9 reasons banks need to take natural language interfaces seriously

Article part of The Bank is Dead. Long Live Banking.

By Miguel Alvarez, director of research and development, AnalogFolk

Natural language interfaces (NLIs) allow users to interact with a computer by typing or speaking in their everyday language. Chatbots can reply to a person’s written questions, for example, while voice-recognition software will convert spoken words. The customer needs no special systems training – they just speak naturally.

Here’s why it’s crucial that banks invest in NLIs.

1. IT’S A CHANCE TO BE HUMAN

When people hear the word ‘bank’, they tend to think cold, hard numbers, but proper banking interfaces that use NLIs can make everyone feel as though they have a personal assistant. Sending a payment, for example, can be as easy as texting ‘deposit 15 pounds to my mother tomorrow morning’. There’s a lot of information in that message, from a software that knows who your mother is to understanding the context of ‘tomorrow morning’. For the user, though, it’s very simple — and far easier than going through the five to 10 clicks needed to achieve the same result through other interfaces.

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2. VOICE SEARCH IS HUGE

What could be easier and faster than speaking your request into a phone? When you think that humans generally speak at around 150 words per minute, as opposed to typing on average 40 words per minute, it’s no wonder voice is the fastest-growing type of search. The stats are compelling: according to analytics company comScore, 40% of adults now talk to their phones every day, and 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020.

3. IT’S A NEW WAY TO TEST AND LEARN

Those who enter a new realm first have the luxury of testing and learning. Users are forgiving when someone is leading, innovating and defining the future. Guidelines don’t exist for NLIs yet, so there’s a big opportunity to be the driver.

4. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT CHATBOTS

Building a chatbot doesn’t translate to a strategy, plan and understanding of natural language interfaces. There’s a misconception that if a company creates a chatbot or develops software for Amazon Echo or Google Home, that’s enough to drive it forwards. Chatbots are targeted solutions to a problem. Banks need to understand the role chatbots can play alongside other technologies, products and channels. There then needs to be dedicated investment into NLIs that’s proportionate to the opportunity they present.

5. TRADITIONAL SEO ISN’T ENOUGH

A lot of money is invested in SEO, assuming searches are carried out in a particular way, but that’s all changing thanks to voice commands. The way people write versus the way they talk is very different. Written Google searches tend to follow a pattern and be very simple; voice searches rely heavily on context, localisation, and long tail patterns. Companies continue to invest in obsolete SEO methodologies that aren’t taking into consideration whether or not a search comes from a voice command.

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6. YOU CAN OWN YOUR VOICE

It’s common to invest heavily in visual style guides when developing a website, campaign site or mobile application, but that effort is lost if banks don’t also control how they sound and feel through NLIs. There’s a lot to consider. Who is your chatbot persona? How does it respond and react? How should it sound in different languages? How should various regions on a customer support chatbot be managed? Should it adapt based on geolocation? And when should the persona vary its response, depending on sentiment analysis?

7. IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING INNOVATIVE

Having bank interfaces that can purely be controlled with text messages or via voice is not innovative. It’s the equivalent of when banks started to support mobile. A bank wasn’t innovative just because it could support mobile — it was a must to survive and prosper. This translates to voice. When people see the convenience of managing everything via text, with no need to install an app or wait for a website to load, tempting them back to a mobile app will be extremely difficult.

8. SENTIMENT ANALYSIS IS KEY TO BUILDING TRUST

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, recently warned that only 20% of Brits think banks are well run. Similarly, a study by McCann Truth Central revealed: ‘42% of US consumers believe brands are “less truthful” than 20 years ago.’ As public trust declines, empathy with customers is more important than ever. So it makes sense to invest in sentiment analysis. A bank that acts according to a customer’s mood might sound futuristic, but that technology is already here. Rather than channelling money into mobile apps, banks need to invest in and test proper methodologies to personalise their services.

9. YOU’LL BE LEFT BEHIND

Consider this — of WeChat’s 700m+ users, nearly 300m have added their bank details to WeChat Pay. That’s contributed to the world’s most bustling mobile payments economy. In 2015, China’s mobile transactions surged to $235bn, surpassing the US for the first time. According to iResearch, China’s mobile payments market was estimated to be worth 15.7 trillion yuan in 2016 — 28 times the $62.5bn forecast by eMarketer for the US in 2017. In Q3 of 2016, WeChat owner Tencent reported $6bn in revenue, up 52% year-on-year, driven largely by the success of WeChat. 1 Something else to consider — what if, ahead of this growth, banks had invested in divisions dedicated to messaging applications? Imagine where they’d be now.

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