Chatbots: A New Opportunity in Financial Services

September 8, 2017 Kevin Gaherty

“No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they want to interact with.  We think that you should just be able to message a business in the same way that you message a friend” – Mark Zuckerberg

The invention of the app has made our lives easier. A good app on my phone can significantly reduce my time needed to accomplish a task or solve a problem. However, many of us interact with several different brands on a daily basis, and that can lead to what industry experts call “app fatigue.”  For example, in June 2017, 51% of U.S. app users said they hadn’t downloaded any apps.

According to Forrester, 85% of mobile time is spent in apps, however 80% of that time is only spent in the users top three apps. And, close to a quarter of downloaded apps were abandoned after just one use.

Further, more and more of the top time is being spent in social apps, specifically messaging apps. If we look at the Facebook Messenger platform as well its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, Facebook has over 2 billion active messaging users per month. 

While you are trying to provide access to your customers in all available channels—mobile, web, brick and mortar etc.—your customers are demanding access on their terms. They are looking for the fastest and easiest path to solve their problems or to get the job done. They want your brand to be intuitive and engaging but they also want to communicate in the same way they are communicating with their friends and family. Enter chatbots.

Chatbots are simply a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet. Using a chatbot is as simple as sending a text or an instant message (IM). Users type a question or command into a screen and receive an instant answer from a robo-advisor.

Chatbots will (or should) be an integral part of most brand’s strategies, offering the advantage of eliminating lines in stores/branches, hold time on the phone and those annoying phone trees.

For a real-life example of chatbot capabilities, we need only look at WeChat, the Chinese messaging app that currently has close to a billion active users per month. Many believe that WeChat is a blueprint for what Facebook Messenger will be in the future. Using WeChat, a user can simply text with their favorite brands to perform the following tasks:

  • Hail a taxi
  • Order food delivery
  • Buy movie tickets
  • Customize and order a pair of Nikes
  • Send an order to the nearest Starbucks
  • Track your daily fitness progress
  • Shop Burberry’s latest collection
  • Book doctor’s appointments
  • Host a business conference call
  • Pay your water bill

Communicating with brands the same way you communicate with friends is much easier than going to several disparate apps, logging in, remembering how to navigate, finding a customer service number or email address and not knowing if/when you would get a reply.

The opportunity is extremely intriguing within the financial services space. Over 75% of financial institutions see chabots as a viable commercial solution now or within the next 2 years. Chatbots will be able to handle a majority of customer conversations within the next 3-5 years including:

  • Customer service
  • P2P transactions
  • Account balances
  • Deposits
  • Alerts
  • Search
  • News and offers

Chatbots and all artificial intelligence (AI) should not be seen as new channels or customer interaction points but rather entirely new experiences that need to be planned for and understood. Your chatbots need to:

  • Work seamlessly across channels. No matter what platform or technology the experiences need to be seamless. With the emergence of voice activated intelligent agents like Alexa or Siri it’s important that there is a consistent user experience.
  • Be able to understand context. If you are chatting with a customer that has a balance of $250 vs. $250,000, the experience should be different from the perspective of forward-looking recommendations or additional products to add to their portfolio.
  • Access real-time transactional data.  In order to drive the best experience possible, data needs to be accessed in real time to make decisions based on a customer’s account at that moment.
  • Access current content. In order to scale it is critical that content is organized and accessible in real time to deliver the responses in the proper brand voice.
  • Deep learning. With each interaction your chatbot should be getting smarter. The experience should not be about providing account balances but rather making the right recommendations at the right times. Setting up your chatbot for advanced learning will help drive this behavior and improve results with each interaction.
  • Predictive Intelligence. Like any good sales person or customer service rep it is important to anticipate your customer’s needs. Based on customer history or current context the ability to interpret the situation and react will be needed in order to drive customer satisfaction.

The net effect of the shift to chatbots will result in better customer experiences, more relevant communications and most of all, there will be a wealth of data to be collected, mined and actioned upon. However, this will be no easy task. Poor planning coupled with a lack of strategy/research is bound to cause friction between customers and brands. As always it starts with strategy and purpose. 

About the Author

Kevin Gaherty

Kevin's expertise lies in developing innovative digital and email marketing strategies across the retail/eCommerce, CPG, sports/entertainment and financial verticals. He boasts 15+ years of experience in strategic planning, email marketing optimization, marketing operations, and client success.

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