Using Intelligent Virtual Advisors (IVA’s) as an onramp to the Intelligent Business Associates (IBA) revolution


In 2002 a movie “Simone” starred Rachel Roberts as a computer generate actress filling in for a real actress (Winona Rider) who was unable to complete a movie. Simone became a star and the movie is about her agent (Al Pacino’s) difficulties in avoiding revealing she didn’t exist.


In 2013 a movie named “Her” is about a man who falls in love with his computer due to an intelligent computer operating systems with a female personality (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) (

While these may be Hollywood fantasies (not to mention a little scary) the premise behind them is real based upon three technology trends that will impact all elements of business in the next 10 years:

  • Artificial intelligence capabilities are rapidly emerging to be able to engage in real time interactions with people.
  • Data platforms provide massive amounts of information to ensure the interactions are contextually real
  • Video animation technology led by the gaming industry is rapidly emerging to make visual interactions real

When combined with other transformational trends such as Facebooks purchase recently of Occulus Rift virtual reality systems ( and there is a foundational shift underway in many elements of business that will soon reach a critical tipping point.

All these trends together will accelerate the rise of Intelligent Business Associate (IBA) of the future.

An IBA is a highly personalized “bot” that will talk to you fluidly in text format (chat, email, social) or in voice to voice conversations or on video. Will know you well, “speak” to you in your language in  a style you prefer, will know his/her subject better than anyone, will know everything you have ever done with the company,  your preferences, what your friends on social media are up to and will never leave you.

The journey learning how to use these technologies, building the knowledge bases, data analytics teams to continuously optimize them and delivering engagement personalities which truly reflect your brand and even different personalities for different customer communities will be long, probably 3-5 years. That will coincide with the maturation of the technology.

Companies that are looking to own this IBA driven business model of the future are engaged today in learning about these capabilities especially in places where there is a fundamental difference possible today. iva

An early but powerful example of this which provides an easy and compelling option for businesses  is in Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA’s) as a key component of their customer service and contact center operations.

IVA Technology is proven in airline and retail industries today ( , (, (Ask Anna and now coming to other industries like banking ( and even media with the recent Canal Digital announcement (

IVA’s provide an excellent business case in service cost reduction, upsell and cross sell improvements and customer satisfaction uplift. An eve greater business case is to have a way to enter this new revolutionary trend in a self funding way. That doesn’t happen often.

Let the revolution begin

Mark Twain And Three Urban Myths about Multichannel Customer Interactions

I have been working on a series of presentations to newly appointed Customer Experience leaders and have come to the conclusion that my chosen industry of Multichannel Customer Experience is suffering from a number of myths held as given truths that are worth calling out. To quote:

marktwain“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” Mark Twain.

I looked around for somewhere where these were collected and couldn’t find them so decided to publish my own list so others can add on to it. So here goes

Myth #1 – The total number of interactions (per person, per hundred people or whatever) is a constant and the division among channels presents a basis for investment decisions by companies

mobile bankUntrue .. Technology especially mobile has changed the game. If you add the transaction statistics together for online, mobile, email, IM, social, contact center and store interactions the interaction counts are exploding. I can’t find a cumulative statistic anywhere but the following may make a useful example.

I have a client who, way back in year 2000,  used to check his bank balance and credit balances monthly when he got his statement, update his checkbook balance weekly, keep a weekly record of his credit card balances on a post it note and call his banks IVR or call center for a balance check about once a month (this is only 2000 we are talking about) and visit his branch about twice a month. About 14 interactions a month.

He recently told me he now, in 2013, gets his balances daily for each of five accounts on his mobile app, by text or email, gets notifications of every deposit or about 10 a month and every transaction over $100 or 20 per month, goes online to each of his 5 accounts at least twice a month, calls the call center or IVR about 5 times a month in response to the balance messages he gets and visits his branch every other month.

That is a move from 14 to 197 interactions a month or 19% CAGR per year 2000 to 2013. And I have a suspicion 50% of that rise is since he switched to an iPhone in 2010.

ccagent3Myth #2 – The rise in digital transactions is reducing the volume of call centre interactions

Untrue. Mobile especially is increasing interaction counts.  However a recent Bancography (June 2013) survey indicated that US retail banking contact center interaction volumes in banking had declined less than 1% a year “forecast to drop 4% over 5 years from 2011 to 2015, 6.4 billion to 6.1 billion”. 

From the America Express 2011 Global Customer Service Barometer “US consumers prefer to resolve their customers service issues using the telephone (90%), face to face (75%), company website or email (67%), online chat (47%), text message (22%), social networking site (22%).”

 This is changing slowly but even Gen Yérs are just people who still ultimately like to talk to people, especially when they are in trouble. The conversations will get much complex as customers resolve the simple things online or in intelligent agent experiences

onlinebank2Myth #3  – Optimizing User Experiences Is The Same as Optimizing Customer Experiences 

Untrue - User experience is focused on the capability and ease of use of a particular transaction on a particular device or maybe multi device to achieve a specific objective. Customer Experience relates to multiple transactions across multiple devices over time (and in fact the concept of a Customer Relationship Experience is emerging for a lifetime of unrelated Customer and User Experiences). These are very different disciplines with very different thought processes.

For example a text message that indicates a fraud alert on my credit card which I click on and auto dials an agent who pushes a picture of a credit card receipt with a signature on it to verify it is me may be a multichannel user experience. However include the message 2 weeks later to indicate that the issues has been resolved in my favor and I will not be charged and it is definitely a customer experience and include a reference to the incident on my end of quarter customer summary and that is very much a customer experience. Do that over 10 years and we are talking about a true Customer Relationship Experience.



“One Bank” Is So 2010, Customers Want The “My Bank” Experience – Ten Key “My Bank” Requirements

chase myaccountsFor the past ten years banks and financial services have been working to provide a one bankexperience. At its basic level this means providing all the offered products and services in one place. That could be a “portal”, or a single 1-800 number or a branch representative who is trained to and permitted to discuss basic banking, credit card, auto, student, mortgage, business, wealth and investment and other products. The best providers offer a portal where all of an individual consumers products are displayed in one place.

mybankHowever banks and financial services companies exist in a world of customer experience expectations driven by a technology revolution (mobile devices, social media, wearables, touch, interactive voice etc), new market players (Square, Kickstarter etc), decreasing consumer time and capacity to research and develop understanding and, as importantly multiple influencing experiences provided by others outside the industry (Amazon, Expedia, Facebook etc).

Looked at from the bank perspective with all the infrastructure and line of business challenges “One Bank” is a massive achievement. Looked at from the consumers perspective, however, it is “table stakes” today. What today’s consumer wants is “My Bank”. A bank we can love.

15 years To Build Our “One Bank” Customer Experience

I have over 40 active “financial relationships” covering small business and personal, credit cards, checking and savings accounts, store cards, auto loans, home loans, working capital loans, investment accounts and insurance relationships  on and on. And these cover 11 different financial institutions.

I pay a nice healthy amount of service fees and interest across all these accounts. I may say so myself but I am a pretty good catch for a bank. You would think each of my providers would want to maximize their income from me while minimizing their expense by having fewer but more valuable customer relationships.

fidelity positionsMy “big four” relationships are with JP Morgan Chase, Bank Of America, Wells Fargo and Fidelity Investments. They have all done a great job of building “One Bank” or “One Broker” online access (and mobile apps) to provide most of what I need in one place. It gets better every day as they all add more products, more visibility, better mobile features, investment advisors to branches, preferred contact numbers and even waive a fee or two when I make a mistake and get myself into trouble.

Industry leaders like Bruce Temkin ( and Forrester Research’s Megan Burns (Twitter @mbcxp) tell us that the experience that banks and financial services firms deliver have been improving over the past few years and I agree with that

The next 5 Years Will Be About The “My Bank” Experience

However I want more. My expectations are, like so many people, evolving faster than the banks execution. What I want is not One Bank (although that is better than the bunch of separate product centric relationships that I have now). What I want is “My Bank”.

For those looking to capture the opportunity this presents here are a few helpful hints about what My Bank might mean from various client discussions this year.

  1. Let me customize and personalize my interface to display all the things I am interested in but just the things I am interested in. This includes =my consumer, credit card, business, banking, investment and other relationship, “My Bank” portal.
  2. Let me add products from other financial institutions into my interface. That’s right, your competitors products right there, like Amazon does or Progressive insurance quotes.
  3. Use the data you have about me to make be trust you and depend on you. Provide me analytics that show how I am doing and compare and offer me products or services that could help me do better. Tell me when you predict I should be doing something differently, ahead of time.
  4. Make it worthwhile for me to stay with you for a long time so you can learn a lot about me. I don’t like using different financial providers but you force me to by not competing aggressively. Tell me what the benefits are of longevity and what I need to do to move up the loyalty levels to get more benefits. It may annoy me at first and you will lose some customers but we will appreciate you more in the long term.
  5. Make it worthwhile for me to get more and more products from you to simplify and help my life, raise your income and reward me for being loyal. Make it really worthwhile.  I want simplicity. If I have 5 credit cards, 2 mortgage loans, 7 personal and small business accounts, a merchant payment account, two retirement investment accounts, a general investment account and have been with you for 20 years you why can’t I
    1. Get a reduced interest rate on my mortgage.
    2. Fast-track a working capital line of credit faster from you than from a random internet banker.
    3. Get a higher savings rate than a “regular customer off the street
    4. Enroll in a loyalty points program (like the one that American Express offers) so I can get rewarded for concentrating more and more business with you.
  6. Act in my best interests. Make it clear that it is in my best interests. For example if you can notify me that I am about to incur a service charge and can avoid it then let me know. And maybe only if I have a certain level of relationship with you. Tell me what that level is and let me choose to get there.
  7. Make recommendations that make sense for me. Finances are complex. I have other things to focus on.  You have lots of data about me including what I spend my money with my debit and credit cards, my cashflow and my business finances. Data driven analytics do a better job of driving recommendations than people do.
  8. Offer me communities of interest I can trust. I remember this from my childhood. The local banker or insurance agent was always a good source of referrals and advice. You can be that again with social media. I am busy, busy, busy so help me.
  9. Partnerships that benefit consumers – There are many alliances out there that you can use to deliver value for me as a customer, that’s as a regular customer. From increased data about me to complementary offers. Of course you have to be careful about how you handle to minimize conflicts it but Delta is with Amex, MSG is with Chase. How about a monthly drawing for two tickets to the Red Sox in the HSBC box. And more, maybe more local relationships.
  10. Surprise me. Do something wild and innovative. OK you are  a bank so I don’t expect that wild and innovative BUT you have lots of information about me so why not, what do you have to lose.

“Experience Critical Interactions” Transform Customer Relationships & Loyalty

There is a lot of talk, a lot of work and a lot of success amongst the customer experience professionals of the world about optimizing interactions. More and more interactions continue to move to online and more of those to mobile. Social is finally starting to make real inroads into business operations.

Yesterday in three back to back client conversations I was forcibly reminded that as we map our customer journeys it is worthwhile noting that not all interaction events are equal. And there are some things that just can’t be handled digitally, well shouldn’t be, they can be but I wouldn’t rely on it.

journeyThese are events that absolutely transform the customer relationship and it is dramatic how often these “Experience Critical Interactions” can only be completed face to face or at least voice to voice. Mess these up and your relationship is dead.

Rather than pontificate about these theoretically I will spell out the three specific examples that we discussed and you can make your own judgements.

I have experienced all but one of these. I will leave you to guess which one I haven’t.

atm user 2Automated Banking And Credit Card Owner Error – “oh no – I just transferred $2000 to my credit card company instead of $200. My account is going to overdraw. My partner will kill me. There is no undo button. What do I do? “ The only thing to do is call that’s what. When the agent undoes the transaction because of your customer status you are a customer for life”

angrymanOnline Dinner Reservations – SMS Text “Because of a computer malfunction your dinner reservation at the word famous Hopolopo Madagascan Restaurant this evening was confirmed in error”. Your biggest client just flew into town with her husband to eat here with a 6 month reservations waiting list that you trumpeted that you had gotten into “Just because she is important !”. Now would be a good time for a Hopolopo phone call or even a “click to dial” in the text message taking you to a telephone concierge service.

shocked woman2Digital Wellness – Posting your health and fitness achievements to Facebook sometimes needs to be subject to some personal message screening and control “Debbie Johnson completed her quarterly check-up at the local pharmacy wellness center. Key Achievements – HDL dropped 8%, weight reduction 8lbs, BMI reduction 4%, now pregnant”. Just because she said she wanted to share her health and fitness achievements with her closest friends still doesn’t mean everything should go there.

Seven key questions for you?

  1. In each Customer Journey and especially Customer Relationship Journey (consisting of multiple experiences) have you highlighted your experience critical interactions that could transform your entire relationship and what do you do about them?
  2. Have you defined interaction channel constraints, some things that can only be handled through a particular channel, for example voice to voice?
  3. Do you differ these interaction constraints by customer segment and customer value? Some people really are more valuable than others.
  4. What is the cost of getting this wrong?
  5. Is this an opportunity to differentiate your store based and person to person capabilities from your new digital competitors in your marketing materials? How do you do that in a positive way?
  6. When you rescue your customer how do you politely remind them that you did so and that you did it because you treasure and care about his relationship with you?
  7. How can you improve these critical relationship interactions? Analytics driven smart agents? Click to chat? Click to talk ? Referrals to other partners who can help? Referrals to social communities with similar experiences?

What Do You Do When Customer Experience Clashes With Company Profitability?

amexcardI was chatting with a banking executive today, recently promoted as a VP customer experience and engagement, who is facing  a conundrum. He has just completed a national survey of his consumer base (which includes both consumer consumers and small businesses). 

Uniquely it is the first time his finance department sponsored by his CFO. His marketing organization and his independent survey organization have “ganged up on him (in his words).

The results he is trying to balance:mastercard

  • 81% of customers are extremely happy with his retail banking services.
  • 37% believe that experience is more important than fees.
  • 62% of customers who have switched TO his institution from competitors named fees as one of the top 3 reasons they switched, 30% of this 62% are perceived as difficult to manage, high churn customer. .
  • 29% of bank net income now comes from additional fees that many customers consider as penalties.
  • 72% of customers say one of the top 3 things their financial institution could do to help them guarantee their loyalty is to help avoid fees.
  • 5% of customers are estimated to be at high risk of switching and comprise $280m in revenues, 42% or $117m of which are avoidable punitive fees.  
  • The company made $237m in revenue in 2012 from what are perceived as ”punitive”” fees in 2012.
  • Executing a messaging plan to proactively help customer avoid fees they perceive as unfair would cost ” $12m but help customers avoid most of the $117m in avoidable fees.
  • The Long Term Value of the at 5% risk customers over a 25 year relationship model is $4.2bvisacard

His question is what do I do when i have this conflict betwee customer experience and short term proftability ? It is a lot of revenue ? How do I persuade my leadership to forego $117m in today revenue in exchange for a long term value (LTV) return of $4.2b when they won’t necessarily be here to get paid on the LTV return

8 questions about what would you do ?

  1. What is your cost of customer experience maximization?
  2. What is your business case for experience maximization versus immediate revenue?
  3. What are the top 5 of these conflicts in your business model?
  4. Who in your company cares?
  5. Do your customers really care enough ?
  6. How much does a policy of openness and honesty in communications benefit you ?
  7. How well do you manage messaging to execute this openness correctly?
  8. What is your long-term competitive exposure and can you afford not to do this?