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Digital Banking

Augmented Chat: The Benefits of Personal Service in Digital Contexts

Melanie Reneris
Sep 16, 2021

Heidi Kassab, CEO of Cornerstone Community Financial (CCF) in Michigan, wasn’t thinking about a global pandemic when she decided to implement a secure, augmented chat solution. In fact, she wasn’t sure why her digital banking provider was so focused on building the new technology back in 2018. “[Ben Metz] told me about this new plan, and I just looked at him and said, ‘Are you crazy?’,” Kassab said, laughing. “’Why not start with the low-hanging fruit?’”

But over a meal and napkin drawings – which seem omnipresent in stories about technology breakthroughs – Metz, the Head of Digital at Jack Henry, convinced Kassab that augmented, contextual chat was essential to the future of personal trust and service in digital banking. “By the end of dinner, I was sold,” she said. So much so that CCF, known for being a progressive credit union, became one of the first financial institutions to enable Banno ConversationsSM  – the first secure, core-connected, and augmented chat solution to hit the market – in the summer of 2019. 

Why Augmented Chat? 

While generic chat is a popular tool for engaging consumers across a number of verticals, stand-alone chat tools and chatbots are not optimal for financial moments of need inside digital banking. In these high stakes, highly regulated contexts, the identity of the accountholder must be authenticated before any meaningful chat can begin. Only then can the financial institution representatives begin using back-office systems to resolve the accountholder’s problem or need. 

Native, augmented, contextual chat inside of digital banking fills the gaps in generic, third-party chat tools and ends the frustration created by chatbots that can’t intuit much less address the accountholder’s needs in a moment of stress. Pre-authenticated contextual chat with a real human being creates quick, seamless experiences for both accountholders and the financial institution. Chat becomes the vehicle for a deeper level of interaction and engagement, not just another superficial communication channel. Here’s why:

  • When chat is core-connected and natively built into digital banking (rather than bolted on), authentication to the core is implicit. It eliminates the need to re-authenticate the accountholders with frustrating identity-verification questions or, worse still, to redirect them to a call center queue where they must wait in line to begin the process all over again.
  • Transactions in question – like potential fraud – can be attached directly to the chat, eliminating guesswork and speeding up the time from the accountholder’s moment of need to resolution of the problem or concern. Accountholders never have to remember their account numbers or fumble to find the exact amount of a transaction in question.
  • In fact, anything can be attached – accounts, forms, or new accountholder onboarding messages. The opportunities are endless. Bank and credit union employees today are using this secure framework to handle things like change of address, wire forms, skip-a-pay, and more.

And these interactions can all happen asynchronously, allowing service representatives to handle multiple conversations at a time and work more efficiently while dramatically improving accountholder digital experiences.

Picture This 

Did you know that 80% of smartphone users look at their phones within 15 minutes of waking up? And I’d wager that 80% of people wake up outside the business hours of their bank or credit union. 

So, one morning, George grabs his phone upon waking and immediately notices an alert about a debit that looks suspicious. It’s 5:38 a.m., and the financial institution won’t open for hours. But that doesn’t stop him from taking action. George logs into his digital banking app and starts a new chat conversation. “I didn’t make this transaction,” he types, and with one tap attaches the exact debit from his account history. “Did my card get hacked? Help, please.” Feeling he’s done what he can, George pours his first cup of coffee and resumes his morning.  

Meanwhile, at his closed financial institution, the augmented chat system has already routed George’s chat to the fraud services department, based on the keywords in his message. So, at 8:01 a.m., fraud ops team member Nancy sees his inquiry and immediately responds, “Hi George! I’m happy to help.” From the same screen used to manage his chat conversation, she glances at his account’s history and says, “It looks like your account had additional debits from the same originator in the last week … could you take a look and select any other transactions that are fraudulent?” With a quick click, Nancy attaches George’s recent account history right into the chat.      

Now at the office, George gets a push notification on his phone, and sees the message from Nancy. Dang, how did I miss those, he asks himself while quickly peeking at the list and responding to Nancy. “Thanks for catching those other transactions. Here are the ones I definitely did not make.” He quickly selects the additional fraudulent items from the transaction list and clicks send. “Do I need a new debit card?”  

Nancy immediately starts the paperwork to return the unauthorized charges from George’s account and attaches the Reg E form to their chat conversation. “George, just fill in those missing sections, sign electronically, and send this back to me, please. I’ll get those provisional credits back in your account before the end of the day. In the meantime, I’ve turned off your card and ordered you a new one. Do you want to swing by and get it today, or would you prefer that I mail it to you?” 

Now That’s Service 

Could all of that been accomplished without a core-connected, contextual chat solution? Sure. George could have waited for his financial institution to open, feeling anxious about this potential fraud, and then called them between meetings while he worked. Waited on hold for a minute or two, answered his three authentication questions when he reached a call center agent, and then described which transaction he was worried about.   

The service representative could’ve pulled up his account on the core, and then done a search for other potential fraudulent transactions while George waited on the line. Upon confirming the transactions were not authorized, the representative might’ve used the institution’s secure email portal to send George’s Reg E forms. Safer than unsecured email but harder to use, the portal requires George to create an account and log in to a separate system before completing the form and using the portal to send it back.  

So, is it possible to take care of accountholders without augmented chat? Yes. Is it a great customer experience? Not by a mile.  

Circling Back 

It all makes sense on paper, but has it played out in practice? It absolutely has.  

Kassab’s credit union, CCF, rolled out Banno Conversations in July 2019. Even before promoting the new functionality, CCF members discovered the feature and started initiating conversations. With 521 conversations in the first month alone, usage peaked at 2,000 new conversations nine months later (at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic) and has since settled in at around 1,500 new conversations each month. To date they’ve seen a 5% decrease in overall call volume and were even able to end their extended phone-support hours during the pandemic as they saw members choosing to interact via Banno Conversations rather than phone. Read the full case study.

Rather than struggling to stay connected with their members in a socially distanced world, as so many community banks and credit unions did, Cornerstone Community Financial thrived. Its belief in the need for core-connected, augmented chat before its introduction to the market, led it to adopt cutting edge technology and lead the market in providing a seamless full-service digital banking for their members. 

Looking back now, it’s easy for many banks and credit unions to see that they weren’t ready to conduct business remotely when the pandemic hit hard in March of 2020. But thanks to foresight and an eye toward a true market need, Kassab – and all institutions using the Banno Digital PlatformTM – had the necessary tools to stay connected and competitive in their members’ time of need.

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