As the new year begins, I’ve been thinking about the lessons from the past year. Within the industry, we saw more developments with AI, more explorations into personalization, and more bots with features like voice and predictive actions. At Unblu, we had new challenges and new opportunities and we tried new ways of doing things. But one thing has remained unchanged throughout our work. I’ve seen time and time again that there’s simply no substitute for the human relationship. But it’s still a fresh discovery for me to see how much people value it – and that’s one of the most satisfying aspects of growing Unblu. So I’m starting off the year excited about the possibilities for meaningful conversation. In my mind, a valuable conversation opens the door to opportunities and builds relationships. This year we’ll be focusing our efforts on helping our clients deliver meaningful conversations for their customers.

But in our rush to digitally transform, perhaps we’ve tried to mechanize the human, to borrow a phrase from thought leader Leda Glyptis, rather than humanize the machine. We’ve worked with hundreds of financial institutions over the last decade and they’ve consistently told us the same thing – customers want the convenience of the internet and omnichannel banking, but they also want the personal touch that comes with speaking to their bank. Conversation is the vehicle to create the hybrid experience customers are looking for. By balancing high touch with high tech, conversational banking opens new ways for building relationships between the bank and the customer.

What exactly is conversational banking?

The financial industry tends to narrowly define conversational banking as chat bot-based interactions for getting help, discussing finances or even asking for advice. But bots have limited capabilities right now, and for the foreseeable future. I believe conversational banking has to be both convenient and personal, a balance between bot, where appropriate, and human interaction.

Conversational banking must make things simpler for the customer, regardless of the device, the channel or the type of advice they need. When conversational banking is well-implemented, you can truly be present for your customers. When they want to text you a quick question, you can text back, securely and compliantly. When they need financial advice and want to look you in the eye, they can use video features together with co-browsing features – and you can create the same kind of interaction you would have during a meeting at the branch. All these interactions happen within one secure conversation space. With one click, the customer chooses how they want to interact with you. Solo information gathering efforts turn into collaborative exchanges and decision-making.

Whether the conversation is initiated by a virtual assistant or a human, each and every conversation is an opportunity to get to know your customers, to be helpful and relate to them and ultimately guide them through their financial decisions. To borrow a wonderful phrase from Chris Skinner, banks are “a foundation of humanity”, built on decades of trust. This is a big advantage that banks have over start-up competitors. By implementing a conversational interface, they’d be well-positioned to take the conversation to the next level with customers. The time is ripe to use conversations to drive these valuable, personal interactions that build loyalty. In my experience, the banks that use conversational interfaces have the best shot at moving from being reactive to proactive. Instead of only interacting with customers when they are angry about an issue, an advisor or an agent can initiate a helpful conversation with a customer that leads to satisfaction and possibilities.

This year, I challenge you to consider each conversation an opportunity to add value. It’s time to transform interactions and transactions into meaningful conversations.

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