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Bank tests AI chat bots to deal with customer questions

IBM Watson-powered bots will be able to answer basic questions, and may soon be able to tell if you are unhappy or frustrated.

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Some banking customers will soon have their customer service queries answered by AI-powered webchat bots.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is to test out the use of AI chat bots to answer questions from customers.

RBS will start using Luvo, which is built on IBM Watson's cloud-based Conversation service, as part of its webchat service in December, with around 10 percent of its customers in Scotland.

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The bot will be able to answer specific questions such as, "How do I authorise my card to be used overseas?" or "How do I update my home address with the bank?" More complex or urgent queries -- like a stolen credit card -- will be directed to a human to answer. RBS said that by using the bot, its staff are able to concentrate on more complicated issues or questions.

Bots are touted as a way for companies to cut customer service costs by shifting simpler conversations to automated responses: some have gone so far as to suggest that bots are a new class of user interface. For example, Microsoft recently said it now has 45,000 developers using its Microsoft Bot Framework, which allows developers to build build bots to interact with customers via SMS, Skype, Slack, Office 365 mail, and more. And in July, Facebook said it had 23,000 developers signed up to build bots for Facebook Messenger.

If the pilot is successful, RBS plans to roll out the service to the bank's NatWest customers. The customer pilot follows a two-month trial of the technology earlier this year among 1,200 RBS and NatWest staff, mainly handling queries from small-businesses customers with problems such as lost corporate cards or forgotten pins.

Whether humans will like dealing with chat bots instead of humans remains to be seen: IBM said that in future the chat bot could be updated to further personalise its response to a customer -- by changing its tone if they were unhappy or frustrated, for example.

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