Virtual Assistants: Efficiency & Customer Self-Service

With automation doing most of the heavy lifting, banking institutions can bring down costs while increasing call center productivity.

This article originally appeared in the BAI Banking Strategies Executive Report and was written by Jay Choi, our Chief Product Officer. View it here.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are top of mind for bankers these days, as they look for ways to enhance efficiency and productivity. Not surprising, since according to PWC, AI is expected to boost productivity by 40% in the workplace. Many banks have implemented virtual assistants as a way to leverage AI and drive self-service in both digital and phone channels. Yet, it can be difficult to find the right approach to address today’s critical needs and plan for the future. Some banks may decide to stay on the sidelines rather than move forward with virtual assistants, in order to thoroughly assess the pros and cons. While due diligence before adding new technology is a must, the cost of waiting too long could be greater than taking steps right now. 

Technology progress does not stop. IBM reports that 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years and AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, are advancing exponentially to keep up with the volume. And many bankers are not immune to the fact that AI and automation can add value to their institutions. In a recent survey by Arizent, bankers ranked the top potential automation benefits as cost reduction (55%), better customer experience (51%), and improved employee/operational efficiencies (51%). Financial institutions that reap these benefits will find themselves well-positioned both internally and externally.

Bank customers want to self-serve. Consumers are readily adopting AI technologies for convenience and real-time answers. Looking for banking service 24-7 to solve their financial problems quickly, account holders expect their financial institutions to provide intuitive digital solutions and self-service options. Not only that, but Zendesk research found that 89% of surveyed customers said they “will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers online without having to contact anyone.”

Unsurprisingly, the Gen Z digital natives are leading the pack in self-service journeys. Though still in the beginning stages of defining their financial lives, since they make up over 20% of the U.S. population with $360 billion in disposable income, their self-service expectations weigh heavily. 

Virtual assistants do the heavy lifting. The virtual assistant market worldwide is expected to reach $11.2 billion in 2031, up from $1.3 billion in 2021. With so many options in the marketplace, financial institutions have to proceed wisely. Since banks maintain large amounts of proprietary data, having the best-fit virtual assistant to provide information seamlessly to customers allows automation to do the heavy lifting for many service requests. Routine questions and general information requests, which account for the vast majority of customer interactions with front-line staff, can easily be offloaded to a virtual assistant. Operational efficiencies increase, bringing down costs and optimizing customer service representatives’ time for greater productivity. In fact, McKinsey discovered that harnessing big data can result in a productivity boost of up to 3% and a decrease in costs by 20-25%

With technologies advancing exponentially and consumers expecting self-service options, virtual assistants enable banks to stay competitive by serving bank customers efficiently, according to their expectations. Yet, many factors need to be considered. These three approaches help banks to determine the best path forward with virtual assistants. 

Build your own 

Building a virtual assistant from the ground up allows banks to have a uniquely tailored solution with total creative control. With niche business segments, such as mobile home lending or a diverse customer base, customized virtual assistants can address specific needs and questions. While taking more time and resources to develop, this virtual assistant solution allows banks to create a unique user experience. 

Specialized or complex workflows within the bank may also necessitate a build-your-own solution to ensure that these workflows can be captured properly for full efficiency. Due to the customized nature of this solution, IT personnel is needed to build and maintain it, which can be a heavy lift, so banks choosing this approach should be prepared.   

Turnkey solution 

Many banks may not need to build a virtual assistant from the ground up. As outlined above, this approach can be resource-intensive and time-consuming. An alternative is a turnkey virtual assistant with pre-built use cases. Starting with a virtual assistant that is ready to go, out of the box, allows banks to shorten the implementation time and time to value. Furthermore, using these virtual assistants, built for specific industries, like banking, provides the added benefit of aggregated learning across many banks, not just one. 

Leveraging a larger dataset and getting up and running in weeks versus months enables a faster return on investment and delivers a better experience for users. Few, if any, IT resources are needed, and training is simpler for bank staff so they can focus on larger-value projects. 

Integrated virtual assistant 

For banks wanting to provide a seamless customer experience, a solution integrating the virtual assistant with all other interactions would be ideal. This virtual assistant approach provides all the benefits of the turnkey solution and more. It enhances the customer experience as the virtual assistant is able to transfer interactions and historical context to a live representative without skipping a beat. 

AI-enabled virtual assistants can contain 50-90% of engagements, but there are customers that need extra support, have complex or critical issues, and run into roadblocks along their digital journey. Integrated virtual assistant solutions ensure that the customer can easily reach out and the rep has time freed up, since the virtual assistant manages the routine inquiries. The result: reducing abandonment and increasing satisfaction while advancing the bank’s digital transformation.

The explosion of AI and automation provides opportunities for banks to better serve their customers and grow their business through virtual assistants. Enabling virtual assistants not only drives efficiency and productivity within the financial institution, but also meets the consumer’s expectation for self-service. With the right approach to virtual assistants, banks can stay competitive now and into the future.