Are chatbots and intelligent assistants a customer engagement fad, or does this trend have legs? A panel of developers with long-term, hands-on experience weighs in during our latest VB Live event. Register now to learn about the difference between a bot and an IA, plus where and how these tools can fit into your strategy!

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Chatbots and AI assistants are blowing up in popularity as they start to become a central interface for the emerging Internet of Things. Since Facebook opened up its API back in April 2016, over 100K bots have been added.

But USAA, a financial services group that serves the military and military families, has been using a chatbot on its mobile app since 2013. Created in partnership with Clinc, USAA recently launched the bot as an intelligent virtual assistant for Alexa.

“We’ve had a lot of traction on that,” says Darrius Jones, AVP at USAA Lab. “We look at intelligent assistants as upping our game.”

The virtual assistant on was developed based on member feedback and data about their transactions. It’s designed to answer basic questions and perform simple tasks such as activating a card, changing a PIN, and reporting lost or stolen cards. The virtual assistant currently responds to 1.4 million requests per month.

“Of all of the modes of communication, the near real-time nature of chat seems to be really sticky,” Jones says. “It still has that human component even when there’s not necessarily a human on the other end.” And with the addition of artificial intelligence, even chatbots are developing a a sophistication that pushes it a far step ahead of automation, helping to deliver deeper and more personal interactions. Loyalty is built every time a customer has a personalized, engaging interaction that yields actual results.

Their intelligent assistant offers spending analysis and nudges members toward staying under budget and saving money as members interact with the conversational interface. You can ask how much money you have, drill down into a variety of money holding platforms, ask how much you’ve spent on groceries, and even if you can spend a certain amount on a particular spending category.

“My favorite one is, can I spend $100 on dinner this evening?” Jones says. “While it won’t give you a discrete yes or no, it will give you all of the data points that you need to make a reasonable decision.”

It can tell you that for instance, you’re already $300 over budget in the restaurant category that month — which means logic ought to prevail and suggest that maybe you should reconsider and postpone blowing $100 on sushi.

“We’re providing points of view, not necessarily advice, that help people make their own decision,” Jones says.

It’s a sexy technology that looks good on paper, and seems like it makes you fancy and on the cutting edge once it’s up and running on your platforms — but throwing the technology at the wall and seeing what sticks is the worst reason in the world to invest in AI and bot technologies. USAA has invested heavily because their business-wide KPI — member service and satisfaction — is at stake.

“It’s not to say that the operational efficiency associated with these projects aren’t under consideration — but they aren’t necessarily the first thing that we start with,” he explains. “We typically start with engagement and satisfaction — was it a meaningful experience? And then how many problems were we able to solve for a given set of our members?”

To that end, they also have a significant amount invested in analytics capabilities.

“They go every which way from who typically needs what type of service, advice, or product all the way down to what are the right ways to engage with the variety of demographics that we serve,” Jones says. “So we have a horizontal, which looks at the right channel, and then we have a vertical view, which talks about the right service, product, and advice mix.”

In the case of intelligent assistant platforms, there is a significant amount of A/B testing and experimentation that helps determine whether their original hypotheses are accurate.

“As much as I’d like to say analytics drive most of our decisions, at this point of the evolution of the space, it’s been really difficult to accurately predict the effectiveness,” Jones says. “In many cases, we are pleasantly surprised, realizing that a group we thought wasn’t going to use a particular functionality actually used it more than the group it was intended for.”

Get more insight from Jones, plus Amir Shevat of Slack, into how intelligent assistants and chat bots can refine your business strategy, boost customer engagement and satisfaction, and where to start, when you register now for this VB Live event.

Don’t miss out! Register now.

In this VB Live event, you’ll:

  • Understand the messaging platforms of the future
  • Learn which platforms people are using — and why
  • Measure the success of your chatbot through best-practice KPIs
  • Create personalized interaction between your organization and your customers


  • Amir Shevat, Director of Developer Relations, Slack
  • Darrius Jones, AVP, USAA Labs
  • Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VentureBeat
  • Rachael Brownell, Moderator, VentureBeat