Striking a delicate balance: Technology should augment, not replace, human interaction in banking

Technology can contribute limitless value to humans, thanks to the power of data and analytics to more efficiently serve banking customers. But banks must never forget that the person is still the pivotal component of that relationship.

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Magdalena Petrova

Think about the most common reason you find yourself reaching out to customer service in banking: it’s rarely good news. Much of the time it’s to resolve a problem, and you’re likely not having a good customer experience. As much hype as there is on how traditional banks are “behind the times” in implementing technology to improve customer experience, I don’t think full-on artificial intelligence-powered chatbots are necessarily the answer. At least not right now.

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Here’s an example: Recently I received a text from a fintech P2P player regarding a password change I had not requested. I immediately was alarmed, since that is a red flag that someone is trying hack my account, and this account is directly linked to my Chase checking account. I stopped what I was doing and immediately tried to contact the P2P provider to advise them of the issue.

After a lot of time navigating the app, I was able to send an email on the subject. But I immediately received a message that my email would be returned in 48 to 72 hours, which was not very comforting. I struggled to find a phone number and once I dialed, there was no prompt for “possible fraud,” so the system kept disconnecting me. During this 15 minutes of angst, I was not having a good “customer experience.” In fact, I was getting really angry and frustrated. 

Logical reasoning kicked in and I realized that my best mode of resolution would be to contact Chase.  I called and got a person on the line immediately. After explaining the problem once, the representative suggested we immediately delink the account from the P2P fintech for 30 days. She even offered to do so at NO charge, since I was experiencing a potential hacking attack. I was so relieved that I could go on with my day, with no further actions needed. 

That’s a positive customer experience.  Coincidentally, the Chase representative didn’t try to cross-sell me Zelle, which is the Chase P2P product. That’s where AI could have stepped in after this call resolved the issue, but it didn’t.  That’s a missed marketing opportunity.

AI as a retention/marketing tool

There are AI solutions which can provide the linkage between all customer interactions: call center, social, and branch. They can flag a customer for potential attrition risk or to cross-sell highly relevant products and services related to the issue(s) the customer is having with the bank. This has to be done very carefully, though. 

Problem resolution needs to be done “neatly.” What do I mean? If an AI retention tool alerts you that a customer has made multiple attempts to resolve an issue with the bank for an extended period of time, the response must be human and high-touch – not more AI or marketing. There must be line where AI has done its job and the humans take the issue to the finish line.

Depending on the account type, a phone call or an email addressing the situation and seeking to resolve it should be the next step in the process. Once resolution is achieved, the marketing opportunity should be evaluated as in my experience with Chase and Zelle.

The behavioral intelligence embedded within AI can certainly be used to guide customers through your app or your site. However, it cannot be relied upon to solve urgent problems or quell the anxiety of an agitated customer. I see it more as a data gathering, analyzing, and filtering proposition than a solution to replace all humans. To satisfy customers who feel their needs are not being met, you need something humans possess and bots don’t: creativity and empathy.

Every resolution to a customer experience challenge needs to strike the right balance between technology and humanity. In the end, a bank that cannot choose the right method to answer a question or help a customer resolve a problem faster will find that technology can backfire.

Fintechs will continue to rely solely on technology to limit the overhead costs of human customer care. But if their technology gains mass adoption, they will need to consider the challenges and limitations of being too technology dependent. 

The future of work, automation anxiety and industry 4.0

One of my favorite thinkers on the subject of humans vs. machines is Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and the MIT Center for Digital Business. In 2013, Erik released a TED Talk video on “The Key to growth? Race with the machines.” I think of his message often when considering the future of humans and technology.

A lot of the hype around technology replacing people comes from automation anxiety, a fear that robots and technology will replace people. This idea has been circulating for over a century, ever since the Industrial Revolution. Now that we’re in the midst of Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can expect the same kind of unfounded hysteria – and potential miscalculation around the value and appropriate use of technologies like AI. This short video, “Why the Rise of Robots Won’t Mean the End of Work,” does a nice job of encapsulating the ideas of futurists and economists on the issue.

A recent article by Deloitte, “AI, Robotics, and Automation,” sums it up nicely: “​As AI and other advanced technologies permeate the workplace, skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving gain in importance. Leading companies are recognizing that these technologies are most effective when they complement humans, not replace them”.

Industry lines are blurring, and consumers want to have the same frictionless experience with their banks that they have with their social media and retail relationships. Yet nothing is more personal than finances and financial well-being. Technology can contribute limitless value to humans, thanks to the power of data and analytics to more efficiently serve banking customers. But banks must never forget that the person is still the pivotal component of that relationship.

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