Should Your Credit Union Consider Adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) Before Launching Digital Customer Service (Live chat, Co-browsing, Video Banking)?

Srinivas Njay
Srinivas Njay

Introduction to Digital Customer Service

Today, end consumers prefer to interact with friends, family, and colleagues over digital channels rather than traditional channels. These consumers expect to interact with businesses in the same way.

For all businesses, including credit unions, being digital-first and catering to member needs on the member's channel of preference is crucial. Incorporating Digital Customer Service offerings is one-way credit unions are elevating their digital capabilities to serve members better.

Digital Customer Service involves providing member support through digital channels such as chat, email, text (SMS), social media, messaging apps, co-browsing, etc., using human agents predominantly (live-chat) supplemented with bots.

Different ways of launching Digital Customer Service

Several credit unions are evaluating Digital Customer Service(DCS) offerings to ensure they cater to the digital needs of their members. DCS can be launched broadly in two different ways for credit unions:

Option 1: Launch DCS before implementing Artificial Intelligence

Option 2: Launch DCS after implementing Artificial Intelligence

Let us compare and contrast these two options of launching DCS and their respective impact on credit unions.

Option 1: Launch DCS before implementing Artificial Intelligence

Some credit unions are launching DCS before implementing AI on their system.

However, these credit unions are facing several challenges with launching & experiencing success with the initiative.

A DCS initiative requires a credit union to hire/allocate human agents as a prerequisite. A credit union has to deal with several challenges related to budgeting, hiring, resource allocation & training to kick off the initiative.

Let us briefly take a closer look at these challenges from a credit union’s perspective -

Resource Allocation & Budgeting-

  • Lack of visibility with respect to how many resources are needed for the initiative due to the lack of clarity on member adoption & member interaction patterns (including types of questions asked by members)
  • DCS adoption varies with each credit union, and there have been numerous instances where credit unions’ bottom line has been impacted due to un-optimized expenses.

Due to rising member queries on digital and call center channels, there is already a lack of bandwidth with respect to internal resources.

Hiring additional agents has been the way to go for CUs that implement DCS, and hiring comes with its own set of challenges.

Hiring Challenges For Call Center Agent Roles-

  • People do not enjoy the repetitive nature of work and the high stress and work hours that come with it
  • These roles have high attrition rates, so CUs need to hire continuously
  • Costs associated with the position are always on the rise (In the last five years, Bank of America has raised the minimum hourly wage from $15 in 2017 to $22 in 2022 and plans to raise it further to $25 by 2025)

Training challenges -

  • Training to ensure consistent responses across the board is tough, leading to inconsistent member service and member experience.
  • Ramp time for new agents is anywhere between 6 to 8 weeks
  • The time and resources needed to train & manage agents are high due to high attrition rates

Due to all these challenges, CUs offer inconsistent member service, bear higher costs, and are operationally inefficient. They also hire more staff than required, leading to more bandwidth & cost inefficiencies.

Option 2: Launch DCS after implementing Artificial Intelligence

To overcome the challenges that DCS poses, credit unions are following the strategy of launching a couple of highly impactful Artificial Intelligence-powered products, ‘Smart Discovery’ and the ‘AI-Powered Phone Banking,’ before continuing their DCS evaluation.

‘Smart Discovery’ is a product that acts as a concierge bot that helps prospects and members find information about a credit union’s products and services readily. This can be set up on any digital channel swiftly.

‘AI-Powered Phone Banking’ is a product where the AI is set up in the credit union’s call center. It handles all the incoming calls a credit union receives and helps automate most of these calls in a few weeks.

Both these products help a credit union offer 24/7/365 member support, improve operational efficiency and enhance member experience.

How does this help overcome challenges in implementing a DCS?
Within 3 to 6 months of implementing these systems, a credit union will have clear visibility into the following.

  • The digital interaction patterns of your members
  • Clear visibility into the kind of questions members are asking
  • The times at which the questions are being asked

In addition, the icing on the cake is that the ‘AI-Powered Phone Banking’ product would already be handling many of these questions round-the-clock automatically. Doing so would have freed up several call center agents. Instead of hiring new agents, credit unions can then leverage the agents who are freed up to handle a DCS system or any other high-impact work.

In the context of launching a DCS system, this setup will give a clear picture of

  • How many staff can be reallocated or have to be hired
  • The times the staff need to be active
  • The kind of information and questions they need to be trained on

In most cases, launching these AI-powered products eliminates the need to hire new staff.

Case studies that prove launching DCS after implementing AI yields more success

Over 70+ credit unions across the nation are leveraging interface.ai's Smart Discovery & AI-Powered Phone Banking products as part of the initial phase in their digital transformation strategy. These products are leveraged as part of the initial phase of digital transformation strategy as they not only help credit unions offer industry-leading member support, improve operational efficiency and enhance member experience, but they also help in ensuring other digital initiatives, such as the DCS, are successful.

Security Service Federal Credit Union (HQ-San Antonio, Texas, Asset Size- $9.82B, Member Count-800,000)

Twelve months before launching their DCS system, Security Services Federal Credit Union (SSFCU) launched interface.ai’s ‘Smart Discovery’ product on their website & called it ‘Ava’. The objective of this launch was to deflect call center calls and to understand the member interaction patterns, the type of questions asked and the times at which the questions were being asked, and the human effort required to manage the entire live-chat aspect of the DCS system.

Besides deflecting several thousand call center calls & saving thousands of dollars for SSFCU, ‘Ava’ provided the required data and insights, which allowed SSFCU to come up with an effective & efficient staffing strategy.

Through the data generated as an outcome of this initiative, SSFCU today just has two people managing the live chat for over a million members. They added this staff only between 10 am and 2 pm CST.

With ‘Ava’, SSFCU managed questions from over a million members with just two staff members.

Neighborhood Credit Union (HQ-Dallas, Texas, Asset Size-$1.08B, Member Count- 56,261)

Six months before evaluating DCS systems, Neighborhood Credit Union (NCU) launched their AI-Powered Phone Banking product, branded as ‘Nick’ on their call center. ‘Nick’ was handling 100% of their incoming calls, drastically improved their service levels, and automated over 40% of their incoming calls. With this launch, NCU freed up four call center agents who they plan on repurposing to other initiatives, including DCS.

NCU was able to repurpose employees rather than going through the significant challenge of hiring and training agents with the help of AI-powered Phone Banking.

With many call center employees exploring other career alternatives because of the nature of the job, it has become challenging to hire, train and retain them.

Conclusion

To launch Digital Customer Service (DCS) initiatives, insight into member and prospect interaction patterns is critical to building effective and efficient staffing strategies.

To gain these insights and ensure digital initiatives such as the ‘DCS’ are a success, credit unions are leveraging interface.ai’s Smart Discovery and AI-Powered Phone Banking that provide these insights and vastly enhance operational efficiency and the member experience of a credit union.

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Srinivas Njay

Founder & CEO at interface.ai