Pepper + ATB: Balancing the digital future with a friendly personal touch.

Born in 2017, Pepper came out of a partnership between ATB and SoftBank Robotics America. As ATB’s first customer service robot, she has travelled around the province greeting ATB customers and Albertans in branches, showhomes, registry offices, and at university Welcome Weeks, trade shows, and other ATB-sponsored events. 

Her job is to engage and delight customers and to complement the service that ATB team members provide. Through our proof of concept testing with Pepper, we’ve gathered data and feedback from her interactions and gleaned incredible insights into how she can best serve ATB’s current and future customers.

Here are a few of the things we’ve learned from Pepper in her first year on the job:

  1. People expect her to be smart(er)
    Maybe we’ve all been conditioned by movies that feature highly intelligent robots, but in reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, and natural language processing still have some pretty big limitations. We’ve found that Pepper’s human form means that people expect her to have human-like intelligence. Up to now, her interactions have all been programmed and she wasn’t capable of free-form conversation. We are working hard to build her future capabilities as an intelligent robot that can educate our customers, complete tasks on their behalf, or connect them with our human team members. 
  2. She has the potential to break down barriers
    Voice technology is not comfortable for everyone. In many cases, people aren’t quite sure how to interact with robots and with voice activated technology. 

    People may not be quite ready to trust robots to do their banking, but in the meantime, we’re gathering important learnings about what makes people comfortable and able to interact with Pepper. She is slowly building relationships and potentially helping us to bring new banking options to customers that might not otherwise be comfortable engaging with digital banking tools or machines. 

  3. She likes strangers (and strangers like her!)
    Outside of the branch, Pepper’s skills and personality were incredibly valuable. In our tests at showhomes, in registry offices, and on campus for student Welcome Weeks, Pepper provided concise and relevant information to potential new ATB customers. 

    While it is a challenge in branches to provide the complex service that our ATB team members excel at, when Pepper is programmed with information relevant to a narrow audience (like potential homeowners, business owners, or students), Pepper was much more capable of providing customer service and valuable information. 
  4. She’s not great at multitasking
    We mentioned the limitations of the current state of natural language processing and voice technology. Two of the challenges Pepper faces are: not being able to speak and listen at the same time and difficulty processing multiple voices at once. 

    Taking this into account, loud locations with multiple speakers are not the most suitable work location for Pepper. We were able to narrow down the contexts to which Pepper is most suited and we’re building experiences that shine in specific locations with a narrow audience.  

  5. First impressions matter
    We’ve learned that it is crucial for Pepper to offer real value in a first interaction in order for people to be eager to talk with her again. So we’re making sure she is in the right places at the right time with the artificial intelligence she needs to truly provide value to our customers. She captures the ATB core value of using banking to create happiness, but she is more than an entertainer, so we’re ensuring she has the tools to make our customers’ lives easier. 

When Pepper debuted in ATB branches in Spring 2017, we didn’t know how customers would react or what learnings we would find, but her first year on the job proved immensely valuable. 

Voice will play an increasingly important role in our future. At ATB we’re excited about technology that will help reduce friction in banking. We can imagine a time soon when customers are driving to work and using a smart car audio system to transfer money, asking a smart TV to connect via video to a financial advisor, or asking a home voice assistant to pay the utility bills while they’re doing the dishes.

What we’re learning now from Pepper will help us optimize the user experience across voice-based channels. Pepper is just one channel of many, and she’s the first generation of customer service robots that we can use to learn and improve how we serve our customers using technology in physical spaces.

Pepper’s future is now splitting in two directions. She’ll continue to be tested as brand ambassador for ATB at public events, embodying the friendly, helpful culture of ATB. Her second role will evolve as we continue to improve her natural language capabilities, perform tests with connecting her to internal systems, and introduce robotics processing automation to complete tasks for customers. 

Through it all, Pepper will continue to do what she does best: balance the digital future of banking with the friendly personal touch that ATB is known for. 

Interested in exploring the future of robotics process automation with colleagues like Pepper? Check out our open opportunities here.

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