Chatbot opportunities in retail and banking

Posted on: March 9, 2018 by Maxime Capelle

Conversational chatbots are becoming a familiar part of our everyday lives. More and more industries are deploying them – including the retail and banking sectors. We explore what chatbots are, why brands are deploying them, and what the future holds.

What are chatbots?

Simply put, chatbots are software programs that use technologies such AI (Artificial Intelligence), NLP (Natural Language Processing) and ML (Machine Learning) to converse with humans. The technology allows the bots to understand what we’re asking and respond in a natural – conversational – way. They learn from their conversations with us, improving their responses over time.

Some engage with us in a written conversation, for example, a ‘social bot’ within a messaging app such as Facebook Messenger; others through voice, within a smart assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, for instance.

Chatbots in action

Banks are currently deploying chatbots in a customer service role, answering customers’ frequently asked questions: How do I open a savings account? Help me add a beneficiary to my current account. Where’s my latest statement? I’ve broken my debit card – can you order a new one for me?

Retail chatbots have a similar customer service role, also responding to frequently asked questions: Where’s my nearest store? When does it close? And in the case of a Telco store, where can I find last month’s invoice? In addition, chatbots can offer more advanced services that save the customer time in their shopping journey by preparing a shopping list or their order, for instance.

These chatbots give customers the instant response they need. They also let them engage at a convenient time and in the places they spend more of their time these days: in messaging apps and with smart assistants. Customers can chat with the bot in the same natural way they message their friends and family and, increasingly, using their voice.

Companies deploying chatbots benefit from cost efficiencies and improved customer satisfaction. More than that, their chatbots raise brand awareness, portraying the brand as innovative and in touch with its customers’ lives.

Mixed success

We are only at the start of the story. The application of the technologies at the heart of chatbots – Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, amongst others – is advancing. In time, chatbots will be able to answer all the questions we want to ask them.

But, success to date has been mixed. As often happens with new technologies, consumer expectations have been higher than the technology has been able to deliver. Consumers can forget that chatbots aren’t human and end up finding the interaction frustrating and disappointing.

The most successful chatbots are those with scripted responses to specific queries, guiding the user along their journey. Anything more advanced and the chatbot needs to be backed by a human being who can take over for complex questions.

We are, however, seeing more advanced chatbots emerging:

  • SNCF’s chatbot can research the best journey and select the best ticket for you.
  • Subway in the U.S. has unveiled an order and pay service on Messenger chat as a new channel for online ordering.

What next?

In the short term, we see chatbots will be able to answer more complex questions, particularly questions that are difficult to answer using a web interface. Take ‘How much did I spend in restaurants in the last three months?’ An advanced intelligent chatbot could analyse their account transactions to answer that query.

We can expect to see retail chatbots taking both orders and payments, providing a completely seamless journey for the customer. Using your chatbot to order and pay for food, tickets and takeaways and more through a chatbot would become second nature.

Chatbots will need to integrate with back-office systems. They will need to access our bank accounts and retailers’ CRM systems, for instance, to answer more specific and personal questions.

In the longer term, AI, NLP and ML will only improve. Chatbots’ ability to understand our language and make sense of our intentions will improve, and they will be able to deliver more reliable responses. Beyond words, we anticipate future chatbots will understand images, gestures and more. They may also gain a better awareness of themselves and their environments.

But as chatbots gain access to more personal information, brands will need to ensure their compliance with regulations such as GDPR. A user may provide personal information in the course of their conversations, such as information about their wider family or home environment. To what extent can brands use this additional information?

Top tips

Our first tip is for brands to reduce the scope of their initial chatbot deployment, to avoid user disappointment. They should then move from basic to more advanced assistance in steps, also taking advantage of advances in technology as they emerge.

Our second tip is to take advantage of the extensibility of the increasingly popular smart voice-enabled assistants. Voice is the user interface of the future, and it’s the most natural interface for a chat.

Our next tip is to keep a close eye on which platforms are growing in popularity. In China, for instance, the WeChat social messenger is evolving into a platform of services, thanks to chatbots. Users can interact with the chatbots to hail a taxi, order flowers and even pay a restaurant bill. Users will go where they most chatbots are deployed, so that is where your chatbots need to be.

Our final tip is to aim for a consistent omnichannel chatbot experience. A user will expect a consistent and seamless experience if they move from speaking with your chatbot in Facebook Messenger to your chatbot in Amazon’s Alexa, for instance.

As people increasingly turn to chatbots for help, are you ready for this new engagement channel? Have you explored how chatbots could help you and your customers? Are you aware of the use cases that are emerging?


Chatbots and AI: 2018 theme of our international student competition “Atos IT Challenge”

Artificial Intelligence is a game changing technology but some are also saying it could be a huge threat – with calls for regulation to protect humanity against AI running out of control.

We believe it is an important area for students to explore as one thing is certain: if you master the chatbot, you master the world!

More about the Atos IT Challenge competition

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About Maxime Capelle
Innovation Manager
Maxime is head of Digital Banking innovation at equensWorldline. With more than 10 years of experience in designing and implementing digital services for the public service and finance sectors, he focuses on identifying emerging uses, business and technologies to provide value-added services to end users and banking players. Aware of the possibilities but also of the complexity brought by technology, Maxime is also working to facilitate the adoption of new uses by taking advantage of emerging technologies such as chatbots, conversational agents, mobile UX and artificial intelligence.

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