Virtual assistants offer increasing benefits for clients wanting help 24/7, but incorporating them into the communications strategy requires careful planning, says BBVA’s Hugo Nájera
At BBVA Mexico’s contact center, 80% of clients call with very similar issues. The statistics shows an opportunity to automate the way many queries are dealt with through a chatbot, says Hugo Nájera, head of business development and digital banking at the Mexican lender.
“I think we have to leave all the actions that can be easily taught to the chatbot with artificial intelligence, and start reskilling the individuals dedicated to customer care, so that they do things that require a higher level of advice.”
The BBVA chatbot has made some 1.7 million client transactions since just last year. It’s part of a trend in banking for virtual assistants to handle simple customer requests and queries.
Over the next four years, the chatbot market is forecast to top US$ 9 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 30%.
Around 45% of clients of different banks in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico use their bank’s chatbot, according to a survey conducted late last year. It’s a lot – but it competes very closely with the 44% who choose to ring a call center.
The high penetration of smartphones in the region, the growing trend for virtual assistants and worldwide social distancing are some of the few, but substantial, factors that have made chatbots an increasingly popular communication channels for bank clients.
Little by little, skepticism regarding conversational algorithms is lifting. Even Nájera confesses that his stance towards chatbots has evolved.
“Last year I naively thought that we were going to stay for a year or two with public information bots, like the one we have on WhatsApp, but today the client can already transact [through a chatbot embedded in the app].”
BBVA Mexico clients can transfer money, request loans, get a breakdown of expenses, and make cardless cash withdrawals, simply by talking to the bot or texting with it – all features that the app alone does not offer.
Chatbots: An in-channel solution
One of chatbots’ advantages is their location within the digital channel – a growing form of contact with the bank. At BBVA Mexico, some 47% of products, by relative value, were sold through digital channels in the first quarter, up from 41% at the end of 2019.
“It is very difficult to think that, in the future, each problem the customer has will be solved by leaving the environment where they are – even the bank’s app – and redirecting to the contact center,” says Nájera.
Rolling out chatbots in digital banking points to a future of customer service where AI plays a bigger role, says Nájera.
At the same time, the use of chatbots also calls into question the future of call centers.
BBVA has been aware of technology’s impact on employment worldwide, so from the beginning they aimed to make branches a digital promotion tool, says Nájera. “Reskilling of branches and executives is a key element in the digital transformation strategy, no matter how little it sounds like digital.”
There remain scenarios for which the chatbot has not yet fully evolved, such as in life insurance sales. Deeper reflection behind the purchase is one of the main challenges for AI brings. Yet it’s not far off. Gartner predicts that by 2024, artificial emotional intelligence will allow companies to detect consumer feelings, and use the information to their advantage for increased sales.
Additionally, despite the high adoption and acceptance of chatbots by users, “the offer is still very limited,” says Nájera, but he expects to perfect the tool over the next two years.
“At BBVA, being a very complex and multinational group, it requires a lot of discussion and agreement to obtain something truly global, and for us to have the same structure of data models behind so that the bot can learn, not only here in Mexico but anywhere in the world, it is an issue that we are working on, from the use of the tool to the data models behind it.”
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