Facebook Messenger

Chatbots: A better experience for banking customers?

As we touched on in our recent article about social customer service, the possibilities to provide support over private channels such as Facebook Messenger are expanding. Not least because, as Mark Zuckerberg announced at the F8 conference last week, Facebook has introduced ‘chatbots’. According to their press release, “Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.”

The technology includes a Send/Receive API, so that businesses can automate the sending of text and also ‘interactive rich bubbles’ – basically, quite straightforward content – to the platform’s 900 million active users. Developers and businesses will get the necessary documentation to build and submit bots for Messenger; Facebook will decide ‘gradually’ which ones get approved. The chatbot API is named ‘Messenger Platform’, and is clearly aimed at businesses.

messenger platform

There are also ‘Messenger Codes’, similar to QR codes and possibly an imitation of the recently launched ‘Snapcodes’ from Snapchat, which allow messenger users to scan a circular icon (from anywhere, with their phone) and add a brand to their chat list.


Indeed, according to Campaign magazine, the layout in the app “looks very similar to Snapchat’s ‘stories’ page that features discover options”, with people in one row and bots in another.


Finally, Facebook has launched the Wit.ai Bot Engine, which will allow developers to build more sophisticated chatbots. These bots will eventually be able to interpret intent, use natural language and learn and improve themselves over time.

An old new innovation

The ‘bots store’ may be new but Brand Republic argues that chatbots have been around since before the internet, referencing the first instant messaging applications for desktop via AOL and MSN. Of course, there are several select brands who have already been involved in testing the technology, including Lyft, Uber and KLM.

According to the Drum, businesses already using branded bots include retailer Spring, which provides a personal shopping assistant, and CNN, which delivers breaking (and personalised) news via its bot. The known bots are listed here.

The end of brand apps?

An interesting point, raised by Matt Owen at Clickz, is that the technology can be used beyond customer service to market to potential clients. “Essentially you can now set up drip nurturing campaigns directing users to various content, and host it directly inside messenger.”

Shona Ghosh at Brand Republic argues that the attention and coverage Facebook enjoys makes it a more sensible choice for investment than a dedicated brand app. “If Facebook’s vision comes to pass, businesses are more likely to be building their own bots than dedicated mobile apps, with the social network acting as the unified layer. The benefit for Facebook, if it pulls it off, is that it becomes indispensable, a kind of mini, closed version of the web.” KLM is one brand that seems to think that the future lies with chat apps rather than company websites.

However, Facebook’s foray into artificial intelligence is not supposed to be used for pure advertising but businesses will be charged to send ‘Sponsored Messages’ to those already engaged with them.


Facebook claims: “We are focused on facilitating messages from businesses that provide meaningful value to the people who receive them. People will be able to mute and block communications that they don’t want to receive. There are also strict policies for developers and businesses to uphold and we will have review processes to ensure we carefully evaluate how our community is responding.”

Better service from a real person, for now

Mapa Analysts have recently had experience with some chatbots used by banks to provide social customer service… and were less than impressed. “It was really apparent that a robot was responding rather than a real person. We asked about cancelling a card and the keyword ‘card’ was all that the robot appeared to understand, returning lots of links to more information on registering and using a card, but not the answer we needed (which was available on the bank’s site). The emotional side of customer service is still definitely missing from existing chatbot technology, from our experience.”



TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez has noted that one problem is a lack of greetings in some chats – how do you start a converstion with a bot? – and, like the Mapa Analysts, Perez expressed disappointment that some bots didn’t return the relevant information (even after a simple request) and some were downright snarky.

Like us, Perez found that she’d be better off searching for products on the website than conversing with the bots, and said: “While these tests were brief, it goes to show that Messenger’s chatbots are still a long way from fulfilling their potential to be a useful way to interact with businesses and brands through chat. These bots clearly need to be able to interact with their human customers more conversationally, and have a better understanding of what people are actually saying to them.”

It’s clear that, while the technology may be progressing, the desire to speak to a real person – with some empathy and skill in finding the right answer quickly – may outweigh the desire to stay within your favourite messaging app to conduct all your business, at least for now.

Still plenty of potential

Of course, there’s more to chatbots than just answering customer service queries – and the scope for banks to use the technology creatively to win and retain clients is pretty big. We asked Matt Owen, head of social for Clickz, for his thoughts on the future of chatbots in the financial services industry:

“Obviously there are various compliance and security concerns within the sector, but I still believe there are a range of possibilities for chatbots within financial services. FAQ-style customer service is the most obvious one, but there’s are lots of personal banking applications – moving money from account to account, monitoring your spending and budgeting and so on (wouldn’t it be useful to have a chatbot mention your balance should you stray too close to your favourite bar? A nice willpower boost!).”

“However, I think the real value may be in the insight banks gain from when and where customers interact with these services. They will help add a layer of data that more accurately models individual customer circumstances and spending habits, allowing more personalised account tailoring (including automated investment advice), which should lead to higher retention rates and increased lifetime value. While the blockchain isn’t quite there yet, it’s clear that ideas of personal value and currency are becoming more flexible and portable, and this kind of automation and data gathering should allow banks to become more aligned with modern consumer needs (including removing the need to line up in a branch for many tasks!).”

We wouldn’t be surprised to see retail banks adopting chatbots en masse over the next few months. What will be interesting will be monitoring the execution: seeing who is doing it so well that we can hardly tell it’s a robot replying to our questions.

View more info on Facebook’s chatbots for messenger at https://developers.facebook.com/docs/messenger-platform/product-overview.

Our Customer Servicing on Digital Channels report looks at how banks are innovating to provide customers with the right support in the right place at the right time, including the use of diverse social channels and AI. To subscribe to the Insight Series reports, contact us today.

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