If you follow technology news, you can’t miss the new trend of conversational user interfaces (UI), which includes the Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger bots and digital intelligent assistants. The voice-first world of conversational interfaces is booming, and many banks and credit unions want to be part of the revolution. However, a lack of skills and knowledge in this dynamic market makes it very difficult for most institutions to embrace this new trend.
But can banks and credit unions allow themselves to fall behind the voice-first curve?
Probably not. Reports show that the majority of consumers are aware of conversational UI services. Millions of people own one of many Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices, and millions more are enhancing chatbots and voicebots in their day-to-day life.
Voice as Part of Your Digital Strategy
Today, most banks and credit unions offer some form of mobile banking options, both online or through mobile apps. Over half of the US population uses their smartphones for at least one mobile banking transaction. Millennials are driving the market for mobile banking, utilizing more online-based banks without brick and mortar locations, increasing their reliance on mobile banking.
The increasing reliance on digital banking indicates the need for more options for customers to utilize flexible on-the-go banking.
Conversational devices provide that opportunity for banks to expand the digital experience to their customers and connect with them through conversations. By building specific Alexa skills or Google Home actions, and even by interacting on Facebook Messenger, financial institutions can allow their users to check account balances, pay bills, and find relevant loan information.
“We are at the early days of the revolution, however those with the courage to act fast and pioneer will benefit to a degree that has no precedence in history. Voice is more powerful and pervasive than the rise of the PC and Mobile combined.” –Brian Roemmele
Where Do You Start?
While Conversational UI is a new field and extremely dynamic, there are already some best practices you should follow when building a conversational banking strategy.
1. FIND THE DIRECT PATH TO INITIAL SUCCESS
As you may have experienced, voice controls and conversational UI are not entirely new. There have been attempts in the past, but most of these trials didn’t succeed, as customers showed zero patience for failure. After one or two unsuccessful experiences, users would avoid the hassle and move on to their next thing or fall back their old ways of doing things.
So how do you find the direct path to success? Help your users ask the right questions.
This sounds pretty obvious, but it is actually crucial to the success of your conversational application. In their first interactions with your voice app, direct your customers to ask specific questions to which your conversational app has good answers for.
For example, guide them in your marketing to ask: “Alexa, what is my balance?” or “Hey Google, what were my latest transactions?”. The customer will immediately receive correct answers and won’t be discouraged by a default response of “Sorry, I don’t have an answer to that question”.
As you grow your conversational apps support, adding a discovery functionality, that notifies your customers about new options and features on the apps will continue that path of success. Similar to the way Amazon notifies users of new functionality for their Alexa devices, continue to notify customer of new conversational banking functionality.
2. THINK LIKE A SEARCH ENGINE, NOT A COMMAND LINE
Make sure you always provide your customers with an answer. Avoid the poor “command line user experience” of annoying error messages if the user doesn’t use the exact (correct) format of the sentence. Think of the experience as if you are using a search engine (like Google/ Bing) that always returns a result, whether it’s the answer to your question or a suggestion for a different search. Consumers are fine with providing clarification of a request. There are less accepting of an ‘error message’.
Here is an example: to transfer money with Google home you could say: “Hey Google, please transfer a $100 from my checking to my savings account”. In this case, Google will reach out to your account and will transfer the amount between the two accounts. But you can also use a shorter version for your request, such as: “Hey Google, transfer $100 to my savings account”.
In the second version, Google will check what are the available accounts and the balances and will re-confirm the account from which you want to transfer your money. Acting like a search engine provides bank and the user with more options, as there are answers for all different cases regardless of the format and data the user supplies.
3. OFFER A REAL VALUE – PROVIDE RICH FUNCTIONALITY
Finding your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is crucial for the success of any application, but be aware of “burning” users by offering a limited product that does not provide value. You can start with simpler types of features, such as branch or ATM locators, but receiving account balances is crucial for the success of the conversational app.
Next, you should develop a second level of features that lets customers/members modify their account. For example, transferring money between accounts, or paying bills. By providing a full-service application, you make sure your users continue to use your conversational application and don’t fall back to your web or mobile app.
4. BUILD AN OMNI-CHANNEL SERVICE
As the banking industry knows all too well, new devices and services emerge every day, and as always, we can’t control the channels our customers are using. We just need to make sure we are there to support them on the device(s) they prefer. And, as we have seen in the past, new devices/channels don’t usually replace old ones – they are simply added to the big basket of options you must support.
To accomplish this, you need to provide a similar level of service on all the different channels. For instance, you might see a spike in requests during the early morning and late night coming from home devices, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. However, during the day, you will receive more activities from Facebook Messenger, your intelligent assistant and/or a preferred application in a person’s car.
It’s a must that similar questions get similar answers on all the devices, no matter how your user is consuming your services. Remember, early adopters of digital technology may be using devices from different providers.
5. STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH THE TRENDS
Conversational UI is an extremely new trend, and it is also extremely dynamic. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2018, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart devices. The digital voice-activated devices market is expected to double every year by 2020.
This is the reason why you should make sure that your applications are up-to-date with users’ expectations. Some examples include supporting new types of enabled conversions, adding new functionalities, relevant UI, and user experience (UX), and of course, supporting all the leading voice-activated devices.
When Do You Start?
There has never been a more challenging time in banking, trying to keep pace with consumer expectations. If you want to make sure that you don’t fall too far behind what consumers are considering ‘common place’, you better start now. Learn the market, find the value you can provide using voice-controlled and conversational capabilities, and start building your prototypes that will enable you to grow with the market.
That being said, developing a conversational UI application is still not an easy task. Most organizations will need to engage with outside organizations to implement the voice-first strategy. Developers need profound knowledge in machine learning, voice recognition, and natural language processing.
In addition, it requires an understanding of the industry, of your brand, and the flexibility and agility to build for a future that is hard to predict. With the potential for conversational banking to supplement and complement today’s mobile banking capabilities in the near term, the partnerships you form during the developmental stage of the process will be most important.