The Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie of 2002, ‘Minority Report’, comes to mind when thinking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Customer Experience (CX). Particularly a scene when Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, walks into a mall where personalized offers for him from American Express, GAP and Lexus are displayed on large screens in an advertising area. Today, perhaps not in the same form as depicted in the movie, we all are subjected to campaigns and recommendations that are increasingly accurate and delivered using Machine Learning and AI.
In the ’80s, industrial robots became quite popular and were able to automate most of the repetitive or mundane tasks done on the manufacturing floors. In some instances, these industrial robots also protected workers from dangerous tasks, whereas tasks that required thinking, decision-making, co-ordination and creativity became the domain of humans.
Today, with advancement in artificial intelligence, we are witnessing a phenomenon where these robots are moving from factory floors to organizations’ front-offices. These social robots are playing a very important role of ‘customer success agents’ by dealing with the organizations’ customers directly. These autonomous and adaptive robots act as catalysts for bringing in a game-changing ‘customer experience’ for the organizations around the world. The businesses that offer frictionless, intuitive and anticipatory customer experience using these robots would be the winners of the future. As per an IDC report, by 2021, customer engagement AI applications alone would add one trillion dollars to the world economy in the form of increased revenue, lowered expenses and improved productivity.
In the last couple of years, we have experienced robot-driven client applications like chatbots and voice command machines like Alexa at a rudimentary level. But as the technology matures and its usefulness increases, these applications would eventually expand to every aspect of the customer journey. The robot-driven client apps enable enterprises to create more engaged, convenient, deeply personalized and contextual interactions with customers. These features could be useful for any team in an organization which interacts with their customers.
According to industry experts, bots themselves are expected to save around $8 Bn annually by 2022. They also predict that in the next five years, 85% of business relationships with consumers will be managed without any human interaction. Going forward, customers will demand that their queries be answered any time (24X7), any place (social media, mobile, web or face-to-face) and through any interaction choice (active or passive).
Brands will act as ‘personal concierges’ by naturally integrating with customers' daily lives and would take care of their daily needs even without customers spelling them out explicitly. In the AI-powered bot world, customers would expect themselves to be pampered, loved and treated with special care and attention. So, organizations need to robotize the customer touch points not for economic benefit but to meet the demanding customer expectations.
‘Conversational Commerce’ is another important focus area. Shoppers consume various forms of content across different channels. AI-infused technology can engage and push consumers across these channels to make ‘just-in-time’ purchases in a more natural and conversational manner. This can be triggered through personal assistants such as Siri, Alexa or Google.
For example, imagine you watch an advertisement of pizza and immediately ask Alexa to place an order for you; while driven by bots on an e-commerce website, you ask “I am interested in buying red pants under USD 100” or perhaps you watch Tom Cruise wearing a black suit in a video and you highlight and search for something similar. AI is opening many such new channels of sales for enterprises.
Some of the AI-driven customer experience use cases that are already in the process of roll out are:
- Pizza Hut is using self-driving car and drone to deliver pizza at customers’ door steps
- Pizza Hut is also employing robots as waiters in concept stores in Shanghai where they would welcome customers, show them their seats, take orders and deliver drinks
- Hardware store Lowe is using bots named ‘LoweBot’ that can help customers in locating items by escorting them to the aisle where the item is located
- Nestle is deploying robots to sell coffee pods and machines in 1000 departmental stores in Japan
- Crowne Plaza Hotel is using a touchscreen-faced droid which can deliver small items such as sandwiches and cosmetics to the hotel's guests.
Today both consumers as well as employees go through a steep learning curve to master the complicated technology to get their work / job done. Unable to grasp this complexity, many amongst us still rely on others to help with technology-related interactions viz. buying things online, conducting online banking transactions, booking flight tickets, searching for information, etc. But with ‘bot interfaces’ becoming simpler in the future, they should be able to get their work done just by speaking to it, through gestures or simply by touching it.
Most of mankind spends considerable amount of time doing routine tasks both in their personal and professional lives. But, this could change with most of these tasks being taken over by the robots. Going forward employees of the future would be spending their time in problem solving, generating innovative ideas and experimenting with new ways of doing things. In this cultural transformation journey, humans would be working closely with robots in every step of the way.
With technology adoption still at initial stages, it is very unclear as to how long and to what extent the dream of autonomous and adaptive organizations could be achieved. Human brains are codified to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty and emergency situations and at this point of time nobody is sure if these characteristics could be taught to robots — at human level. Until that happens, humans would be supervising these robots and stepping in to deal with those situations which only humans can handle!
AI is a topic which draws extreme emotions and thus a lot of hype too. But only time will tell as to how far our science fiction scenarios would become a reality!
The author is Associate Director, EVRY India
Disclaimer: This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing authors and not of IDG Media and its editor(s).