Robots as customer service agents for banks?

I got to learn of Revolut a little over a year ago. Though I have the app installed on my phone, I am not able to sign up since it is not (yet?) available in Kenya. As soon as I heard about Revolut, I was intrigued by it. What a concept! A completely branchless bank. Since I first learned of its existence, I’ve continued to be intrigued by their model and discovered that there are several other similar financial technology companies that offer banking services completely digitally.

Revolut’s customer service model is also non-conventional. They handle customer support inside the app. They have no customer service phone number. Lately, I have seen multiple articles which describe how frustrated customers have been unable to access their money and have not been able to resolve the problem because they have to talk with “series of bots and anonymous, uncomprehending employees at the end of an online support line”.

Does this mean Revolut and other banks like it are doomed? I think not. The customers I’ve read about had their accounts blocked, possibly by an AI robot and possibly because the AI robot had been taught to look out for certain risky activity in the customers’ account. Even traditional banks block accounts when they notice odd activity. I’ve had my credit card blocked because the bank thought it was being used fraudulently since I had made several purchases online. I called the bank, talked with a smart customer service agent who, after asking me several questions, felt comfortable enough to unblock my credit card. My credit card has not been blocked again even though I continue to make online purchases and pay for subscriptions online.

The disadvantage Revolut customers have is that they cannot talk to a customer service agent on the phone. They must use the in-app customer support which is most likely operated by robots and a limited number of human agents.

“In time, Revolut will get customer support right. Even if they use only Robots as customer support agents.”

Muthoni

Robots have to be taught how to reason. In the experience I described above, the customer service agent must have listened to my explanation, listened to my confident tone, confirmed that what I said matched what he could see from his system, etc. before he unblocked my card. This is something a robot agent may not yet know how to do. I have no doubt that eventually robots will learn how to process customer inquiries with the same efficiency as an intelligent human and possibly better. I also think that most customers will tolerate companies like Revolut until bots become more effective at resolving their problems.

Customer support completely via a bot?

Many companies already use bots to handle routine customer support queries – account balance, payment due date, etc. They, however, still maintain a human customer support team to handle complex queries and handle customers who do not wish to talk with a bot. In time though companies, including traditional and neo banks, may consider using bots for 100% of customer queries.

What to consider when handing over 100% of customer support to a bot:

  1. Customer empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. You would need to think of EVERY possible reason they might need to contact customer support and then teach the bot how to respond to those queries. Think also of every possible iteration of the initial query. I’ve seen this work well in Wish. When you need to make an inquiry about an order, a bot is able to adequately respond. In banking, this can get tricky. There are so many possible queries and iterations and considerations! Though not impossible, it may take banks, even neo banks, a few more years to completely hand over their customer support to bots.
  2. Reading between the lines: Bots should be taught to determine customer emotion from the conversation. An angry customer cannot be handled in the same way as a calm one. Currently bots are trained to hand over angry customers to a human. Can they be trained to handle even those angry customers themselves?
  3. What authority would the bot have? Can the bot unblock an account autonomously or should a human review its findings first? Can a bot reverse a transaction? These are critical considerations for a bank.

Are there other considerations? Let me know in the comments.