How Suresh A Shanmugam is Re-Defining Mahindra & Mahindra Finance’s Customer Engagement Through Rural Chatbot

There are not many CIOs/IT Heads who can claim to have created far-reaching impact on the lives of their organization’s end customers. Suresh A. Shanmugam, Head - Innovation & Future Technologies, Business Information Technology Solutions (BITS), Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Ltd. (MMFSL), is among those very few who can stake a claim to that. Through innovative use of IT, including some of the new age technologies, he is helping drive greater financial inclusion among India’s rural and semi-urban population, which is a largely underserved market.


MMFSL is a non-banking financial services provider, targeting the rural and semi-urban market with loans, insurance and financial instruments like fixed deposits, mutual funds and bonds. The company aims to empower individuals in these markets to help fulfill their potential and dreams. Shanmugam has intrinsically imbibed this philosophy and translated it into his guiding vision and driver for all IT initiatives.


A case in point is the rural chatbot initiative that Shanmugam and his team undertook a year and half back. This is an apt example of how new age digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have been put to use to simplify for its customers the process of interaction and communication with the company and its representatives (brokers/agents, etc.).


Due to low literacy levels among the rural and semi-urban population written communication is a challenge while dependency on the brokers for their time and availability to write down and fill up the forms on their behalf hinders and renders the whole interaction inflexible and inconvenient for the customers. Besides, there are also chances of errors creeping up due to handwriting issues. Considering this, the most natural alternative to writing was voice.


With a conversational end user interface, the chatbot does away with the need for writing and all the hurdles pointed in the process of capturing the information. Thus, easing up the whole experience for the customers.


The chatbot is also capable of conversing with the users in local language, which can be a comforting factor for the population in the rural and semi-urban areas. Shanmugam informs me that currently the chatbot can converse in English, Hindi and Tamil with plans to expand to other local languages as and when the demand arises.


So, this is how it works – the person can go to any of MMFSL’s branches in the country. There he/she is assigned a kiosk/handheld, through which he/she can interact with the chatbot. The information from the voice interaction is captured by the chatbot and then at the back-end the voice recording is transcribed by one of the company’s employees. For instance, if the interaction was regarding requesting for a loan, the information captured is filled up in the loan application form at the backend.


The chatbot can undertake conversations and queries around applying for loan/ insurance policy, explaining of available financial products and their terms and conditions, postponement or pre-payment of loan, etc. It can also converse around general information relating to land, vehicles, climate, etc., business information as well as community related information like festivals, rituals, etc., budgeting and money management tips, among others.


With AI built into the chatbot, it is able to learn from the data from past interactions and get a better understanding of the customers. This helps the company in offering more useful and tailor made solutions to its customers. As an example, MMFSL realized through the chatbot’s interactions with the customers that a majority of them were available for interactions during early mornings as people in these markets usually get up and go to their work very early. The company then tweaked the availability timings as per this insight gained.


“The chatbot has helped us take customer engagement to another level, which is a key factor in driving the underserved and low income individuals to gain access to financial inclusion. Chatbots will have a critical role to play in the area of accurately and efficiently capturing information in the rural and semi-urban areas,” quips Shanmugam.

Categories: Digital

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