Here’s what to consider when deploying the artificial intelligence-powered technology to help your institution staff up.
It’s long been a challenge for credit unions across the country to attract talent that stays. “Most attrition was/has been occurring in the front-line employees hired in the last 12 months,” says CUES member Carl Casper, chief operating officer at $932 million Connex Credit Union in North Haven, Connecticut, in Cornerstone Advisors’ What’s Going On in Banking 2023 study.
But there are moves to make to help solve a staffing shortage even when the unemployment rate is low as it is right now.
To become more alluring to candidates, your credit union can offer hybrid work where employees only do their jobs from the office on certain days. It can also let people work from home full-time, depending on the role. As financial institutions like USAA start requiring some positions to work from the office again, your credit union will stand out with its flexibility.
Another option, of course, is to improve a role’s compensation package. For instance, now Connex CU automatically boosts front-line employees’ salaries on their work anniversaries to help inspire people to stay.
But when staffing up remains elusive, your credit union has another choice—rolling out a chatbot, or digital assistant, to understand and answer questions.
It’s already happening.
Chatbots Go Mainstream
During the pandemic, when branches were closed or operating on leaner hours, credit unions started leveling up their digital service by offering chatbots that spit out answers based on custom-built content libraries. Now, chatbots are becoming mainstream.
According to the same Cornerstone report, 30% of credit union respondents said they have already invested in or deployed chatbots in 2022, while 25% of credit unions are planning to do so this year.
Some are even doubling up. $6.9 billion Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, E. Lansing, Michigan, for example, offers two chatbots—one for members and one for employees. Right now, the credit union estimates its chatbot for members, Fran, performs about 16 full-time employees’ worth of work every month.
“It didn’t get rid of 16 people,” says CUES member Ben Maxim, chief digital strategy and innovation officer at MSU Credit Union. “We couldn’t hire the 16 people we needed. So, we had a tool that could then take that volume, so (employees) are not working overtime.”
Three Chatbot Implementation Best Practices
Success, of course, isn’t guaranteed. When deploying chatbots, credit unions ought to consider these three best practices:
1. Tackle employee anxiety by defining the technology’s purpose. It’s natural that employees may feel threatened by a chatbot. Those who’ve already rolled out the technology urge executives to remind employees of its perks—the chatbot spits out answers to routine (and therefore potentially annoying) questions, like “What’s my routing number?” to help employees stick to handling the more involved queries. Not to mention: this artificial intelligence-powered tool can also educate employees on new products and services.
2. Appoint a team to train your chatbot on the flow of information. A chatbot, like a website, is a delivery channel, and it needs more information to develop new skills. “If you don’t care for and feed it, it will become outdated and your membership and customer base will no longer see it being relevant,” says Ami Iceman-Haueter, chief research and digital experience officer at MSUFCU.
The good news? These individuals don’t require data science backgrounds. They can and do come from frontline service roles.
3. It’s not an "either/or." It’s an "and." Something MSUFCU has discovered: People like communicating with the bot for certain things and chatting with employees for other things. “We just have to offer them all the channels,” Maxim says.
Related: Offering a chatbot doesn’t diminish your credit union’s quality of service. If anything, the tools could improve it by answering members’ questions all day and night regardless of their time zone. According to Cornerstone’s 2022 chatbot journey survey, those banking customers already using a digital assistant in the mobile banking experience rate the experience higher than those who don’t. On a scale of one to 10, those using a digital assistant rate the mobile experience an 8.51, while those who don’t rate it a 7.96.
Chatbots have been around for a while, but they are becoming more advanced and may help fill in talent gaps at your credit union.
As my colleague, Ron Shevlin, recently wrote in a blog on Forbes: “The new reality in banking is that chatbots aren’t just for customer support. Increasingly, they’re for employees—and, in fact, they are the new employees.”
Mary Wisniewski is an editor-at-large and director of content at CUESolutions provider Cornerstone Advisors, Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s covered digital banking and fintech for more than 12 years. Previously, Wisniewski worked as a senior editor for Bankrate. She also covered fintech for American Banker and edited op-eds for the publication’s BankThink section. Her work has appeared in the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, MSN and more. She is a frequent speaker at a variety of leading digital banking events, including the Money Experience Summit, Finovate and Fintech South. She’s also the judge on Fintech Uncut, a weekly Zoom quiz show on fintech news.