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Chatbots 24h assistance: what they are and why they are useful for banks

They were already in the air and online before the lockdowns of the pandemic. However, a good chunk of the Italian population began to get familiar with chatbots in those very months when online traffic increased and many relationships became compulsorily digital. No one escaped this transformation: shops, services, public administrations and even banks. Artificial intelligence and the ability to interact with people using algorithms but sustaining a structured dialogue, is starting to satisfy even the most sceptical more than anything else because it actually provides the information requested and does so 24 hours a day with fairness and courtesy.

Chatbots: what they are

From a technological point of view, we can consider chatbots as software solutions capable of simulating a human conversation. They are not new, the name derives from ‘chatterbot‘, a term to define conversation programs coined in 1994 by Michael Mauldin, creator of the ChatBot Verbot. There are different types of chatbot, Not all of them offer the same level of service and satisfaction, but at their  base is always the same concept of conversation, despite the fact that  fortunately technologies are constantly evolving. While the basis is always artificial intelligence, we can see different types: from the simplest ones that scan keywords, a bit like search engines, and then try to provide the most suitable answer, to chatbots that can even imitate human behaviour and analyse natural language, involving NLP, Natural Language Processing, a fascinating field of research and applications that combines computer science, artificial intelligence and linguistics.

Chatbots: what they are used for

A few years ago we might have wondered which software could be used for communicating with a service or a company, as we were used to surfing on websites or making phone calls, getting lost in FAQs or sending emails asking for information. Today we almost look for them if they are not there. We almost take for granted that they will automatically pop up and ask us if we need anything. What has certainly also accelerated the adoption of chatbots is the considerable improvement in their performance that has been shown by technological acceleration. We find them used for various tasks and in various areas. For example to provide assistance to company employees on topics for which they have received specific training and of which they may want to ask for clarification. There are also chatbots for automatically performing certain operations or those whom the person they have been talking to has indicated.

These are just examples of chatbot applications, but they are now part of our lives and we can find many more.

Chatbots: benefits

From traditional virtual assistants in smart home devices to advanced CRM systems and services that provide information on news, offers and promotions, chatbots are proving to be an interesting and versatile invention, with several advantages that have not gone unnoticed in many different sectors.

The most obvious one is certainly their hours of operation. If they replace a call centre, for example, they do so by covering a 24/7 shift without any person having to sacrifice themselves to work these hours. They give immediate answers and meet the demands of many consumers effectively. What is also very important, for those who use them is the possibility of integrating them with social networks and messaging apps to deepen the knowledge of the user and thus be able to address him with personalised offers and more suitable answers. And let’s not forget that chatbots learn from their mistakes! Thanks to the machine learning functions built into them, they become better and better.

Chatbots in numbers

In the Artificial Intelligence Observatory of the School of Management of the Polytechnic of Milan, chatbots are among the initiatives that have grown the most in terms of resources in 2020 (+10%), second only to Virtual Assistants (+28%). Together they represent a good 10% of the artificial intelligence market. This is not a foregone conclusion, especially since solutions such as chatbots have to compete with others that analyse and extract information from data.

extracting information from data, which alone account for 33% of expenditure, and those for the interpretation of natural language mentioned above.

Chatbots and banks

As we have already said, banks and the financial world in general did not sit back and watch this phenomenon grow. They understood immediately, or almost immediately, that this was a useful service with which to improve their offer and their relationship with their customers. Those who had already realised this beforehand took great advantage of it during the months of social distancing, while those who had not yet equipped themselves in many cases ran for cover by catching up with their competitors. Today, chatbots are easy to develop and implement and save a lot of money in customer service. They are a solution that contributes greatly to the banks’ need to remain competitive and innovate every day in order not to fall behind the many fintechs on the market, or even just the new habits of their customers, who are becoming increasingly digital and used to interacting casually with machines. Today, the user experience provided by chatbots is challenging; it has evolved significantly over the last few years and manages to satisfy even the most sceptical. However, it is still a technology that needs to be managed with care because if it starts to fail, the reputational damage would be enormous. In any case, the benefits outweigh the risks: first and foremost the enormous savings linked to the automation of basic and time-consuming activities.

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