INTERVIEW | Gege Gatt: Improving customer experience while reducing support costs by 50-80%

BusinessToday speaks to Dr Gege Gatt, CEO of Artificial Intelligence company EBO on how AI is transforming customer service in the financial services sector

Gege Gatt
Gege Gatt

How important is it for financial organisations to focus on customer service?

With constantly shrinking budgets, aggressive competition, tighter and tighter regulations, all resulting in real challenges in growing customers, few sectors are under pressure as the financial services sector is. It also does not help that the financial services industry is today, the least trusted sector by consumers globally (CFA Institute, July 2020).

This tough environment makes it more difficult for financial institutions to focus on growth by improving and developing new products and services. A lack of innovation in customer experience only slows user growth even further.

Deloitte’s ‘Banking of the Future: 2020’ report states that “a glimpse ahead shows an emphasis on innovative technologies to vastly facilitate banking”. When EBO surveyed the industry, it found out that financial service leaders consider customer service to be one of the biggest areas for improvement in 2020.

What could be the reason for this?

Perhaps the reason is that many businesses are still driven by human connection. However, the difference today is that customers expect human interaction to be in line and complementary to the solutions that best fit their digital lives. In fact, one can safely state that customer service today is the new differentiator.

What about the banking sector?

When it comes to the banking industry for example, a cursory look at the way banking has evolved over the past 40 to 50 years will clearly show a constant reliance on customer interactions through technology. Today we have conversational banking where better customer response, when aided by artificial intelligence, could become the critical differentiator in such a competitive market. Beyond the enhancement of the customer’s experience, AI could, within the next decade, be behind every major business decision. Customers want their businesses to serve their requirements smoothly and instantly, whether they are signing up, logging a complaint, or looking for an answer to their query. They seek agents who can solve their issues any day and any time of day or night.

Statistics point to this direction in fact, globally, 73% of people expect financial services to lead on using emerging technologies to make their lives easier. And whereas 53% say they choose those financial products that best integrate all aspects of their financial lives, 26% want digital platforms to eliminate human intermediaries.

You speak of Virtual Agents....

Virtual Agents are AI characters that act as online representatives for the organisation. They can perform administrative tasks, interact with customers on several levels and analyse data for better decision-making. Enabled by the limitless potential of AI, Virtual Agents allow organisations to offer near-human interaction at scale.

How accepted is this technology?

More and more financial services companies are embracing AI and the concept of Virtual Assistants. Throughout this process, four key areas are being identified that are experiencing improved customer experience and significant cost savings. These are Customer Service and Operations, Credit and Risk, Business Development and Marketing and Product.

This technology has also helped debunk two major myths – that Virtual Agents are the same as chatbots and that they add costs. Our clients, in fact, are cutting their costs by half, often saving up to 50% - 80% a year on their existing customer support team costs.

How are local organisations responding to this shift?

An interesting local example of the application of VA in banking was when BNF Bank chose as a partner to support its journey of incorporating Artificial Intelligence into its core business offering. In just three months, BNF Bank’s Virtual Agent Becs handled hundreds of conversations entirely by the VA, from start to finish, requiring no human intervention. The significance of this result stood also in the VA’s ability to reduce customer waiting time, increase customer satisfaction and save the company time and resources.

Another very popular virtual assistant is Emma, who directs MAPFRE Middlesea’s customers, guiding them through Customers want their businesses to serve their requirements smoothly and instantly, whether they are signing up, logging a complaint, or looking for an answer to their query their digital journey and helping them navigate through insurance processes. Customers can now open claims, renew their insurance policies and request quotes at any time of day, without the need for Customer Support to manually handle the requests. Adopting AI has shortened the onboarding process by capturing the necessary data from customers and assigning them to their respective department. But apart from answering queries, Emma’s context and sentiment awareness allows her to also take on meaning and identify users’ emotions and adapt conversation accordingly.

What other benefits can you outline in favour of Virtual Agents?

One particularly important aspect in the use of Virtual Agents is the improvement capabilities. As customers increasingly interact with the Virtual Agent, the system builds on the conversation and the usage patterns while it optimises future conversation flows. The result is automated learning, new and better capabilities, and more sophisticated conversations.

Virtual Assistants also mean that companies can today guarantee a 24/7 and 365 days a year customer service because VA’s never take holidays.

How do you respond to the common notion that all this replaces the human element?

This is a very important aspect which I never stop stressing. Virtual Agents are never meant to replace human employees but to complement their work. While routine, repetitive queries are handled by Virtual Agents, this frees up employees to be able to handle the more complex and important tasks. Ultimately, this is in line with any organisation’s quest to bring meaningful change in the way it engages with its customers.

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