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Meet Ricci, RCS's new chatbot

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Regan Adams, CEO of RCS
Regan Adams, CEO of RCS

Credit and financial services provider, RCS has introduced a chatbot to engage with customers across its digital platforms. This follows a change in the company's innovation strategy.

RCS says the chatbot, affectionately named Ricci, was created out of a need to improve its customer relationship management (CRM) by building an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) solution that is adaptable to the retail sector. Following a successful trial of the bot on Facebook Messenger earlier this year, RCS has now rolled it out across its Web site and WhatsApp and mobile platforms.

RCS offers financial products and services, including credit cards, loans and insurance products, to over one million South African clients.

The company provides account holders with access to its shopper network of over 600 retail partner brands in SA, including Clicks, CNA, Dion Wired, Coricraft and Edgars, among others. Ricci uses AI to respond to frequently asked questions about any of the company's financial services and products.

Customer-driven

Romeez van der Schyff, head of digital for the RCS Group, explains that the chatbot allows RCS to learn more about its customer preferences, while improving the company's CRM system.

"Customer centricity and digital transformation remain two of the key focus areas for RCS. The chatbot will allow customers to receive information quickly and effectively without communicating with a human. It will also allow for complex operations, such as connecting to external application protocol interfaces or databases in order to construct intelligent replies based on that data," he points out.


The chatbot, notes Van der Schyff, fields queries on account information, such as balance and statement queries, and questions about the benefits of all RCS products. It also aids Facebook community managers with timeous answers to complex questions. The company says it plans to add a command-line user interface and cash advance features.

Regan Adams, CEO of RCS, says: "Having the availability of a 24-hour communication service, which enables customers to receive information with minimal effort, are key indicators of the fast-paced environment we live in. The bot is made up of two different modes: the BOT Mode and Human Mode. If it does not understand the question, an RCS customer service agent can take over the conversation in real time.

"The bot would simultaneously learn from the response of the agent that assisted. This was particularly important in the launch phase while preparing it to be 'customer ready'. In reality, training a chatbot to be customer ready could take months or even years, if there weren't these two modes."

The chatbot is the brainchild of local AI intelligence solutions provider, GotBot. RCS partnered with global start-up accelerator, Startupbootcamp in 2017, when GotBot was selected as one of the top 10 start-ups in the programme.

Preference for digital

"The change in our innovation strategy, along with our involvement in the Startupbootcamp programme, provided us with the opportunity to link with AI start-ups that are able to integrate the chatbot model into our business," says Adams.

Experts say users are adopting instant messaging services at a faster rate than social networks, with over 4.1 billion users worldwide using apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Slack.

According to Juniper Research, chatbots are predicted to save businesses $11.5 billion by 2023, and total spend on chatbots is expected to reach $112 billion within the next five years.

"The need for familiarity of channels means that the preference for digital conversations has expanded beyond users' personal lives, and customers now want to be able to instantly communicate with companies, too, whether these are brands that they buy (or plan to buy) from, or the very organisations that they work for," notes the research.

According to Research and Markets, the chatbot market is set to reach $3.1 billion in revenue by 2021, and South Africa is perfectly poised to capture a significant portion of this market. While actual purchases are still predominantly made in physical stores, 76% of local consumers are using their mobile devices to get more information from online sources to help make a purchase decision, even while in store.

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