Indian Language Voice Chatbots & Digital Banking

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Bringing Digital Banking To The Unbanked

Voice technology in Indian languages can play a key role in bringing digital banking to the unbanked.

[This piece originally appeared in Banking Frontiers, Dec 2018 edition]

Banks have numerous objectives, from acquiring more customers, to getting them to avail new services. The advent of digital banking has also meant that banks can now migrate these users to digital platforms, lessening the burden on resources and manpower that visits to banking branches require. The internet has proved to be helpful in bringing banking services directly to customers, overriding barriers of distance and time.

All this eventually ties in with the nation’s vision of achieving financial inclusiveness for all Indians, a vision that every bank is a stakeholder in.

However, expanding the reach of financial inclusion isn’t as simple as merely offering these financial services in digital form. Users must also know how to take advantage of these platforms, something that is complicated by a simple, yet very relevant fact for banks – most Indian internet users in the coming years will be completely new to the internet, and will be Indian language internet users.

In a 2017 Google-KPMG study, it was predicted that 90% of these new internet users over the 2017-2021 period would be Indian language internet users. We’ve already crossed an estimated 350 million Indian language users, nearly twice as big as the English base. In the next 3 years, Indian language users on digital banking and payment services will be comparable to the total number of English internet users in India.

The number of this user base, their language preference, and their lack of familiarity with the internet and its established UI/UX conventions, means that companies looking to serve Indians will need to localize in the true sense of the word, not limiting themselves to translation.

However, numerous barriers to onboarding these users exist, barriers that must be addressed before users can truly leverage digital platforms and benefit from the banking services available on them.

Localizing Digital Banking For Indian Language Users

Basic hygiene includes ensuring platforms themselves are available in Indian languages, a process that involves localization, or enabling support in a new language. Interfaces need to be made available in different languages, followed by localizing communication across channels so that the final result is an unbroken language experience for the end user.

Localizing communications is essential to close the gaps especially for banking platforms, because important communications can be critical for customers. While OTP fraud is a rampant problem in India for example, messaging from banks asking customers not to share their OTPs is always in English, meaning that only 10% of Indians will be able to read these messages.

Text localization is not where it ends, although many companies do stop there. Take the example of the humble shopping cart. E-commerce platforms in India, following established convention online, use this icon prominently to denote checkout or buy, with the assumption that a user will immediately make the connection between the cart and the act of purchasing something. Ask yourself this – given that over 70% of India is rural and doesn’t visit malls, how is such iconography inclusive?

Mature English internet users have seen the evolution of online services over many years, and are familiar with international iconography conventions. Digital banking platforms may mostly use unambiguous, recognizable iconography, but the question of user flows remains. Ultimately selecting the option you are looking for can be a challenge if the options available to you are overwhelming, and the UI not intuitive.

In addition, existing input methods can be confusing. Although Indian language users prefer using native scripts to write their language, it can be a task to type in them. Which is why a lot of users resort to romanized text – aap kaise ho? instead of आप कैसे हो? Supporting such variations will require a system that recognizes queries in Indian language written in the Latin script, while including spelling variants as well.

Thankfully, there is a way banks can get around these issues while continuing to onboard new customers and provide them with financial services.

Onboarding New Customers With Voice Technology

Over the last few years, advances in voice technology have ushered in a new era of user-platform interactivity. Essentially, they allow a user to interact with a platform and take actions on it just by speaking to a device. This has opened up an entirely new dimension of usability.

For Indian language internet users, voice serves an additional purpose – it lets them leapfrog the limitations of traditional UI and language. These users are new to the internet and require constant user education to be able to effectively use these platforms, and voice offers a way to bypass this. Speaking is, after all, more intuitive than typing, especially when you factor in existing unfamiliarity with input methods. According to the industry report cited earlier, 70% of Indian language internet users cannot use English keypads.

Voice solutions combine with existing localization solutions to create a simpler, more user friendly online banking experience. They can solve a large range of problems that Indian language users face, and by addressing these pain points, can encourage the use of digital banking among customers.

Tools built using voice technology, if coupled with advanced analytics such as intent extraction can significantly augment their functionality beyond merely recognizing what a user is saying. These tap into existing technological developments like NLP and AI to create solutions that help customers navigate and use digital banking platforms confidently and comfortably.

There are two major voice tools that can greatly benefit Indian language users of digital banking services – Chatbots, and IVR (Interactive Voice Response).

Voice Tech & Digital Banking

Any banking service such as requesting for a new ATM card or availing Personal loan, availed through an app or site could be a potential use case for voice technology. Customers are bombarded with a variety of questions on their requirements. Where’s the option to choose what they want? How do they eventually arrive at it? It is very confusing and sometimes overwhelming to users coming to digital banking properties for the first time and may create mental block of using the digital banking services in future.

Imagine if these customers could specify their requirements to an automated system that could interpret their queries and guide them through the process of securing a loan or applying for a new debit card, without burdening them with multiple options (ie, a long list of various banking services to choose from) and complex interfaces.

Both chatbots and IVR can help here.

The chatbot approach would be helping customers – in their own language – through potentially complex user flows, helping them arrive at a final action that serves their initial requirement. At every step, a customer can verbally convey their need to the platform, while confirming them with a visual interface. This verbal back and forth continues till the customer is able to confirm and complete their intended action.

An IVR approach to the same issue would be similar. A customer can call service helpline, which then prompts them for what they are looking for. The customer can reply verbally with their desired action, bringing them straight to the next question needed to further the process, without having to select from a large list of options each and every step, something that can take a significant amount of time.

Both of these tools take a process that involves multiple menus and pages and simplifies it to something akin to holding a conversation and selecting the options that apply to customer’s requirements. They address similar customer needs, but work on different channels.

For a customer not used to new-age UI/UX, these tools can remove the element of uncertainty involved, making the process of securing various banking services painless.

Financial Inclusion & The Indic Voice Technology Thrust

It’s an inescapable fact that in this day and age, financial inclusion is ultimately dependent on digital inclusion. While there are over 1.5 lakh bank branches, the number of digital devices in use in India is over 100 crores. The digital front is the latest in platforms to acquire new customers, and bring more and more Indians within the net of organized banking, something that is an integral part of every bank’s mission.

If banks are to woo lakhs of new potential customers, digital is the way to go. As we’ve seen however, primarily Indian language speaking India can’t be treated the same way English language users are.

As we at Reverie have maintained, Indian languages will play an important role in opening up digital banking to India’s masses, including the previously unbanked. In addition, a shared language is essential for banks to build trust with their customers, as well as ensure confidential communications and the like are understood.

Voice technology can be a valuable tool in breaking barriers to adoption and access in banking for a whole new generation of digital Indians. Companies can invest in voice solutions to help serve and accommodate millions of new internet users take advantage of all that banking has to offer them, furthering their own personal development.

To learn more about adding Indic voice chatbots to your banking platform, schedule a demo of Reverie’s Indic Voice Suite, Gopal, here.

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