The Customer Effect
Finance companies and retailers are experimenting with Slack
- Banks and financial services companies, like retailers, are experimenting with Slack as a customer interaction tool
- Slack has potential as a business banking communication tool, but security and permissions will be ongoing issues to manage
Slack is commonly known as a tool to help employees collaborate internally. But a growing number of retailers and financial companies are using it for customer service interactions. Retailers are trying it out to get to know their customers better, and banks and finance companies are testing it as a conversational banking channel. While no major bank has rolled out a Slack bot for customers (though they've done so on Facebook messenger or iMessage), challenger bank Revolut is testing its capabilities for business customers. This week, the bank launched Revolut Connect, a feature that lets business account holders "talk" to companion apps they use frequently for crucial day-to-day functions like payroll and expense management. The feature lets business customers interact seamlessly with these programs through their banking app. It also lets business customers get notifications when tasks or transactions are completed. Slack becomes a notification center for the customer, a sort-of connective tissue between the banking app and the programs to which it connects. "Our Slack integration currently allows teams to be notified whenever a transaction happens in one of their accounts -- it's a simple but really useful feature, avoiding our customers having to log into our platforms every 30 minutes to check whether a client paid the bill," said Domenico De Fano, product owner for business at Revolut. The company added that it plans to grow the capabilities of its Slack bot, letting customers check account balances, query all payments received from a given client and initiate payments. Revolut is an early mover among financial services companies using Slack as a conversational banking interface. Over the past year, banks have invested in conversational bot capabilities -- Capital One's Eno and Bank of America's Erica are two prominent examples -- though Slack is a relative newcomer. Citizens Bank, however, recently rolled out a Slack-type messaging program called Relay to help onboard loan applicants. The effectiveness of Slack as a communication interface is largely dependent on whether the customer is already using it for other reasons, so the learning curve is less steep. Use of Slack as a customer communication tool is an example of how banks are taking cues from retailers to deepen their relationships with customers. Among retailers, use cases are varied. Fashion brands like Modern Citizen and Glossier are creating Slack groups to initiate conversations with customers who provide insights and advice for product developers. For tech startup workers who call Slack a second home, food retailers are looking to sell to them within the platform. For example, last year, Domino's Pizza rolled out a Slack bot to let people order pizza for their teams. "Collaboration on a big project can now carry over to collaborating on a team lunch order," Dennis Maloney, Domino's svp and chief digital officer, said when the feature was launched last November. For financial companies exploring Slack's capabilities, its success will depend on clear parameters regarding the types of information that will be shared and who gets to see it. Zor Gorelov, co-founder and CEO of Kasisto, said Slack has some obvious advantages but there are risks, too. Kasisto launched conversational banking platform KAI two years ago for client banks around the world. It's compatible with Slack, but so far, Gorelov said he's seen little interest in it. "The advantages are that it's very intuitive, users know how to use it and the conversation fits a paradigm -- it's like your talking to a chatbot and by using Slack as a notification channel about your transactions; maybe you'll get notified when a wire comes in," he said. "It's much better than email, but the obvious downside is security -- who is seeing what and on what channel." Slack can work as an interface for business customers if they're already spending a considerable amount of time on it. In effect, using Slack to communicate is a new way to meet the customer "where they are." "I think it depends on where your business customers are spending their time," said Keith Armstrong, co-founder of conversational banking platform Abe AI. "If you're a small community bank and you offer a lot of small business loans, and those businesses are using Slack, why wouldn't you have a presence? [Technology providers] can avoid the risk upfront by talking to the assumed adopters."