Hello Clari: Why TD introduced a new chatbot to customers

This week TD Bank integrated a new AI-powered chatbot called “Clari” (we can’t help saying it in a Hannibal Lecter voice) into its popular mobile app.

According to TD, Clari will help customers with their everyday banking, as well as providing quick, conversational answers to questions such as when their next credit card payment is due or how much they spent on gas last month.

Chatbots have been steadily gaining momentum in recent years. Facebook announced last year that there were more than 300,000 on its Messenger app, and it has been reported that consumers and businesses exchange more than two billion messages a month within the platform.

They boast numerous positive attributes, including immediacy (particularly useful in a category like banking, which is renowned for its notoriously short hours), as well as neutrality and the ability to synthesize data in order to create increased personalization.

“Customer expectations are constantly evolving, and we believe AI is key to creating exceptional, personalized experiences and adding real value to our customers across our digital properties,” said Rizwan Khalfan, TD’s chief digital and payments officer in a release. (Earlier this month, TD further enhanced its AI capabilities with the acquisition of Toronto-based startup Layer6.) “TD’s investment in Conversational AI is part of our strategy to empower customers with deeper insights into their financial decisions as they make everyday purchases or prepare for big life moments,” said Khalfan.

Here are four things to know about Clari (and chatbots in general) and one important thing for marketers to be aware of.

1. The company behind Clari: Clari is powered by KAI, a conversational AI platform developed by New York-based Kasisto. Kasisto boasts that KAI is “fluent in finance,” saying that 82% of its customer conversations are conducted with no other human interaction, and that all of its deployments are integrated with live-chat vendors for a seamless hand-off to an agent (this is important: see point 4). The KAI platform also powers products introduced by Wells Fargo, Standard Chartered and DBS.

2. We’re getting increasingly chatty: Global analyst firm Gartner predicts that 25% of customer service and support operations will have integrated either virtual customer assistant or chatbot technology into their engagement channels by 2020 (up from less than 2% in 2017). They’re particularly popular  in banking, experts say, because they offer customers a degree of privacy around a highly sensitive subject: their money.

3. Conversations are key: Kasisto’s co-founder and chief product officer Dror Oren believes that virtual assistants capable of answering customer questions has become “table stakes” for banks. In addition to wanting to know their balance, for example, customers might want to know why it’s lower than expected, or if they can afford a vacation now or in six months from now. “Banking customers already know chatbots can give their balance and move their money,” he wrote on BankDirector.com. “In 2019, their expectation will be that conversational AI will do more to help manage their money with context and insights.”

4. They need to know when they’re stumped: According to Forrester, nearly two-thirds (60%) of all chatbot deployments in 2019 will not have a live-agent safety net attached to chat sessions. Abrupt shifts in the nature of a customer’s request (eg: their initial contact is about a balance request, but then transitions into adding additional services) can catch chatbots off guard. If these chatbots suddenly find themselves out of their depth and customers are growing impatient with their responses, they need to be able to seamlessly hand the conversation off to a customer service representative, who can de-escalate the situation and walk the consumer through the problem. That’s important because….

5. …the revolt against ineffective AI is coming: Forrester Research predicted last year that human resistance against “ineffective” chatbots could surface in 2019, likening it to 2005’s Gethuman—a grassroots movement committed to getting more companies to use live representatives on customer service calls. According to Forrester, chatbots are not “contact-centre saviours” that can save customers from the dreaded “phone tree” they typically encounter. “For all the hype about chatbots handling customer service, they’re little more than the interactive voice-response systems that make people scream into their phones,” it said.

                                                                                                                                           –Chris Powell

David Brown