Chatbots and AI: Friend or Foe?

As corporate buzzwords go, AI and automation have been gaining popularity at an increasing rate.

Chatbots and AI: Friend or Foe?

As corporate buzzwords go, AI and automation have been gaining popularity at an increasing rate. In order to retain a competitive edge, businesses have realised the necessity of adopting the latest technologies as part of a proactive approach to innovation. However, while smart technological investment has clear advantages in attracting new customers, increasing customer loyalty and improving services – there are other factors to consider. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than the recent adoption of chatbots amongst businesses where powerful benefits for enterprises have been accompanied by mixed feedback from consumers.

The popularity of chatbots amongst large brands such as Amazon and Domino’s is not without good reason – despite having marginal cost, new research from Sichuan University and Fudan University indicates that chatbots outsell humans by four times. As enterprises look to drive efficiencies and remain progressive, technologies with such strong offerings will inevitably become ubiquitous. Importantly, however, the same study revealed that as soon as customers realised they were speaking with an AI chatbot, the probability of completing a sale reduced drastically. This discomfort around chatbots embodies the position of AI and automation amongst enterprises. Simply put, consumers don’t seem ready for the idea that they are interacting with artificial intelligence.

However, the reality is that chatbots are just one part of a broad range of AI and automation solutions powering businesses. With the staggering amount of data that businesses have been able to collect on customer data, digitising existing processes has been a hot trend in recent years. As with chatbots, these solutions are gaining traction due to how much they have to offer enterprises and customers alike. The question is whether AI and automation will continue to restructure businesses or the growing discomfort among consumers will turn the tide.

Smarter than you think

Despite an apparent shift in customer sentiment, AI and machine learning are continuing to develop at an impressive rate and gain powerful capabilities. 70 years ago, the notion that a computer could deceive a human into thinking it was speaking with another human was inconceivable. In fact, known as The Turing Test, this seemingly simple task was held as the standard by which artificial intelligence could be judged for half a century. Regarded as an impossibility for decades, now consumers don’t even realise that seemingly mundane technologies like chatbots are regularly passing this test. What this suggests is that public perception is not developing in-line with the technologies themselves. 

That being said, as the abilities of AI and automation compound and increasingly complex tasks become part of standard business operation, their allure to enterprises will only increase. This is evidenced by the rolling-tide of AI-integrations augmenting the sales process. Capable of interpreting and matching images, recognising patterns in data, making recommendations and predicting outcomes – the sales industry has rapidly incorporated AI to the benefit of both consumer and salesperson alike. While the most auspicious part of this inundation of technology, chatbots are just the tip of the iceberg for how they’ve restructured the industry.

For the sales tasks behind-the-scenes, automation is a boon to productivity. Often time-consuming and repetitive tasks, AI-integrations are reducing the workload for salespeople and allowing them to focus their efforts on value-add initiatives. This is of benefit to both salespeople and customers alike who are now able to develop better relations in the absence of admin burden. Boasting such an array of offerings for both salesperson and customer, it’s evident that the relationship between artificial intelligence and sales is set to be long term.

Rise of the Machines

With all these advantages, it seems pressing to ask why chatbots – and the wave of AI integrations they represent – aren’t being embraced with open arms by the public. Partially, it is rooted in the conception that ‘robots are taking our jobs’. Understandably, with AI automating tasks traditionally performed by humans, these fears are not unfounded. However, while these AIs are designed to reduce workloads for humans, the important distinction is that these solutions are there to augment.

By comparison, looking to industries where these solutions were developed with the specific intention of replacing existing roles – there are clear differences. One clear example is in the banking sector where Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have entirely replaced traditional tellers. Likewise, many cashiers in the service industry have been replaced by self-service kiosks. How these industries differ from sales is that consumers do not expect the human interaction that sales require.

In light of this, the future of work for salespeople appears to be one that will work hand-in-hand with AI integrations. Rather than replacing salespeople, AI and automation will instead be powerful tools in changing the way they work through supporting their existing processes.

The future of work for salespeople is one where AI is an ally and not the competition. AI offerings, such as chatbots, will over time become more deeply ingrained in the sales process, but whilst a human touch is required – people will remain a central component. In the meantime, AI is benefitting salespeople by doing all the heavy lifting: making day-to-day activities easier and the customer experience greater.

Vinay Ramani
Vinay Ramani

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