Regions using AI to make most of customer feedback

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Regions Financial is using artificial intelligence to listen more closely to what consumers want.

The Birmingham, Ala., institution developed new technology to analyze customer feedback expressed through survey responses or routine calls with bank staff. That analysis is directly influencing the changes and enhancements that the $144.1 billion-asset bank is making to its digital banking services, especially the mobile app.

The bank's digital banking team started focusing more formally on the voice of the customer in the past year, identifying points of communication that Chief Digital Officer Andy Hernandez calls "listening posts." They could include social media, call center conversations, messages, branch visits and surveys triggered by a servicing interaction.

The listening posts will pick up feedback that is solicited via surveys as well as feedback that is spontaneous, he said.

“There are different ways customers proactively or reactively respond,” said Hernandez. “But a lot of times they are raising their hands and sending suggestions via social post or emails, or they will call us about one thing and say, ‘by the way, have you ever considered X?’”

A text analytics tool Regions developed internally in the spring called rVoice consolidates the feedback and uses natural language processing as well as the bank’s institutional knowledge of its customers to derive insights that are organized into a dashboard view.

Hernandez credits the effort to listen more carefully to what customers want with driving more migration to Regions' mobile banking app. As of September 30, mobile logins are up 19% from the first three quarters of 2019 and deposits via the mobile app are up 50%. Digital logins are up 22% over least year, and Regions is seeing 24% more digital account openings than it did at this time last year. The company acknowledges, however, that this is partly attributable to a greater reliance on digital channels during the pandemic.

Andy Hernandez, chief digital officer, Regions Bank

Still, Hernandez says the analysis of customer feedback strongly influences decisions. The digital banking group uses the data it derives from rVoice to prioritize or accelerate features that customers want.

As one example, if customers frequently mention Zelle or its competitors by voice or in writing, Regions will know that peer-to-peer payments are a hot topic.

“We’re picking up all of that with AI and putting it into a category that says we’re getting a lot of feedback on peer-to-peer payment activity,” said Hernandez. “Historically, we had to pore through emails to look for key phrases. Now technology is doing it automatically.”

Other banks are weighing how to deploy technology tools to put customer feedback to use.

Considering the voice of the customer was a topic of conversation at a customer experience panel at American Banker’s recent Most Powerful Women in Banking conference.

For example, Liz Wolverton, executive vice president and chief strategy and experience officer at Synovus in Columbus, Ga., reported that Synovus has learned “a heck of a lot” since it implemented voice-of-customer surveys two years ago. Although her team considered pausing the surveys during the pandemic, so as not to clog their customers’ inboxes during a stressful time, they found that engagement went up after the onset of the coronavirus.

“What we gleaned from our customers during COVID helped us adapt our servicing and understand customer sentiment at a time when it was critical,” she said during the panel.

Citizens Bank, in Providence, R.I., launched its own tool in 2018 to gauge customer interactions. The Citizens Listens platform, which it built with the experience management company Medallia, automatically sends a survey to customers after a transaction or an advice-driven conversation and uses text analytics to assess how well Citizens met their needs. An app pushes daily customer feedback to leaders’ mobile devices, meaning they can immediately congratulate a colleague on a job well done or discuss improvements.

“It makes you think about what the customer is actually saying versus what you think the customer is saying,” said Beth Johnson, executive vice president, chief experience officer and chief marketing officer at Citizens, during the session.

Wells Fargo has built an AI system it calls Advanced Listening that lets customers communicate through the channel of their choice — phone call, email, text, survey response, online banking interaction — and listens to or analyzes every interaction. The system uses artificial intelligence to understand what customers are saying, identify problems or needs, root out widespread issues and provide help more efficiently.

In Regions’ case, using AI to detect trends that emerge from its listening posts is part of a larger push to embrace technology. The bank announced in 2019 that it would invest $625 million in infrastructure, new technology and cybersecurity.

Recently, Regions has worked on adding a face unlock feature for Google devices and letting customers update their emails and phone numbers within the app. But not all kinds of listening can — or should — be handed off to a machine.

Members of Hernandez’s team parse through reviews of Regions’ mobile app on Apple’s App Store or Google Play, with the goal of responding to each one. Sometimes this means a quick acknowledgement; other times the Regions representative will suggest fixes or invite the customer to email a specified address for more help.

These personal responses have had a palpable effect. Regions currently racks up 4.7 out of five stars on the App Store, “up from where we were even a month ago,” said Hernandez. (The app rates 3.9 out of five on Google Play.)

He notes that customers are often pleasantly surprised to hear from Regions. In one situation, a customer changed his rating from one to three stars after a Regions representative told him that the bank was working on his issue. When Regions followed up to tell him that the new version corrected the problem, the customer downloaded the new app, upped his rating to five stars and thanked Regions for listening to his concern.

“It’s one example, but they add up,” said Hernandez.

Initially, Hernandez had trouble justifying the time and effort devoted to this work. But now he says it’s a no-brainer.

“Even if you’re not the developer or designer or agile product owner that had his or her hand in building the feature that solved the facial recognition question, it’s exciting to see validation from a customer who says, ‘Thank you Regions, you listened, here is your five-star rating,” he said. “The excitement is contagious."

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