Google's Next Play: Your Assistant For Everything - Not Just Answers

Julie Ask

This blog post is co-authored by VP and Principal Analyst Michael Facemire and Analyst Andrew Hogan at Forrester.

Google held an event in San Francisco this week to announce several new consumer products – a smartphone, a wireless speaker, Wi-Fi routers, a virtual reality headset and an updated Chromecast solution. All showcased an emerging strategic direction for Google and some killer engineering and design skills.

None of it impressed as much as the demos of Google Assistant – Google’s virtual assistant.

What is a virtual assistant, you ask? A virtual assistant is another name for an intelligent (personal) assistant. Virtual assistants orchestrate agents or services from third parties on behalf of consumers. Bots are one form of an agent. Virtual assistants rely on context (e.g., user input, localization capabilities, and access to information from a variety of data sources) to refine the quality of responses to a user’s requests. These assistants guess, but the guesses get better over time. “Virtual” implies that the service is digital and not performed by a human you’ve hired.

Google Assistant is a natural extension of Google’s path towards becoming the agent that sits between brands and their customers. The “holy grail” of becoming a consumer’s primary virtual assistant will be hard for Google to obtain, but holds unprecedented business value. Google is not alone in this race – Amazon, Apple and Facebook in the U.S. also have their sights set on being the trusted assistant for consumers.

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Why Most Banks Should Not (Yet) Roll Out Bots

Peter Wannemacher

Companies of all stripes are getting bot happy, rolling out bots for third-party platforms like Facebook Messenger, Kik, WeChat, Slack, and more. Firms like Yahoo, H&M, KLM Airlines, and others use these chat bots — software built to simulate human conversation and to help consumers complete tasks — in an effort to better win, serve, and retain customers.

A few banking providers are beginning to dip their bank-shaped toes into the bot space: Capital One allows customers to take actions like paying bills via Alexa on Echo devices; Bank of America has announced plans to roll out a bot on Facebook Messenger; and numerous Chinese providers offer banking services via WeChat.

But while a few banks are in a position to experiment, digital business executives at most banks must decide whether to use precious resources to build or buy a chat bot offering. Forrester’s brand-new research report argues that most of these executives should hold off on launching chat bots for messaging platforms. This is because:

  • Today’s bots often lead to uneven — or worse — experiences for customers. In our research, we found many instances where a chat bot offered a quick and effective answer to a consumer’s question; however, about one-third of the time, existing chat bots either failed to complete the consumer’s request or provided a clunky, awkward experience.
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Retailers Are Prioritizing The Wrong Digital Technologies In Brick And Mortar Stores

Lily Varon

Retailers are inundated with promising technologies to revolutionize the in-store shopping experience for consumers. The problem? Our research shows that most of these experiences today miss the mark and may actually make the customer experience more complex or confusing.  On the other hand, retailers are seeing significant, and measurable, value from technologies that directly improve store operations.

Forrester has published a two-part TechRadar™ defining the current state, business value, and long-term prospects for technologies in retail stores: one for those focusing specifically on customer experiences and the other on technologies focusing on operations. It’s still early days for both of these technology categories but we found that:

  • Operations technologies generally already offer significant business value to retailers. Of the 14 technologies we evaluated,nearly half are on track to provide significant business value for retailers. Retailers are finding that these technologies help their physical store teams and operations perform better and become more efficient by gleaning customer insights and spurring real-time action by store staff.
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Mobile (Commerce) Executive Survey: Please take it!!! We'll Share The Results!

Julie Ask

Each year Forrester fields an Executive Survey to understand and benchmark enterprise mobile initiatives. This year, we are updating the survey to help business executives not only to benchmark and mature their approach to mobile but also to help them integrate mobile into their digital initiatives more  holistically. (A marketer’s version of this survey will be released later this year).

Creating a strategy and building an operation to use mobile to win, serve and retain your customers is a complex task. Integrating mobile into a broader corporate strategy is even more complex. The survey results will help firms understand what strategies, technologies and operational elements (e.g., organization, process, metrics, talent, etc.) should be in place given their goals for mobile. All answers will be treated anonymously and only used in aggregate.

For your efforts, we will share a free copy of the topline survey results.

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Banks and Fintechs: Better together

Aurelie L'Hostis

Old met new in the world of retail banking on July 28, as BPCE, France’s second largest banking group, announced the acquisition of the German digital bank and fintech pioneer Fidor Bank.

Founded in 2009, Fidor Bank has built a community of 350,000 users across Germany and the UK, who are rewarded for offering peer-to-peer financial advice and invited to participate in the social co-creation of products and services. The startup has also developed a proprietary technology platform – the Fidor Operating System (fOS) – which enables open and fast API banking, offering its 120,000 customers access to a wide selection of services provided by other fintech partners.

The news about BPCE inking a deal with Fidor came as no surprise. As I discuss in a recent report, the digital banks which have proliferated over the past few years – competing to win customers by offering more compelling digital customer experiences than those offered by established banks – are struggling to acquire large numbers of customers and reach profitable scale. Why? They operate on narrow margins, can’t sustain large marketing campaigns, and create limited perceived added-value for customers.

Fidor has done well since its launch, hitting profitability for the first time in 2012. The startup however made the decision to shift its business model away from just direct-to-consumer offerings, and now white-label its technology to financial institutions. The telecom operator Telefónica in Germany recently partnered with the fintech to launch a mobile banking service for its customers.

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Bank of America Redesigns Email Alerts

Peter Wannemacher

Few things are as unsexy as emails from a financial services company. But email alerts play an important role in the world of digital banking: Forrester’s new research report shows that alerts drive mobile banking usage and engagement.

Too few digital banking teams allocate significant resources to their alerts efforts — as evidenced by the mixed results in the Alerts category of Forrester’s Digital Banking Benchmark scores. But some banks have recently sought to improve their email, SMS, and in-app alerts (also called “push notifications”).

Bank of America has now launched the latest updates to its alerts. Just a couple of years ago, the bank’s email alerts were text-heavy, unwieldy, crowded messages with little clear guidance for customers. But through multiple iterations, Bank of America redesigned its alerts to be clean and simple with a clear call to action based on the purpose of the alert (see images below).

Forrester spoke with  Alex Wittkowski, VP and senior product manager of mobile banking and commerce at Bank of America, who discussed how the bank redesigned its email alerts “to focus on just those few crucial elements” at the heart of an alert’s value to the customer. According to Wittkowski, the redesigned alerts are now:

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The Wounded Unicorns Of Fintech

Oliwia Berdak

Finovate, KPMG, and CB Insights are all reporting on record investments in financial technology (fintech) in 2016.[i] According to Finovate, the total number of deals year-to-date stands at 737, double last year’s 371. The amount invested has more than doubled, too — from $8.4 billion raised during the same period a year ago to $17.4 billion year-to-date.

There seems to be a lot of optimism in fintech, especially when you consider this chart:

Source: Yahoo Finance.

The share prices of fintech darlings in peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, small-business lending, and mobile payments have collapsed post-IPO. And devaluations aren’t affecting only publicly owned companies. Zenefits — which offers cloud-based software to manage payroll, health insurance, and other benefits — was valued at $4.5 billion in May 2015. Since then, Fidelity, which led the funding round, has written down the value of its investment, now estimating Zenefits' share price at $5.60 — down from $14.90 a year earlier.[ii]

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Mobile Search: It’s Different

Julie Ask

This post is co-authored by Jennifer Wise, senior analyst at Forrester

Mobile search is essential. In fact, according to Forrester’s Mobile Audience Data, Q4 2015, 87% of US smartphone owners rely on browser-based search on mobile devices. And the data reveals that Google’s search engine is the most common path to a mobile site even for well-known brands such as Amazon, Walmart and Kmart.

As a top discovery resource, companies can’t afford to wait any longer to implement a mobile-first search strategies. The biggest seen mistake today? Either lacking a strategy completely, or treating mobile search the same way as desktop search. As Forrester Research’s Dr. James McQuivey says, “When businesses first adopt a technology, they do old things in new ways. When they internalize a technology, they begin to do new things.” Consumers use mobile phones very differently than they use desktop computers. So must Marketers.

Forrester conducted an in-depth analysis of how consumers use Google search on mobile versus desktop devices to parse-out how consumers use the two devices differently. Today, Forrester finds that consumers purchase a range of categories on their smartphones: insurance, travel, financial services products, and even pet food. For this research we focused on the travel category because consumers are so likely to research and book travel on mobile devices – Forrester’s Mobile Audience Online Survey, Q4 2015 reveals that 29% of mobile users have purchased hotel rooms and 22% an airline ticket on their smartphone.

To build on our Forrester insights, we looked at Google’s data and discovered that when it comes to mobile searching:

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Counting Down To Forrester's Next-Generation Financial Services Summit Sydney

Zhi-Ying Ng

Despite being geographically far away from the rest of the world, Australia's financial services sector has found its place on the world stage. Australian banks are some of the most innovative in the world. As our 2016 Global Mobile Banking Functionality Benchmark has shown, some Australian banks have overtaken their global counterparts, with Westpac taking the coveted top spot.

The question that I often get asked from Australian digital banking teams is, "so what's next in financial services?"

And I think that's a great question. As uncertain economic conditions, wavering markets, and tight budgets continue to increase the pressure on Australian digital teams to deliver better experiences and increased sales through digital touchpoints, we believe that digital business executives have to drive digital transformation. And this means far more than simply developing a "digital strategy". 

Digital banking executives must make mobile the hub of customer interactions, and not treat mobile as if it were just another channel. They should develop mobile banking as a platform to engage customers. To continue to win and retain mindshare and increase wallet share, the next step digital banking teams must focus on are ways to create new sources of value for their customers, not just meeting their basic needs.

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We Have A New Mobile Banking Leader: Westpac Tops Forrester’s Global Benchmark In 2016

Aurelie L'Hostis

Mobile banking adoption has reached critical mass. Rapid progress in mobile technologies and consumers' ever-increasing expectations and changing behavior have left many banks around the world playing catch-up. In the meantime, a cluster of banks is racing forward by putting customers at the center of their strategy, striving to anticipate customers' emerging needs, and by embracing an agile and iterative approach to speed up the development of new mobile capabilities that differentiate them from their peers. Today, these banks are delivering outstanding services to their customers in mobile, and in 2016, Westpac in Australia is leading the pack.

To help digital business strategy leaders better understand the landscape of mobile banking, identify best practices, and benchmark their own capabilities in this area, Forrester conducts an annual functionality benchmark applying 40 criteria. This year, we evaluated 46 leading retail banks from more than a dozen countries across four continents, and have just published the findings in our "2016 Global Mobile Banking Functionality Benchmark" report.

Here are some of the highlights from the global benchmark report:

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