Voice assistants in Financial Services: If you want voice assistants to engage, teach them the art of conversation

By Antti Kilpelä, Service Design Director, PwC Experience Center Helsinki 

Digital voice assistants are an opportunity to embed your business within your customers’ lives. But to fully engage with customers, your voice assistants need the empathy and understanding to connect with customers on their level and put them at their ease – ‘conversational intelligence’. So, how can your business create a trusted and engaging conversational experience?

In an earlier blog, we looked at how digital voice assistants are redefining customer experience within financial services (FS), and could soon be the new norm.

The voice assistant would be at your customer’s side 24/7, not just freeing them from the hassle of text interfaces, but also getting to know them in a way that a contact centre agent would never be able to. But to be a true ‘friend’, the assistant needs to be able to talk to customers on their level – speech is the essence of humanity, the foundation for emotional connection.  

The vital importance of conversational experience is highlighted in our recent study here at PwC. This includes benchmarking existing voice services within FS and interviews with business leaders, innovators and technology vendors from across the industry. Summing up the need to humanise interaction, the head of customer experience at a leading bank said:

"Technologies are becoming a utility – differentiation comes from empathetic, personalised experience."

Head of Customer Experience from a leading bank

Accuracy, flexibility and trust

While the kind of fluent, free-flowing conversation that people have with each other has been difficult for AI to replicate, this is now changing as advances in natural language processing, deep learning  and voice recognition gather pace. Assistants are gradually learning to judge mood, be good listeners and strike the right tone – in short, the art of conversation. Our research highlighted the core foundations for humanising the experience.

"Get the conversation right first."

Head of cognitive and digital services at a leading bank

Conversation has to be accurate as even the smallest misunderstandings or glitches in the conversation can cause frustration and even spur the customer to give up altogether. A key part of this is understanding dialects, nuances and slang.

This leads to the need for flexibility. People have different preferences about how they want to interact and complete tasks with the voice assistant. This demands flexibility and intuition from the assistant in adjusting to different ways of thinking.

And just like a conversation with a close friend, customers need to trust the assistant by being sure that what they’re saying is secure, understanding how the information will be used and knowing that the ‘listener’ has their best interests at heart.

So how can your business build this conversational intelligence and connection?

1. Get the conversation right first and build from that

The need for accuracy to avoid frustration underlines the importance of fine-tuning voice assistant capabilities before launching them to the public.

As you look to build trust, the starting point would be fairly straightforward interactions such as changing a password or collecting information on a lost credit card. To get the conversation right, some of the companies we spoke to are trialling digital assistants internally before launching them with customers. Once the basic voice services are handled smoothly, you can progressively introduce more complex services. This includes analysing customer data and context to alert them when further action might be needed and have a free-flowing intelligent conversation about the options.

2. Developing a distinctive personality

Just like a person, the voice assistant needs a distinctive personality and the ability to adjust to different situations. The tone for taking out new pet insurance should clearly be very different from filing a claim for fire damage, for example.

The latest tech advances would enable you to analyse personality and current sentiment based on user’s speech as it happens. Some of the companies we spoke to have also brought in neuroscientists and conversational linguists to humanise the experience and make it more adaptable.

Our study highlights the importance of personality in fostering trust. The ability to converse in a natural way helps to break down barriers and seamlessly move the conversation to a real person if needed.

In creating this natural voice, it’s important to consider acoustic technicalities like pitch, speed and tempo of the speech. Humanising components such as accent and gender can also help to form a connection with the user and improve the way services are delivered.

"In 2019 we will see more voice-based transactional capabilities and in 2020 first companies offering financial advice"

Head of Customer Experience at a leading bank

Finding your voice

So, in conclusion, the essence of successful voice assistance isn’t just what you say, but how you say it and how well you listen. How to make your voice just right for the brand experience and user context are therefore set to be among the most interesting and important design challenges in the coming years.

In the next blog in the series, we’ll be exploring how to design a compelling experience by looking more closely at developments in voice assistant ecosystems and capabilities.


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