Designing Eno

How Capital One made an SMS chatbot customers can text 24/7 to check in on their money.


What — and who — is Eno?

Eno is the first natural language SMS chatbot from a U.S. bank. And we launched Eno at SXSW on March 10, open as a pilot to Capital One customers. (PS Happy Birthday, Eno!)

When it came to giving this new SMS chatbot a name, we looked for a gender-neutral name with human-like qualities consistent with Capital One’s mission of bringing humanity to banking. We chose the name Eno because it’s “one” (as in Capital One) spelled backwards. And we also liked that when we asked Google for the definition of Eno, the first result returned said “Awesome, cool.”

After deciding to create a gender-neutral character, we worked to define Eno’s character traits and develop its backstory. We defined how Eno viewed the world and viewed itself, then created Eno’s likes, dislikes, character flaws, and sense of humor. We even created visual reference so that anyone working on the character could quickly see what Eno might look like if it were human. There were lots of co-creation sessions with the design, product, tech, and brand teams working together, which did two things: provide a more diverse perspective for the character design, and inform the teams working on the product exactly who this character is.

Why did we make Eno?

Because texting is ubiquitous; 97% of U.S. consumers with smartphones use messaging to communicate, and we want to be where our customers are — whenever and wherever they want to talk with us about their money. That’s a big reason we’ve been experimenting with SMS-based communication at Capital One, including notifications each time there’s a purchase on your card, or to accept credit card payments.

The opportunity to build on primarily 1-way communications is NOW given the explosion of AI technologies and Capital One’s appetite to explore the contextually relevant, conversational experiences that chatbots are uniquely positioned to deliver. We’ve already been digging in — when we launched the Capital One skill on Alexa last SXSW to become the first skill providing customers with financial account access. But there are many differences between voice conversations and text-based conversations, so this is an entirely new channel full of fascinating opportunities to invent new ways of managing money — that is, experiences that embrace the natural language customers use to text about their money, and experiences that get smarter with each interaction.

That’s how Eno came to be; a product of existing behavior, new technology, and emotionally intelligent design.

How did we design Eno?

We put Eno in front of dozens of customers during the past few months and learned a few things: people love texting, they love quick access to their account info, and they appreciate the humanity of a natural language interface. This is where Eno’s character becomes a real differentiator. We moved beyond transactional interactions that sound robotic and cold, to contextually relevant, meaningful conversations that evoke emotion and hopefully, lead to relationships rooted in trust, empathy, and understanding. Through Eno’s character and conversation, we create an environment that customers are comfortable with AND an experience that has them paying attention with their hearts as well as their minds.

We also paid close attention to the feedback from our pilot users, and the lessons were many; we learned early on the value of doing a few things really well, versus many things so-so, and failing gracefully when Eno can’t understand. We learned that proper grammar and punctuation matter, that people love emojis, and, as much as Eno’s sense of humor is appreciated, there are moments when our customers just want us to respond in a straightforward way. Knowing when to do so, and when to let Eno’s personality and love for puns shine through, is an important balance our writers learn to strike. Each time Eno gets it right, it builds confidence and helps reinforce the trusting relationship we strive to build with each customer. As Eno likes to remind us, it’s a bot you can bank on!

What can you ask/say to Eno?

Eno is there to answer any questions customers have about their Capital One accounts. You can ask it to check your balance and due date, share your recent transactions, or pay your Capital One credit card bill. It’ll also text you a poem, if you ask nicely.

Why is this cool for Capital One’s customers?

Customers are loving Eno because of how it feels. Just like in real life, we get feelings from the people we’re interacting with — the more we understand their values and character, and the more consistently we see that come through in their language and behavior, the more we trust that person and build more meaningful relationships.

Nearly every research participant remarks on how much they like Eno. That’s more than just having answers; that’s getting to know someone.

Customers appreciate that Eno knows the right answer factually, but what’s been striking (and really gratifying) is how moved customers are by the feeling Eno’s conversations inspire. Customers use words like “wow,” explaining that the experience is “natural” and “quicker than having to sit down and bank,” which signals to us that we’re designing for existing behavior rather than introducing a learning curve to overcome. They like being able to “ask a question and get the answer instantly” to complement existing banking behaviors of navigating menus, and nearly every research participant remarks on how much they like Eno. That’s more than just having answers; that’s getting to know someone. And we think it’s pretty cool that customers and Eno will get to know each other better.

Why is this cool for Capital One?

For the same reason as above; it’s pretty cool that customers and Eno will get to know each other better. But it’s also cool for Capital One because Eno is an experience made by some of the most brilliant:

1. Scientists and engineers deploying natural language understanding and processing, and a context-aware platform powered by real-time data

2. Designers creating a character who’s always there for you, 24/7, with answers or reassurance in a consistently reliable way, and represented by a visual identity that conveys its humanity

3. Researchers digging into what drives customer emotions and behaviors, plus how they talk about money per channel and use case

4. Product managers who consistently drive radical focus in our roadmap, amid weighing a million potential paths, to clear the way for Eno to serve customers — in smarter, better, faster ways

5. Brand strategists and creative directors ensuring Eno fits into and drives the Capital One brand, and producing creative visual storytelling to showcase the Eno experience

All those people coming together to create Eno together hasn’t just been collaborative (although it has been); it’s been magical.

Why is this cool for Design and/or Content Strategy?

This work demonstrates that design is more than creating beautiful, functional interfaces. There is no interface in this design work — the content is the experience; words are the interface.

Writing for Eno has been especially fun. It’s been all about applying our core content strategy principles — which are (1) natural language (2) contextual relevance (3) use-case specificity — to an entirely new channel and experience, through the voice of a unique character that has its own thoughtful way of communicating with the people it interacts with.

There’s also real meaning in designing experiences that make it easier for people to do what they need to do — like get a quick update on what they have available in their checking account, for example — in a way that feels comfortable and natural, and meets them where they already are (on their phone, in their home). Everything is available within the channel of the conversations they’re already having. They can text their mom about their day, and then send a quick text to Eno to find out when their Venture card bill is due, and then go back to respond to their mom — all without having to open a new app and navigate away from their texts. That’s pretty awesome.

How/where can someone learn more about Eno?

Right here. And if you’d like to explore open positions with our AI Design team, send a few sentences about who you are and why you’re interested to contentdesignjobs@capitalone.com.


Special thanks to Audra Koklys Plummer (Head of AI Design) and Lauren Lucchese (Head of AI Content) for co-authoring this piece with me.