Next time you want to talk to a robot, go to the chat box on your bank’s website. Chances are, your questions will be answered by a chatbot—a robot that chats
Have you ever chatted with a robot? Well, you may have done so already. Banking, insurance and broking industries have started rolling out chatbots for their consumer services and transactions. You may have come across them on some of the e-commerce websites. However, not all chat windows have a chatbot behind them. Most are manned by humans, most likely working in a call centre. But if your were to be answered by a chatbot, it would have been without any human intervention. Here is what you should know about chatbots.
What are chatbots
Chatbots are software applications that function as chat interfaces. And their interaction with you is powered by artificial intelligence.
“Most of the travel portal or e-commerce websites in the past have used human operators to manage their chat sessions,” said Nitin Chugh, country head of digital banking at HDFC Bank Ltd. But in case of chatbots, there is no human intervention. “The bot helps standardization. Bot is short for robot…. Any person who talks to the bot will get same answer,” said Ritesh Pai, country head, digital banking at Yes Bank Ltd. And this could be useful because “many a times the branch employee may not know all the answers. The branch person can also ask the chatbot for the answer to tell the customers. Bots can be integrated on social media platforms too. Basically, these are applications that sit on systems that are already being used,” added Chugh.
Banks and NBFC
HDFC Bank currently has two chatbots—one on Facebook Messenger and the other on its website, called Ask Eva. “There is no human being involved. It allows (us) to have a lot of concurrent sessions. When we launched Eva, we hit a concurrency of 750, which means 750 sessions were going on at the same time. If it was manual, we would have required 375-750 people. Now the application is handling it. The programming is such that you can also scale,” said Chugh. When asked why HDFC Bank was offering it only on one of the social media platforms, Chugh said, “The most used messenger in India is WhatsApp followed by Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Hike. Whatsapp has not exposed its APIs to build these capabilities. Facebook Messenger has,” said Chugh.
Can we expect more chatbots ?
“The chatbot we have on Facebook Messenger is only for Facebook users and what you see on the website is for customers visiting the website. There could be another one in, say, net banking or mobile banking. We are also trying to do one for our staff. There could be plenty of them. This is just the beginning,” said Chugh.
Ask Eva is a content-based chatbot that searches through the content and displays the right answers. “If it can’t answer, it would do the learning through an algorithm. The one on Facebook is only for e-commerce—say you want to make a bill payment transaction,” he said.
Yes Bank has also launched chatbots for its customers. “Chatbots can be used for transactions and customer service. We have decided to target the customer service part. Small-ticket transactions can also be done on bots. The next step is to cross-sell through active play of machine learning and artificial intelligence. We are also enabling e-commerce,” said Pai.
Not just banks, non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) too have warmed up to chatbots. For instance, Fullerton India launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger in March. “Today we have people in sales, branches and the e-portal to communicate with customers. We want to expand the channel through chatbots. It allows you to leverage Facebook Messenger’s capabilities and a consumer doesn’t have to download an app,” said Anand Natarajan, head of strategy and business execution, Fullerton India.
Insurance and broking
Insurance and broking companies too are considering the use of chatbots. For instance, PNB Met Life too has a chatbot on the Facebook Messenger platform. “Launched in the first week of March, it is focuses on providing information. In times to come, we are looking at other platforms,” said Abhishek Rathi, head – marketing, digital, e-commerce and analytics, PNB Met Life.
Stock broking company Kotak Securities Ltd is also looking to launch chatbots.
“Right now, what we have launched is a chat service. It is not a chatbot yet. The chatbot will be launched shortly. Over a period of time, chatbots allow you to sense what people want. We are able to use keywords. It will happen shortly. I believe all large companies will move in that direction. To set up a chatbot, some initial investment may be involved. But once it is done, the scaling is fast and it becomes cheap,” said Trivikram Kamath, executive vice president and head-operations, finance and technology, Kotak Securities.
What it means for you
Many banks, insurance companies and financial institutions are working closely with fintech firms to launch chatbots. For instance, HDFC Bank has partnered with Niki.ai and Senseforth Technologies for its chatbot solutions. Similarly, Yes Bank has partnered with Payjo, a fintech company. Some bankers say that chatbots are going to be complimentary to phone banking.
However, some believe it will replace the existing call centres. “In the long run, customer service through call centres or email can come down substantially,” said Pai.
Bank have to pay for deploying chatbots—either as fixed costs or as per chat-based fees.
Customers benefit because basic information is easier to access over these chatbots, than over a phone-based IVR. And most customers don’t need to download any app to use them either.
However, for queries that are more complex,you would still will have to get in touch with a call centre executive.
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This article was originally published on livemint