Is your business ready to talk to robots?

Having seen the fate of traditional retailers unable to change with the times, new businesses must be ready to leverage the power of AI

Is your business ready to talk to robots?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to transform the way that we do business. Consumer-facing organisations in the retail, energy, finance, insurance and automotive sector are already implementing automation. They do it not just to stay ahead of the growing competition but also to keep up with growing customer expectations. However, despite the increasing attention being drawn to AI in the media, understanding the exact value of what it can offer – and how it can work to improve the customer journey – is still somewhat unclear.

E-commerce is all grown up

The Internet is no longer young and e-commerce has matured to a point where the market is not merely full but overcrowded. As these digital business models evolve, so do consumers’ expectations. Thus, online operators who don’t keep pace with changing attitudes are beginning to stagnate and feel the adverse effects of this upon their business. In this way, the digital marketplace shares the woes of bricks and mortar, at a different point in its lifecycle. Savvy businesses must therefore act now to avoid sharing traditional retailers’ fate.

Customers come first

Where businesses are falling short is on customer experience. In an increasingly digital and saturated marketplace, consumers have a growing expectation for their transactions to be instantaneous, immersive and entirely seamless.

As this becomes the norm, consumers’ needs will continue to evolve. The next holy grail is great customer service that not only meets, but also predicts, their needs and responds accordingly. Only data-driven insights will be able to facilitate this process, with AI and machine-learning moving in tandem with purchasing habits, instantly identifying – better yet, anticipating – and meeting consumers’ needs.

Alexa, find me a good customer experience

According to PwC’s Global Insights Survey 2018, which surveyed more than 22,000 consumers worldwide, customers are happy to talk to robots. Brands must convince customers that they are authentic and caring in order to thrive. Although it may seem counterintuitive, AI could lie at the heart of this. AI can increase the human element to customer service – allowing businesses to offer the very best of human one-to-one service, in an online space. In fact, 60% of respondents in the survey agreed that AI can reduce the time it takes to get answers while being highly tailored to their preferences.

In many cases, AI provides a great solution, and there is clear evidence in the PwC survey that not only are customers perfectly happy ‘talking to robots’ – hence the rise of apps like Siri and Cortana, and devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home – but they actually plan to do so more often. PwC found that while just 10% of respondents owned an AI device at the time of response, nearly one in three had plans to purchase one, and 18% of AI device owners associated ownership of that device with shopping behaviours.

Business benefits of AI

Interaction and conversations between humans and brands become more productive for both parties with AI-enabled technologies. The combination of machine-learning and data analytics enables businesses to understand huge information sets in a way that no human ever could. With this analytical insight available, a call centre agent can provide the empathetic, responsive service that customers appreciate – and, increasingly, require.

For example, it is relatively straightforward for a good AI application to analyse the past and recent purchasing behaviours of individual clients, combine this understanding with wider machine learning in various data sets, and come up with rational predictions of future behaviours. This lets businesses plan, make investment decisions, build marketing plans and generally arrange their business in response to these insights.

Embracing the power of AI

Currently, AI offers so many forms and applications, it is difficult to imagine a sector that can’t benefit from it. However, if we take a slightly more prosaic definition of AI as ‘technology doing things that humans do, in apparently human ways’, then any business that conducts substantial sales or marketing online has much to gain from the more widespread applications of AI. That’s because it effectively makes (super)human customer service available 24/7.

It’s inevitable that, in the not-too-distant future, AI will become a part of everyday business. Much like the telephone or desktop computer as technology develops, we will see the use of automation across a number of business processes. After witnessing what happens to businesses that fail to meet evolving customer expectations, there is increasing pressure for organisations to embrace the power of AI. Those who are already implanting new AI technologies are likely to reap the benefits and see an expanding customer base as a result.

Anne de Kerckhove
Anne de Kerckhove

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