Meet Erica, Bank of America's Promising New Bot

November 1, 2017 JD Metcalf

In late 2017, the phrase "there's an app for that" sounds almost quaint. We've moved beyond those impersonal buttons and updated to "there's a chatbot for that." Which means that we're getting more friendly with our technology, as it is with us.

Not only do chatbots (text-based) and ultimately next-level virtual assistants (voice interactive) connect us directly with our favorite brands, they simulate a personalized customer-facing conversation. From pizza delivery to ride sharing, we’re letting bots know what we need, and they’re answering.

And sales data from MyBuys database of some 250 million shoppers shows that customer-centric marketing like chatbots can provide a 25% increase in total online sales and a 300% improvement in customer lifetime value. In turn, these automated personalized experiences generate 50% more leads at a 33% lower cost, on average.

Machine Learning and the Chatbot

It may seem ironic that artificial intelligence (AI) is helping to facilitate bringing the human back to marketing. But by combining functions of machine learning, intelligent automation and predictive modeling, AI allows digital conversations to more naturally unfold in the way a human conversation would with moment-specific messaging at an individual level—all done with a high degree of accuracy.

AI is the wizard behind the curtain, enabling access, retrieval and use of massive amounts of data at amazing speed to leverage digital enhancements with offline interactions, online tools used, content reviewed/downloaded, customer service applications, financial systems and a wealth of other data to draw context. It feeds that info to chatbots and virtual assistants, allowing them to react more intelligently and serve up appropriate, moment-specific marketing communications on a one-to-one level.

Imagine the chatbot as the neighborhood corner grocer. After getting to know you over a period of visits, he greets you when you walk into the shop. As your relationship develops, he knows your favorite cut of meat, preferred method of payment, and that the kids may want some ice cream. 

It's an Amazon-like, go-to-market process leveraging technology, data and real-time predictive and behavioral analytics to optimize the touch-point with customers—whether serving up a marketing email or educational micro-content—to transform the customer experience.

Banking on Bots

In the financial arena, banks have already seen the potential benefit of experimental chatbots and virtual assistants that function inside already existing apps or on Facebook Messenger (e.g. Wells FargoJP Morgan ChaseCapital One and American Express). Acting as the friendly local teller with 24/7 capability, bots can help customers manage their finances, covering tasks such as customer service, P2P transactions, account balances, deposits, alerts, general help and more.

In fact, Gartner reports that consumers will manage 85% of the total business associations with banks through chatbots and virtual assistants by 2020.

Further, a recent report from Juniper states that chatbots will be responsible for more than $8 billion per year of cost savings by 2022. The same report notes that on average, a chatbot transaction saves customers more than four minutes in comparison to traditional channels.

Meet Bank of America's Erica

Take Bank of America’s Erica, for example. Accessible via Bank of America's app, customers can interact with Erica to manage their basic banking needs and build better money habits. And in return, as Erica learns (thanks to AI, predictive analytics and cognitive messaging), she can serve as each customer's own proactive, personal financial advisor to give a heads up on managing funds, paying bills, spending habits, cash rewards, dealing with debt and more. Today, Erica runs through the bank's mobile app but ultimately is likely to be a virtual voice system that is operational where her customers are—on platforms like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana.

From a bank-centric perspective, chatbots are not putting real employees out of a job. The fact that they are able to streamline and personalize the experience for all customers at an individual level on certain tasks frees up the humans working at the bank, allowing them to go deeper with and spend more time with customers that visit the branch and improving their experience. It’s operationally a great saver of both cost and time for businesses and helps customers to complete their jobs in a new, convenient and novel way. 

Time to Get Chatting—with a Partner

But the cost and complexity of implementing this kind of Amazon-like technology is significant, to say the least. How can a company without a lot of extra cash laying around in the marketing department determine whether a chatbot is right for them? How do you figure out where to get started on your way to transforming your customers’ experience?

Following in the footsteps of Amazon and building from scratch is likely to leave brands way behind the competitive eight ball with an unrealistic path that includes years of development and millions of dollars of catch-up.

If creating a chatbot sounds daunting to your brand, you should consider an agency partner. Look for an agency with expertise in marketing technology or partnerships with technology leaders that specialize in customer experience—such as Wipro, SAP, Opera Solutions and Usermind. You'll also want to look for a strong background in using data and analytics to inform machine learning and artificial intelligence, ultimately to drive customer experience. Leaning on the right agency for this type of work will allow you to develop a rapid, cost effective go-to-market plan that leverages the learnings of some of the best brands in the business.

Innovation Worth Chatting About

Someone is out there thinking about how to transform your business—even if you’re not—so now is the time to move on technological innovations that will improve your customer experience and drive revenue. Financial institutions strategizing to use chatbots and virtual assistants are presented with the opportunity to provide:

  • High value for their customers' time
  • Personalized interactions with accurate identification
  • The ability to anticipate customers' needs
  • An enjoyable, engaging experience

In return, this inspires confidence in the brand across every touch point while providing a competitive advantage for your brand—and that’s something worth chatting about.

About the Author

JD Metcalf

As Vice President, Marketing Strategy at Harte Hanks, JD has a consistent record of creating and executing marketing strategies that achieve industry-leading performance. For example, he has launched integrated campaigns that increased customer share of wallet by over $300 million. He has achieved customer retention 6.1% above industry peers by creating an automated one-to-one omnichannel new customer onboarding program. And JD has led the development, creation, and launch of customer loyalty CRM programs that consistently produced results 79% above industry average. He currently specializes in marketing in the financial services industry.

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