff to a large extent for routine enquiries, with more to come.
National Australia Bank is one of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that if the chatbots take over, it’ll rewrite banking in future. The bank states that its move to chatbots is to save money], but the wider ramifications obviously affect customer interactions throughout the entire banking vertical.
That’s not to say that the reasoning behind the move doesn’t come with a few “Errr….Um…Yuck” issues. The rhetoric accompanying the chatbot revolution is a bit… management-science-y.
The bank want to improve the “customer journey” (Who in the name of god comes up with these expressions, and why haven’t they been shot yet?) and help to manage customer call volumes.
In fairness to NAB, they’re literally putting their money where the chatbots’ mouths are. They’re trialling the chatbots on basic credit card enquiries. That’s a bit of a risk. Terms of service with credit cards are governed by statute law, as well as civil law. A mistake could be messy, as NAB well knows, so it is a bit of a vote of confidence in the chatbots to let them loose on this sometimes irritating subject.
The “customer journey” could also take a few stopovers in possible miscues, but the usual fix for that is that the chatbot connects to an operator. This move won’t wipe out the customer service staff, but it could put quite a dent in call center numbers.
The move to chatbots has been coming for a while. Chatbots have been becoming more flexible and more responsive, and the money-saving move is hardly a surprise. It WILL cost jobs, and the game of musical chairs for bank staff is obviously only just beginning.
Does this mean call centers are on the way out? In the short term, no. In the longer term, yes. Reconfiguration of the customer service operations of banks will have a significant impact. The skill sets and knowledge related to human call centers are much bigger than just answering phones, particularly in the tech services component. Those staff could realistically expect to keep their jobs, but the basic enquiries lines are looking set for oblivion.
What the banks and other financial institutions may not expect, however, is a tech war with Google, Amazon and Facebook, and possibly Apple and Microsoft. The big corporate tech monsters are believed to be looking at entering finance, and if they do, they’ll bring a lot of new tech with them. The cost savings of replacing staff with chatbots may get eaten up with a demand for newer, better systems to compete.
Service quality is a major issue in any customer-based industry. Failure to provide service, lousy service, or inept service are not good for business, when people can take their business elsewhere with a tap on the phone. The chatbots in finance will have to deliver, and deliver well.
When you make your next “customer journey” to your bank, pack a lunch. You may need it; not to deal with the chatbots, but to deal with the ever-less-human face of managing basic customer interactions. The customer environment is getting very clinical, and very sterile, and not in a good way.
I spent 20 years in customer service in the public sector. Interaction with humans with real problems simply can’t be formularised. There are many variables, and many risks. If the chatbots add more efficiency at the customer end, they’ll be a big success. If things are made quicker, easier and faster, great. If they don’t deliver for customers, expect a virtual instant library of problems and possible legal issues.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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