The Brokerage and The Bot

Tim Scannell

Updated · Apr 04, 2005

Instant messaging bots are building steam in the online brokerage world. Conversagent, a developer of chat-based interactive customer service software, has hooked up with online broker HarrisDirect to launch a Customer Relationship Management bot called Automated Service Agent (ASA).

Called “Ask Harrisdirect,” the chat application deploys a self-service customer service technology that replicates the contact center agent by engaging the customer in two-way natural language text chat and delivering an immediate response to customer queries.

The ASA is available within the customer service section at and provides information about trading, account management and other general investment questions.

Stephen Klein, chief executive officer of Conversagent, said the goal is to help the company save money by freeing up phone operators to deal with customers’ more complex issues.

Klein was an executive with ActiveBuddy, a leader in the field of instant messaging-based bots, which later changed its name to Conversagent. ActiveBuddy’s bots are built on a natural language search technique called a “buddy script,” which is programmed to tap into content databases. The script would then be custom-built for corporate clients to recognize natural language queries and fetch the answers, such as stock prices and weather information.

He eventually took the same business and evolved into Conversagent, which also markets bots — chat-based interactive agents — and the servers that power them for internal business and business-to-consumer use.

However, unlike ActiveBuddy, the HarrisDirect System also provides secure Web-based reporting and analytics. The ASA Management Console includes a knowledge management interface that allows non-technical customer service representatives the capability to add, edit and publish content, he said.

The service also can send questions directly to live customer-service representatives, if the situation warrants.

“It is amazing how mucked up it has all gotten,” Klein said. “A consumer’s simple, basic question should be able to be answered online, but it just doesn’t work that way and costs companies at least five bucks to handle their phone call.”

People who have questions want to get answers right away, added Michael Hogan, chief operating officer for HarrisDirect. He also said the Web site was the ideal gateway for the service because his business primarily serves the online, self directed investor.

“These people are happy to use a computer and this allows them to stay in that use stream,” he said. “Now they don’t have to change the mode of dealing with us by calling or writing e-mail.”

Recent customers of the product include Time Warner and Comcast .

Updates prior version to clarify Klein’s role with ActiveBuddy

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