Unless you are a First Direct customer, for many people contact centres conjure up images of nuisance phone calls and irritatingly happy customer service advisers, like the ones represented in the BBC’s ‘The Call Centre’. Regulation such as the recently announced new powers to ban cold calls and digital technology is set to change all that.

To help overcome not only this perception but also truly change the reality, over the next few blogs we’ll examine how the rise of automated, machine-led, artificial intelligence (AI) enabled technologies will help human advisors to move on to more complex tasks. We will also explore how humans will continue to play a pivotal role across banks’ and insurers’ channel offerings.

Evolving communication mediums

Historically, contact centres have primarily handled customer interactions over the telephone i.e. voice but, as other forms of business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) communication have infiltrated our daily lives e.g. social media and email, contact centres are evolving to ensure they can continue to service customers in a digital world. As customers, whether personal or business, we have never had so many choices in how and when we choose to interact with our financial services providers. No longer are we shackled by hard wired and fixed line phones plugged into a wall if we want to speak to our banks, but rather we expect to be able to speak anytime, anywhere and via any device.

The advent of smart phones and messaging apps in our pockets is taking our relationship with our banks and insurers to another level. Studies suggest that chat (messaging) is now increasingly the preferred customer touchpoint, with 67% of global customers increasing their usage of messaging in the past two years. Typically they use asynchronous messaging apps e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber, which are surpassing social networks in terms of global monthly active users. Technology companies are also developing messaging capabilities on their own platforms e.g. Apple Business Chat. This is creating more digital channel choice for customers and additional complexity and opportunity for banks, insurers and other financial services organisations.

Welcome to your conversation centre

So, what does this mean for contact centres? In the digital world, the traditional contact centre paradigm will continue evolving and will continue handling interactions across multiple digital channels. The term ‘Contact Centre’ itself is likely to change (as it did from ‘Call Centre’ in the early 2000’s) to ‘Conversation Centre’, as agents will shift from handling inbound voice interactions to multiple voice and chat channels as well as digital ‘fall-out’.

With the proliferation of AI-enabled technologies, chat is an optimal channel to host AI-powered capabilities such as virtual agents as it allows for ‘easy integration with chatbots with natural language processing capability, meaning that simple routine interactions will be picked up by virtual agents leaving only the complex interactions for human agents. While for some, this was harder originally hard to envisage, Alexa, Cortana, Siri and the rest of the AI powered digital assistants are helping show what the future is going to be like.

This new paradigm is compelling for businesses in the 21st century. Most of today’s FinTech players operate with no physical branch footprint. However, they do provide some level of ‘assisted’ customer care, offering a mix of different ways to speak to a human but always as an escalation or second line support rather than first contact, as outlined below. In industries such as financial services, where the growth of digital-only services has flooded the marketplace, banks and insurers understand they need to retain this human touch to cater for their broad customer base.

UK Neobank Branch Telephone Chat (web/mobile) E-mail Chat Bot
Monzo No Current Account Customer Services Yes – in app Yes No
Revolut No Lost Card Only Yes – in app Yes Yes – “Rita”
Starling Bank No Lost Card Only Yes – in app Yes No
Atom No General Enquiries Yes – in app Yes No
Tandem No General Enquiries Yes – in app Yes No

Clearly, for contact centres, the time to pivot has now arrived. The question is how will banks, insurers and other financial services organisations transform? I’ll cover this in my next blog.

Thank you to Damien Griffin and Vaibhav Patel for sharing their expertise on this topic.

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