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CHATBOTS CAN BOLSTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE BUT ONLY IF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS MASTER FOUR KEY CRITERIA

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CHATBOTS CAN BOLSTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE BUT ONLY IF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS MASTER FOUR KEY CRITERIA

Rob Brown, Associate Vice President at Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work 

Chatbots are gaining in popularity in a number of industries as an important customer service tool, with financial services and insurance particularly keen to roll them out: Crédit Agricole Assurance has Marc, and Bank of America recently announced it was introducing Erica. Barclays, Société Générale, USAA, BBVA, and Capital One have all also begun investigating the technology.

The rise of chatbots is being driven by several converging trends: the popularity of messaging apps, the explosion of the app ecosystem, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies, conversational user interfaces and a wider reach of automation. Their adoption is accelerating so quickly that Oracle believes that 80% of brands will be using them by 2020. But will the current hype be sustainable over time without a stronger business rationale and better short-term results?

We live in an age of instant gratification, and this certainly applies to exchange of information – the core mission of financial services.  So why are customers confronted with long wait-times on hold, being transferred department-to-department, or having to wait through a list of phone prompts? In the context of chatbots, it is actually not about “the robot” at all, it is all about how easy the end-user finds it to use, and simply whether it works or not. To get it right, businesses should start preparing for the coming bot age now if they have not begun to already. This means peeking into the future and designing bots to respond to today’s customer needs, such as personalisation, context, meaning, first contact resolution, management, as well as bot-human interaction and interface design.

Here are four areas chatbots will evolve.

  • Specialisation and Personalisation

For chatbots to be effective, they need to become far more specialised in topics and tasks, and have the ability to personalise interactions. As time goes by, we will begin to see this happen. Very soon we will see expert chatbots that specialise in providing information about different banking solutions, while there will be some like x.ai’s Amy, Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana that are experts in making calls and scheduling meetings, or helping to orchestrate process steps. For example, your close of escrow got delayed due to unforeseen disclosures from the seller – was the bank notified not to fund the mortgage loan? In-the-moment examples like these will make chatbots more utilitarian and dependable.

On the flip side, users will also then need to understand what the chatbots does, specialises in, excels in and – most importantly – where it has limitations. This leads to one of the most crucial design decisions: the history of continuity and personal connection. Consider this element as a “tuning fork” of sorts that brings together and harmonises all interactions a person may have on a given subject.

If the user were to stray from a central line of main dialogue, for example, from Siri to Facebook Messenger, a chatbot will need the history and context of other discussions with people, places, and things in order to provide continuity and personal connection. In turn, this will dictate how much personalisation can be brought into the interaction itself. For instance, can the system remember user profiles, previous interactions, the interactions of other users in the system, the current context and the situational bigger picture? Chatbot creators will then need to design them so that they can access this information using a multitude of systems and derive meaning from that information, all while keeping the central “plot line” of context intact.

  • Speed of Response

One of the things that makes most present-day browsers so useful is their ability to answer questions at almost the speed of the user’s thoughts – sometimes faster. The experience of a good chatbot interaction is not judged only on its capacity to answer a question correctly but also the speed at which such a response is provided. In the bot world, solving a problem after a first contact with a customer will become a key performance metric.

Chatbots that can provide basic solutions in the first instance without the need to paraphrase or explain the problem in greater detail will be the most useful and, by extension, the most popular.

  • “Superbots” – Your Personal Assistant

The concept of a superbot is not yet well known but will be a significant element in the future of bots. Indeed, as bots become more specialised and popular, they will proliferate. For many companies, managing them could become as overwhelming and complex as managing apps is today. The solution could come in the form of a superbot.

A superbot, or “bot of bots,” would act as a personal assistant, getting things done on behalf of the user. That would mean calling other bots to complete tasks such as scheduling meetings, dialing conference call numbers or redirecting the customer to the appropriate page to make a claim. The superbot would know which bot to call for a particular task and instruct that bot to provide feedback to the user, therefore being faster and more efficient. Some platforms already use “global managers”, automated robots that orchestrate workflow, and delegate which process transactions should be worked on by myriad other robots. 

  • Humanising Chatbots

Many of us will have seen an example of a gimmicky, humanoid “greeter robot” deployed in your high-street bank branch but the chances are, it fell short on actual needs-based problem solving for the customer. Chatbots, to the rescue – customers actually want solutions to process common choke-points in the gaps between information flows. Most of today’s technology exploration focuses on enhancing features and improving functionality to enable chatbots to mimic human responses, engaging in a more natural, intelligent conversation with users. Despite the merits of this work, the continued success of chatbots will not wholly depend on their ability to conduct a natural conversation but on the accuracy of their responses to customers’ questions at the moment-of-truth: when the tax bill is due, when the overdraft charge kicks in or when the mortgage documents are being finalised.

Humans can sense when they are interacting with a machine, and any attempt to make it appear more human rather than intelligent may end up triggering negative emotional responses in humans— this phenomenon has been called “the uncanny valley” by a Japanese roboticist in the 70s. That is why some novelties robots are merely a distracting detour on the road to real breakthroughs in applying automation that matters to the financial services sector for real and lasting results.

Chatbots will be the vanguard of these efforts, and success will hinge upon their ability to become useful, maybe even indispensable, to human beings. Automation has its limits — and there are some things that robots just cannot do. That is where a blended model of automation augmenting people in their daily lives, conversations, and information requirements can provide extraordinary outcomes. By connecting conversations with meaning, context and intelligence, and providing people with relevant information in real-time and after absences, chatbots will provide as higher quality service and outcomes.

For companies in financial services, in addition to other industries, it requires striking a balance between speed, specialisation, and personalisation provided by chatbots and the ability to cater to human sensibilities and expectations. After all, the main goal is to support users and to make their lives easier.

Business

Nvidia forecasts sales above estimates as gaming chip sales surge

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Nvidia forecasts sales above estimates as gaming chip sales surge 1

By Chavi Mehta and Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – Nvidia Corp forecast better-than-expected fiscal first-quarter revenue on Wednesday, expecting strong demand for its graphics chips used in gaming PCs and artificial intelligence chips for data centers.

As people wait for COVID-19 vaccine rollouts around the world, stay-at-home orders have helped sustain the demand for chips used in personal computers, gaming devices and data center infrastructure that enables remote working.

The Santa Clara, California-based company’s gaming chips have also regained popularity for mining cryptocurrency, a trend Nvidia is trying to counter by throttling its gaming chips ability to mine for currencies and instead offering specialty chips for mining.

While Nvidia was long known for its gaming graphic chips, its aggressive push into artificial intelligence chips that handle tasks such as speech and image recognition in data centers has helped it become the most valuable semiconductor maker by market capitalization.

It has eclipsed rivals Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices.

Shares were up 3% at $597.50 in extended trading after the results.

On a conference call with investors, Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said that a global chip crunch made it hard to keep the company’s flagship gaming chips introduced last fall in stock and that the chips would likely remain in tight supply through the fiscal first quarter.

The company also said it will make a change to its gaming chips starting with the RTX-3060s to make them less efficient for mining cryptocurrency. The company said it will instead introduce mining-specific chips.

“We would like GeForce GPUs (graphics processing units) to end up with gamers,” Kress said.

Kress said analysts have estimated that cryptocurrency mining contributed between $100 million and $300 million to Nvidia’s sales in the fiscal fourth quarter. The company expects the new mining chips to generate about $50 million revenue in its fiscal first quarter, Kress added.

The company expects first-quarter revenue of $5.30 billion, plus or minus 2%, above analysts’ average estimate of $4.51 billion.

Revenue in the quarter ended on Jan. 31 rose to $5 billion from $3.11 billion a year earlier. Analysts on average were expecting $4.82 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue in the company’s gaming segment was $2.5 billion, above analyst estimates of $2.36 billion, according to data from FactSet. Data center revenue was $1.9 billion, above estimates of $1.84 billion according to FactSet data.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Maju Samuel and Will Dunham)

 

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Running boom to help Puma recover after slow start

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Running boom to help Puma recover after slow start 2

By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) – German sportswear company Puma expects the financial impact from coronavirus lockdowns to last well into the second quarter, but believes global growth in running should help to support a strong improvement after that.

“We clearly see a running boom in the whole world,” Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden told journalists, noting that yoga and other outdoor activities are also doing well. He expects the healthy living trend to continue even after the pandemic.

Gulden said his optimism is underlined by the fact that orders for 2021 are up almost 30% compared to a year ago, with bookings for running products particularly high.

However, there is still uncertainty about when lockdowns in Europe will end, with about half of the stores selling its products currently closed in its home region.

For the full year, Puma expects at least a moderate increase in sales in constant currency, with an upside potential, and a significant improvement for both its operating and net profit compared with 2020.

Shares in Puma were down 2.9% at 1100 GMT.

“The wording on outlook looks softer than we had anticipated, even by Puma’s cautious standards,” said Jefferies analyst James Grzinic.

Gulden noted that a shortage of shipping containers bringing products made in Asia would impact margins, with freight rates likely to double in the next 12 months.

Puma will put a stronger focus on the women’s market in future, Gulden said, creating shoes better modelled to female feet for running and soccer and capitalising on partnerships with celebrities like singer Dua Lipa and model Cara Delevingne.

Gulden admitted Puma had been slow in creating its own app, but it plans to launch one towards the end of the year, further supporting online sales, which grew by 63% in 2020.

Rival Nike in December raised its full-year sales forecast after demand for outdoor sportswear drove an 84% surge in online sales.

Gulden said he is hopeful that the Olympics will go ahead in Japan and the European soccer championship will also take place after both were postponed from 2020.

($1 = 0.8226 euros)

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Mark Potter and Keith Weir)

 

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion 3

(Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp said on Wednesday it would sell its non-operating interest in its UK and North Sea exploration and production assets to private-equity fund HitecVision for more than $1 billion.

Exxon has been looking to sell its oil and gas assets since late 2019, seeking to free up cash to focus on a handful of mega-projects.

The deal includes ownership interests in 14 producing fields operated primarily by Shell as well as interests in the associated infrastructure. Exxon could also receive about $300 million in contingent payments based on a potential for increase in commodity prices.

Exxon’s share of production from these fields was about 38,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2019, the company said.

Exxon said it would retain its non-operated share in upstream assets in the southern part of the North Sea as well as its interest in the Shell Esso gas and liquids (SEGAL) infrastructure, which supplies ethane to the company’s Fife ethylene plant.

HitecVision, in partnership with Eni, had bought Exxon’s Norwegian North Sea assets for $4.5 billion in 2019.

Initially, Exxon hoped to raise more than $2 billion from the sale, which was planned for late 2019. In June 2020 sources told Reuters that the portfolio was more likely to fetch $1 to $1.5 billion given the oil price weakness last year.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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