By Jaime Scott, CEO and co-founder of quality assurance and agent improvement platform, EvaluAgent
The potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to transform customer service is certainly nothing new. However advances in AI-adjacent technologies, such as chatbots, have both made AI-powered technologies more accessible, and led to increased attention around the potential of AI to revolutionise the way businesses interact with their customers.
Particularly given the additional strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on customer support teams across the financial services industry, through a combination of increased queries from customers and staff shortages through either illness or furlough, customer service teams are highly likely to be under increased pressure.
Subsequently, using AI to automate certain aspects of customer contact could allow customer support teams, and the businesses they serve, to offer a higher level of service while cutting down overhead costs and improving cash-flow.
But how exactly might this look?
Automating simpler queries
Time spent on complaint-handling directly correlates with customer perceptions of good service, as evidenced by research from Forrester, which revealed that more than three quarters of customers (77%) believe that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to demonstrate good customer service.
Simply enough, customers want their query handled quickly and efficiently. To this end, as AI –specifically, related technologies such as smart chatbots and Natural Language Processing (NLP) – becomes more widely accessible, we are increasingly likely to see businesses automating more basic, transactional customer-facing tasks that require less of the emotive, empathetic touch a human agent can provide, in order to speed up response time for simpler queries. For example, Barclays recently made headlines for using AI to streamline its reporting process for lost or stolen cards, allowing the business to improve the speed at which it replaced missing cards by 67%.
This automation will also free up a lot of agents’ time during the working day, which allows them to spend more time and energy assisting customers with the trickier, more emotive queries; solving more complex issues that will make more of a difference to customers in the long run. After all, in a sector as intricate as financial services, customer loyalty is built on compliant handling. No two complaints are quite the same, and should not be treated as such.
For example, while queries such as balance checks could easily be handled through a combination of an online product and a chatbot, queries such as insurance claims will require a far more nuanced, expert touch to handle to the customer’s satisfaction.
Research shows a clear correlation between query complexity and a desire for direct human contact rather than technology. While customers prefer more convenient, automated channels, such as email and self-serve, for simpler queries, the preference for human contact (either face-to-face or telephone) increases during more complex, emotive queries such as making a complaint, or resolving a more difficult or embarrassing matter.
For example, while the survey found that automated self-service platforms were preferred by 25% of consumers for handling “simple” queries (compared with 4% for complex queries), telephone calls were preferred by 35% of respondents for complex queries, compared with 23% for simple enquiries.
Empowering customer support agents
By automating simple queries, the rise of AI will increase demand for human interaction from customers and make skilled, capable agents all the more important to businesses looking to differentiate and stand out from the chasing pack.
This need will incentivise businesses to provide their agents with more extensive, specialised training, with an emphasis on emotional intelligence and soft skills in addition to advanced product knowledge. Agents are then empowered to better become the customer service experts their employers and customers need; leveraging their empathy, authenticity and effectiveness to build a genuine rapport with customers and increase customer loyalty.
Furthermore, this training can be augmented with personalised coaching and feedback, delivered through digital platforms and even augmented by AI that helps to highlight areas for improvement. Through this, agents are empowered to constantly upskill and advance their skillset, promoting a culture of continuous improvement across the customer support team.
Offering truly bespoke customer service
AI, through its capacity to collate and analyse huge volumes of data almost instantly, has particularly interesting applications in the customer support space, in terms of improving agents’ access to customer data.
For example, AI is capable of immediately gathering all relevant data from a company’s CRM system, arming the agent with the tools they need at the beginning of a customer call to effectively and sensitively handle the query.
A simple example of the customer information that could be gathered and used includes previous interactions the business has had with a specific customer across various contact channels, such as email and even social media. Subsequently, agents have all of the information needed in one place ahead of engaging with a customer; saving both the customer and the agent time, and significantly increasing the agents’ capacity to handle the complaint to the customer’s satisfaction at the first time of asking.
Companies can use this data to create more detailed profiles of their customer base, focused around specific customer needs and preferences, such as favoured contact channels and even time of contact, to deliver a personalised service at scale, specifically tailored to unique customer needs. This can in turn increase customer satisfaction and retention rates.
Simply enough, AI will revolutionise how financial services customer support teams service their customers, but not how you may think. The volume of enquiries can be reduced, and so can costs. However forward-thinking leaders, those looking to build a strategic competitive advantage and increase customer loyalty, will recongise its true power.
Namely, AI can – and will – empower more compassionate, skilled agents who are able to provide an impeccable level of service across all channels and get crucial contact right first time, so financial services businesses don’t just survive, but thrive, throughout COVID-19 and beyond.