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Tech should be more intelligent than artificial

NatWest unveiled the latest development in the high-street tech revolution last month, rolling out its new artificial intelligence (AI) powered customer interface, Cora. Cora is designed to help customers with banking queries in-store, covering everything from how to make payments to branch opening times.

With the banking sector and the broader retail community increasingly going online, some have seen this move as an affront to a diminishing realm of real, human customer experience. However, Natwest’s move is not surprising if looked at in the context of the ever-increasing pace of digitisation in the UK banking sector.

Cora represents the next logical step in bringing the levels of online customer service to which people have become accustomed into branches. Crucially, it is an opportunity to introduce high-tech facilities to those customers who still prefer the traditional bricks and mortar bank rather than managing their money online.

Other retailers will no doubt be taking notice and considering how to mesh AI with their own brand values. If AI is going to find a permanent home on the high street, as it has online and in manufacturing industries, it must appeal to consumers who still prefer a trip to the shops over buying things on the net.

An evolving model
Cora’s initial purpose will primarily be to interact with NatWest’s current customers, answering questions regarding their accounts in-store. While every new project has to start somewhere, brands will no doubt be looking out for signs of how AI is most successfully used and ways to integrate it throughout the customer experience.

Crucially, AI shouldn’t be an add-on. Brands can derive the most value from AI when it is an integrated part of the customer journey, influencing prospective customers from their first interaction through to the purchase decision. For high-street retailers, that might mean linking bots into wider digital services to tailor the in-store customer experience from the moment they walk in the door. 

Preserving the human touch 
AI works best when it’s as indistinguishable as possible from regular employee interactions. People still visit the high street because they want a personal response to their needs, so retailers need to effectively make their AI systems feel human beyond simply giving them friendly names and welcoming voices.

What could be more human than trust? NatWest has spoken about Cora having the capacity to advise on the first steps of life-changing decisions like applying for a mortgage. Success will be reliant on how effectively the technology can replicate human reliability, consistency and personality as on prudent financial knowledge. If we trust Cora to give us the same service as we would a bank employee, we’ll be much more inclined to turn to her on our financial futures.
 
Underpinning the customer experience 

Good AI should also empower employees, both by simplifying basic customer interactions and improving business processes, freeing up in-store staff to concentrate on more complex, higher value tasks for customers.

Lidl’s recent launch of Margot, a chatbot which customers can contact for advice on wine pairings for their food shop is a great case study of AI being used in-store, complementing existing staff and providing genuine value to the consumer.

The aim when introducing AI should not be to save money by replacing more expensive services, but to see how it can help a business make money by adding valuable contributions. For banks, effective use of AI could involve any number of possibilities: whether they can link to a customer’s online accounts to have their details readily available, or perhaps be able to calculate how much a potential holiday would impact an individual’s bank balance, they should leave the customer feeling as if the brand has gone above and beyond, all while maintaining the level of security that a customer expects of their bank.

The true potential of AI and how it will affect our day-to-day lives in the near future is as yet unknown, but if the high street finds ways to use the technology effectively, then it might just catapult itself to the front of the technological revolution.

At the very least, good use of AI could mean more, rather than less, of the personal touch – freeing up time for more valuable human interaction elsewhere.

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