From rail to utility and delivery services, the rapid adoption of chatbots in India are helping the nation move toward a tech-centric future. While this piece may have an Indian flavour, any local or regional business, should be looking to maximise the use of technology to make efficiency gains and improve customer service. 

Much of the focus on AI customer service, chatbots and digital-first business revolves around China, thanks to the nation’s relentless drive to modernity and the huge population to deal with. Just as populous is India, and while its political landscape might be more confusing, the country is still pushing toward that digital future.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is the latest giant to adopt a chatbot to help out with customer service and support. The customer-focused side of the Indian Railways business, it helps out with ticketing, tourism and catering, for visitors and locals.

The new bot, Ask Disha, works in English and will add several local dialects to providing instant response to requests for travel information, 24/7. This follows on from a recent rollout of mobile payments, QR-code-based mVisas for bookings and other digital boosters. All helping to speed up transactions and reduce friction among Indian commuters and tourists.

While most Indians, as with other nations, are more worried about the trains running on time, the bot should help provide information. Ask Disha, a catchy truncation of Digital Interaction to Seek Help Anytime, is an AI-powered bot that can auto-populate the chat based on common questions. The rail service claims it is the first Indian government branch to provide a bot, helping around four-million daily customers find out information faster. Tweeted by Piyush Goyal, the Minister of Railways, it sounds like an impressive start. See how global airlines and hotels are also making use of bots.

Banks and services dominate

While the Indian government might just be starting out on its chatbot journey, the nation’s banks are hard at work pushing the services to customers. India has rapidly adopted a mobile-banking first culture to overcome the long queues and slow service.

The rise of chatbots in India is due to impressive early results. HDFC Bank’s Eva bot has dealt with over 6 million queries with an 85% success rate. iPal is another bot working at ICICI Bank which has serviced over 7 million customers at around 90% success.

Naturally, other banks are now moving quickly to get on board. Bank of Baroda, currently part of a large bank merger in India, deployed a chatbot to handle customer queries related to products to improve customer satisfaction, response times and reduce costs. Around the world, banks are catching up on the bot agenda, bringing rapid change.

Chatbots are the latest to help people find information, make transactions and sign up to new services, increasingly through chatbots.  In April, Kotak Mahindra Bank launched a new voice bot called “Keya” working in English and Hindi to take the bulk of phone calls and provided an interactive automated response.

The bank noted that “Voice commands form a significant share of search online and the nature of calls are changing, with customers using voice as an escalation channel. Keya tracks the preference for voice over text. It is built on a technology that understands a customer’s query and steers the conversation to provide a quick and relevant response.”

Bots aim to benefit all

Most of the banks are pragmatic about bots, recognising that they are a work-in-progress that will only get better as the technology and AI-backends improve. But in terms of volume and success, the numbers look good and will help drive local businesses to further adoption.

Whatever the end market or vertical, chatbots will soon be all-consuming in India, and aren’t just there for life’s practicalities. Take the bot helping women become financially literate to bring some equality across the country.

There are also a growing number of consumer services like Aisha, offering a local Google-like voice service, providing relevant information on the latest Bollywood movie reviews, cricket, sport and business news. And the country still seeks its first equivalent to China’s WeChat that can push conversational commerce and a broad range of services to all.

Indian chatbot growth is supported by plenty of local bot providers helping drive adoption around the country, but the major services are happy to partner with global or international vendors. The likes of SnatchBot provide global AI and smart bot services through its all-cloud solution that can run on websites, apps or most social media and messaging portals.