Chat bots: The new face of digital collections?

Are you familiar with chat bots? Have you considered how they could help your customers to share the information you need?

Our recent quarterly Live Debate explored how chat bots are already starting to play a key role in banking.If you’re not already familiar with chat bots, now’s the time to learn what they are and how to adapt to this technological shift.

Financial services companies are deploying chat bots. Customers can make payments, check their balance or even get help on saving money by simply talking to the bot.

We’ve previously discussed how collections is in need of the digital touch. Before we explore the role chat bots could play, let’s take a quick look at what they are.

Collections Bot Concept

What is a chat bot?

Chat bots are intelligent computer programs that can take part in meaningful written or spoken conversations with people. They use technologies like AI (Artificial Intelligence) and NLP (Natural Language Processing) to understand what we want, answer in a natural way and learn from their conversations with us. They may engage with us through standalone apps on our mobiles, through messaging apps, through web chat browser apps and increasingly using devices’ built-in services like Apple’s Siri, the Google Now Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.

Although at times it may feel like there’s a human behind the chat bot, we shouldn’t pretend there is. If customers start using them under false pretences, it’ll only put them off using them if they find out they’re not really chatting with a person.

What are they useful for?

When it comes to chat bots, people often think of them solely as customer service agents. But they could also play other important roles – in helping customers through onerous tasks like completing an income and expenditure analysis as part of the collections process.

Here, instead of working through a long form on screen, chat bots could take the customer through the questions one at a time, giving hints and tips that are not only relevant to the current question, but also to the context of the customer. And if they are built to understand and remember context, they can take into account any previous information the customer has shared to build up very meaningful and useful interactions.

When a lot of information needs to be collected and customers aren’t always quite sure how to respond, chat bots would really come into their own, ensuring that:

–          Filling in a long or complex form is not so taxing or time consuming for the customer

–          The customer is able to complete the form correctly first time

–          In fact, the customer might not even need to see a form (the sight of which can put a lot of people off).

 In addition, the chat bot would be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to interact with the customer through discussion.

Let’s look at what a conversation with a collections chat bot might look like. After all, collections forms can be long and complex – especially if the customer has, for example, missed some payments and you need to gather a lot of information before deciding on next steps.

 What might a digital collections bot look like?

Imagine we’ve reached the section on the collections process that is asking about income and expenditure. The chat bot might ask: “How much council tax do you pay each year?” and the customer might reply “I don’t know”. The conversation might then continue…

Chat bot: “I’ll see if I can find out for you. What’s your postcode? And house name or number”

Customer: “S028 5NE and 30”

The bot would then connect to and look up how much council tax is due for that property.

Chat bot: “From what I can find out the council tax for your property is £2,508 a year. Does that sound about right?”

Customer: “A bit too high.”

Chat bot: “Maybe you get a discount?”

Customer: “Yes I get a 25% reduction.”

Chat box: “So your annual council tax would be £1,881?”

Customer: “That sounds right.”

The customer would also be able to ask the chat bot for help. Let’s take an example around income. The conversation might go…

Chat bot: “What’s your gross monthly income?”

Customer: “Is that what it says on my contract or what I get in the bank?”

Chat bot: “It’s what it says on your contract.”

Customer: “What about overtime? Do I include that?”

Chat bot: “Not here. We’ll come onto that later.”

Helping the customer

More than that, the chat bot could give a customer some friendly hints and tips on ways to save money based on a combination of their knowledge gained in helping others complete their forms and information available on the web.

Take the cost of water bills, for example. The conversation might go…

Chat bot: “How much is your monthly water bill?”

Customer: “£80”

Chat bot: “That’s actually quite high for your neighbourhood. Do you have a water meter?”

Customer: “No”

Chat bot: “It might be worthwhile looking at having one put in. Most homes can have one installed for free and it could save you money on your water bills.”

Customer: “Thanks, I’ll look into that.”

The chat bot could also, in time, evolve into the intelligent personal assistant that we’ve discussed in earlier posts.

A specialist ‘Finances IPA’ might keep an eye out on the customer’s debt levels and warn them well in advance before they find themselves in a situation where their books don’t balance.

Have you explored how chat bots could benefit you and your customers? How would use them to help customers share the information you need?