Delivering on the promise of conversational AI verticalization is adding real value to chatbots. Now we need to scale

As virtual assistants—or chatbots as they are commonly called—burst onto the scene a decade ago, many banks saw a tremendous opportunity to lower service costs, deflect calls during peak hours, and offer 24/7 customer support. Early chatbot success in e-commerce encouraged banks to explore ways to leverage them for customer service. The rapid proliferation of providers only added to the excitement around conversational AI. 

Unfortunately, most early solutions were horizontal ‘one-size-fits-all’ chatbots, designed for any and every industry. While providers understood the coming shift from phone-based to digital-first service, the chatbots were too broad and largely failed to deliver on the promise of conversational AI. As a result, many chatbot firms went out of business as the hype cycle crashed.

Now, a new generation of providers has emerged, developing highly verticalized solutions that focus on specific domains, such as banking. With tailored chatbots optimized to help banking customers not only get balance information quickly, but also learn about loans, credit cards, and mortgages, conversational AI is starting to add real value. This mirrors success in other industries too, including retail, hospitality, and even real estate. 

With a number of vertical chatbots available now, banks can offer helpful automation as part of their Digital Customer Service. But as sophisticated as virtual assistants have become, they are only as effective as the platform they are integrated with and the data they act on. 

The most effective virtual assistant should be an integral part of a comprehensive Digital Customer Service strategy that enables seamless engagements that retain full context from chatbot to human assistance across all channels. A virtual assistant alone cannot bridge the digital disconnect when the chatbot or human service representative lacks the ability to resolve an inquiry and needs to escalate to a specialist—most often by offering a phone number for them to call and start over again.

In fact, a seamless bot-to-human transfer across any digital channel not only accelerates the overall engagement, but can greatly improve the customer experience too. Beyond providing a simple balance or ABA routing number, imagine a chatbot that can direct customers to the most appropriate customer service representative. Quickly matching a prospective home buyer to a mortgage expert, for example, or offering a preferred credit card to upsell a loyal customer. Virtual assistants should be more than a stopgap solution for after hours service. Delivering on their true promise means integrating conversational AI as part of the overall customer experience.

Now that industry-specialized virtual assistants are providing value, reaching scale that enables continued innovation to keep pace with both technological advances and customer expectations is within reach. Because AI continuously learns and improves, broad adoption will create a larger data model for virtual assistants to understand banking trends and customer inquiry patterns as they unfold, adapt, and evolve to meet changing needs. Virtual assistants can actually increase the value they deliver over time.

Industry adoption, however, is not simply about which provider offers the most features in a stand-alone comparison. It will be driven more by which solution enhances the overall customer experience and helps banks create a competitive advantage. Look for virtual assistants that have pre-integration within a Digital Customer Service platform—ideally from a single provider for both the platform and AI solutions to further ensure success. 

By assessing virtual assistants as part of the overall customer experience and elevating the Digital Customer Service offering, banks can start to realize the full potential of Conversational AI, well beyond answering simple queries. Banks can finally lower service costs, deflect calls during peak hours and even offer 24/7 support that is helpful and keeps customers engaged, rather than driving them away. Conversational AI—that is industry-specific and embedded into a Digital Customer Service platform—is finally starting to deliver on its great promise.

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