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Interacting with Banking Robots May Be Closer Than You Think

December 15, 2016

By Chad J. Davis, SVP of Marketing, FMSI

Most of us have seen the movies where robots are featured in customer service roles in futuristic cities.  Their metallic dispositions are often greeted with glibness from the rugged main characters.  I’m looking at you Han Solo.  The thought of these fantastical interactions may only seem possible in the movies.  However, the practical applications of real talking robots in the branch may be much closer than you think.

Meet Pepper, a Hybris Labs Team robot.  For all intents and purposes, Pepper can carry out much of the greeter’s modern role in the branch, and wow account holders in the process.  Before your visitors even sit down, through advanced algorithm artificial intelligence, Pepper can record the purpose of the visit and possibly even legitimately cross-sell.

Robots like Pepper are already popular in Japan where consumers are much more adept to interacting with technologies in their day-to-day lives.  In here lies the biggest obstacle for North American financial institutions.  Are account holders ready to interact with robots in the branch?  After all, many visitors to the branch specifically go there to get the personalized touch of a face-to-face interaction.

Like all change, there will be an adoption period where visitors to the branch will get used to the new tech-driven process.  One of our clients in Massachusetts faced a similar adoption period after implementing our lobby tracker solution, which integrated a tablet kiosk to the check-in process.

Upon entering the branch, visitors are expected to sign-in at the kiosk.  Despite the large kiosk being front-and-center by the entrance of the branch, oftentimes people would walk right past it and sit down—no doubt caused by years of learned behavior of what to do when you visit the lobby of a branch.  A process we have all been programmed to do.

The institution quickly learned it was going to take a little more effort to get the message to their account base about the new sign-in process.  After all, you can’t expect change to happen over-night.  As a result, they created a rather large sign directing visitors to “sign in here,” and placed it right next to the kiosk.  They weren’t done there.  In addition, they placed signs at the check station, by the waiting area, and at a table next to the coffee pot.

After six months, most visitors now sign-in at the kiosk when entering the branch.  However, they still do get some people who, almost comically, walk right past the giant sign, and sit next to the other signs without checking-in.  The point.  It takes people time to adjust to new technology, and this will certainly be the case with robots like Pepper in the branch.

The primary fear of this adjustment period will likely be the cause for many banks and credit unions to avoid having robots in their branches, but does this anxiety outweigh the positives?  (The secondary fear, albeit much less realistic, relates to Skynet from the popular Terminator film franchise, but that’s an entirely different topic for another article.)

In the case of the Massachusetts financial institution, the benefits of technology certainly did outweigh the costs.  With a tech-based sign-in process, they significantly improved their service.  By tracking wait-times, assist-times and what each visitor was there to discuss, they were able use this information to better coach their employees and manage their overall branch experience.  Account holders appreciated both shorter wait-times, and a more seamless transition from the lobby to the right service representative’s office—and their staff loved having less stressed out visitors as a direct result.

So, what positives will financial institutions be missing by not implementing robots in their branches?  How about an increased sales experience where a simple branch visit can be turned into a new car loan or HELOC sale, or a drastically improved service experience where a robot can answer questions immediately instead of waiting for fifteen-minutes to talk with a service representative.

Time will tell how many branches will be the home of robots like Pepper, but I’m eager to see how I react to my first experience with a robot in a retail banking experience.  This will certainly be a unique and personal first experience for us all, with varying degrees of acceptance.  As a consumer, how will you react?

This article originally appeared in CBInsight

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