Robots revolutionise customer service

It may seem a contradiction in terms to use robotics to improve your customer service; after all, people want to deal with people. But it's being done and it's changing banking's entire client onboarding journey.


Johannesburg, 14 Sep 2018
Read time 8min 00sec

One of the biggest challenges faced by the banking sector is how to onboard clients efficiently and accurately, while ensuring a positive customer experience. A quick glance at Twitter on pretty much any day reveals scores of unhappy clients complaining about poor service of some sort or another from their bank.

While some of these complaints are about matters that are beyond the banks' control, advances in technology are helping them make significant inroads into improving the overall customer experience.

One of the most frustrating experiences that pretty much any client can have, is having to provide their personal information so they can open an account or upgrade a service or simply access information. Any process that requires filling in one or more forms and providing supporting documentation is a source of stress and anxiety - both for the customer and the institution.

Karen Holman, Head of Client Fulfilment at Nedbank, says: "There are various channels through which financial institutions can onboard a client. The traditional approach is face-to-face at a branch, through a banker. However, this method is reliant on customers coming into the branch and, as such, is fairly confined.

"There are also mobile client onboarding solutions, whereby we have vans that are equipped to handle onboarding in remote areas so that we can service clients in areas who may not readily have access to a branch. It's also a good way to support an area and prospective clients ahead of a branch being opened in the area."

While both of these approaches have merit, the next evolution in client onboarding is really taking the process to the next level in terms of simplicity and ease of use, and it uses robotics to automate the labour- and paper-intensive process.

"Instead of having clients to access brick and mortar to interact with us, or having to send a van out to remote areas, it's now possible for bank employees to go out into the field armed with a tablet or other mobile device and onboard clients there and then. This means that clients who don't have the required documentation with them can quickly pop home and fetch them."

Regardless of whether the client has come into the bank or the bank has gone to them, the onboarding process can be significantly improved through the implementation of an automated remote fulfilment (ARF) solution, which uses robotic process automation to enable faster and smoother processing of clients' data. Holman says, "By using ARF, we're able to onboard a client in just seven minutes, compared to at least half an hour if one of our bankers does the process manually with a client who comes into the branch."

Customer experience is key

Not only does ARF improve the customer experience, it also simplifies the compliance part of the client onboarding process for the bank. All too often, this is where customer service comes unstuck, with documents missing or of poor quality, resulting in the client being asked to return to the branch with new and better copies of proofs of identity or residence. With ARF, colour photographs of the documents uploaded using the mobile devices, resulting in high quality images that don't degrade every time they are photocopied. It also means that a physical document doesn't have to move through multiple systems. All of which means that the client may be able to transact very quickly.

Holman continues: "Digitising the client's documents from the outset means that relevant data can be extracted and applied where needed. If the client is submitting multiple applications, those forms could also be auto-filled instead of requiring the client to physically fill in several forms that all require pretty much the same information."

The automation of additional red tape that could conceivably delay approval, such as the stamping of documents by banking officials, leaves less margin for human error. She says: "In a perfect world, the banker would be freed up to focus more on client relationships and let robotics take care of the processing of documentation."

Mike Fairon, sales and marketing manager of Yellow Dog Software, elaborates: "Instead of requiring a client wanting to open a couple of different accounts to fill out several forms, all of which require pretty much the same information, the ability to automate the capture of that information and automatically invoke business processes is invaluable, both in terms of time saving and accuracy. Once the information is digitised, it can be used to pre-populate forms, systems and automatically kick off business processes.

"If you can automate identification and verification as well as the account opening process, you can reduce that process from hours and days into minutes."

Focus on the human

In today's world, processes need to be centred on the interaction between staff members and clients, regardless of whether that interaction happens in a branch, in a van or on a mobile device. The client needs to be empowered to self-service as much as possible at a time, place and on a device of their choosing, so they feel as though they are more in control of their own time.

From a customer service perspective, there are several challenges that need to be overcome. "There's no bigger frustration than having to physically go to someone to get something done. People feel that their time is being wasted if they have to stand in line, fill in forms, get copies made of documents and wait for approvals to be authorised, not to mention that certain processes can only be done during banking hours. All of this increases customer frustration and dissatisfaction," says Holman.

One of the key challenges around customer identification and verification in a digital world is how to approach it from a customer perspective and not from a compliance perspective. "You need to make it a slick and customer friendly process so the conversation becomes about what the customer wants from products and services rather than being told their documents are incorrect or poor quality."

Fairon continues: "The biggest lesson that we've learnt is that we have to put the customer at the centre of the design process, so we need to design process automation from a customer journey perspective rather than considering what the technology can do and how do we meet compliance. It's true that we need to be compliant, but once we've digitised the customer information, we can then meet almost all of the relevant compliance requirements in the background, and can even follow up on any queries."

From the bank's perspective, the more complicated a process, the more room there is for human error or oversight. In addition, changing compliance requirements mean the clients may not have all of the necessary information or documents with them, which leads to delays and frustration.

Holman says: "We need to allow clients to bank where they want, how they want and when they want. We also need to simplify the multiple systems and processes that the banker has to comply with in order to service the client.

"If you have straight-through processing, with everything happening digitally, all of the above-mentioned challenges are significantly reduced."

Banking evolution

A further challenge is that the banking sector is heavily regulated and this can stifle agility. Holman says: "It's a balancing act between keeping the regulators happy while simplifying compliance for both the bank and the client."

By enabling a simpler and better way of capturing and processing clients' data, you allow the conversation to move away from a box-ticking compliancy discussion towards a customer service opportunity.

Naturally, security has to be central to the process. You're capturing sensitive client information and cyber crime is always a threat. It's all well and good for banks to want to be smart and creative and digitally savvy, but they also don't want to be irresponsible with client data. They need to find a balance between pushing the boundaries without exposing the client or the bank. "However, you can't become so risk averse that you can't move forward. You need to be aware of the risks and what is within the business's appetite to accept," adds Holman.

Fairon concludes: "The single biggest challenge faced by all organisations regardless of industry or sector is how to take a technology that's so slick and agile and quick and plug into a legacy system with all of the attendant layered systems and processes. Despite this, if, as a business, you don't start thinking about how robotics can be implemented, you'll become obsolete. You simply have to adopt it."

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