The broad adoption of digital channels has been accompanied by hiring challenges for banks that often struggle to adequately staff their service channels and branches. This leads to an urgent drive to adopt virtual assistants and chatbots as a way to provide better and more comprehensive service options to their customers.

This comes at the same time as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau surveys the experience of digital chatbots and virtual assistants at big banks. This is likely due to poor perception the consumers have of chatbot-based service.

Bank executives must balance the need to provide self-service, always available options without alienating consumers with sub-optimal experiences. But there are several simple strategies that can go a long way in achieving the best of both worlds, making AI-boosted customer experience truly seamless.

To start, consider some reasons behind this poor perception. Many virtual assistants and self-service experiences try to replace humans, containing the customer without escalating the conversation to a human service member. This can lead to overly eager assistants persistently asking customers to rephrase their query or choose from a slate of options. In the worst case scenario, virtual assistants emulate humans with the aim of fooling the customer – resulting in greater frustration when this illusion is shattered. Another common source of frustration are virtual assistants that ask a lot of questions before routing the customer to an appropriate human service member, just to have those same questions repeated by the human agent.

All these examples show how a virtual assistant makes it more difficult for customers to accomplish their goal, rather than simplifies it, and increases the customer’s required effort.

The key to improving the customer experience, while getting the benefit of self service, is to make the virtual experience seamless: help the consumer when possible and get out of the way otherwise.

Here are five practical suggestions to make your bank’s virtual assistant experience seamless, leading to happier and more satisfied customers.

  1. Make it clear to your customers when they are interacting with a virtual assistant versus a human. This helps set consumer expectations and helps develop trust in the service. Consumers may choose to use shorter, direct questions, instead of more verbose communication they would normally use with humans.
  2. Always provide an option for customers to bypass the virtual assistant and connect to a human. Customers can typically tell whether their question is something simple that can be answered by a virtual assistant, or something more complex that requires human intervention. Providing an option to engage with a human when customers choose allows them to self-select into an appropriate path and delivers an experience that’s better adopted to their needs.
  3. Where possible, make it clear the limitations of the virtual assistant up front. For example, certain types of disputes and fraud-related questions might not be able to be handled by the virtual assistant; letting the customer know up-front helps them understand any possible limitations.
  4. Remove repetitive questions from the virtual assistant-to-human transfer process. If questions are needed to better route the customer, take care that they don’t overlap with verification and authentication questions that the human would ask after the transfer. Answering the same questions over and over gives the impression that customers aren’t heard; changing the questions leads to a more seamless transfer.
  5. Supplement any off-hour self-service queries with follow-up options. In cases where a virtual assistant is not able to help the customer solve their issue or it requires human intervention, your institution can offer to follow up on their request and leverage the virtual assistant to collect the relevant information rather than force the customer to repeat the process or switch channels. This gives customers an impression that they’re valued and worthy of additional follow-up to solve their issue.

When surveying your customers on their experience in a hybrid customer service journey, it is crucial to consider the entire experience and not just focus on one pathway or channel. Ultimately, great human customer service will not be sufficient to offset an unpleasant experience in a self-service setting or vice versa. Getting a full picture is crucial to understanding consumer pain points for improvements.

WRITTEN BY

Slaven Bilac