It is said the best way to predict the future is to invent it. This explains the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), now part of pretty much any business. AI is no longer the sci-fi brain dictating how it will eventually be smarter than the average human. Instead, there are online interactions that feel almost human. It goes beyond a stilted chatbot. Today’s AI passes the Turing Test. Named after the scientist Alan Turing, the test states that should a computer be said to possess AI, it would be because “it can mimic human responses under specified conditions.”
Conversational AI (better known as artificial intelligence chatbots) is considered the closest thing there is to being human. Or, rather, mimicking being human. It explains why chatbots have become so popular, replacing fixed or scripted customer support bots.
If there is one thing COVID-19 taught us, it would have to be how elevated the customer experience needs to be. The inner workings of AI may be complex, but that is not what the customer should experience. To the customer, the experience works when it is seamless. Underneath this simplicity is a collection of technologies working efficiently and together to pump out communication that happens through automated text and speech. The idea is to speak to and understand customers through AI which decodes in a responsive, human-like way.
The Conversational AI industry is expected to grow from $4 billion to $15 billion by 2024, opening up a whole new world for the customer’s experience, all while solving several problems. For one thing, during COVID-19 lockdowns, it became critical to empower human agents while simultaneously keeping them away from people.
The best way to do this caused the rise of the virtual assistant, a virtual agent that can handle basic issues, handing them over to the human agent a sort of to-do list that requires a personal touch. Powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP) and speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology (automatic speech recognition), deep learning, and machine learning, the virtual assistant does not have to rely on fallible or exhausted human memory to connect the customer service dots. That is left up to the cloud which can store huge amounts of data necessary to process sentiment and intent.
An MIT Technology Review report found out that most companies, more so the ones focused on the customer had already deployed AI for customer-facing operations and the management of customer experience. The early birds are enjoying the rewards, it says when it comes to efficiency and scale as well as customer loyalty and brand recognition while also being perceived as tech leaders.
One must realise, however, that not every conversational AI tool can solve problems and perform tasks. That can only happen when you have Strong AI. A term describing a particular mindset necessary for AI development. Aside from creating a customer’s experience and engineering faster processes, Conversational AI also saves business money.
Imagine a Conversational AI that works 24/7, does not get fatigued which means it reduces the number of people on the customer experience chain, makes quick decisions based on data via predictive analytics to give you real-time actionable insight, and keeps your organisation online all the time. The cost of human labour when it comes to attending to mundane tasks is diminished, leaving them with more headroom to work on far more rewarding, albeit complex tasks that also come with more pay.
Conversational AI comes about as a digital personal assistant (Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant), digital customer assistants (these are found on sites when you want to order something like Jumia), and digital employee assistants (allowing them to access information faster and work smarter). McKinsey reports that the pandemic has resulted in a leap forward amounting to 10 years’ worth of transformation in the world of e-commerce.
The whitepaper Conversational AI – The CIOs Route To Success reasons that over 75 per cent of CIOs are prioritising digital transformation over the next five years “with the mandate of delivering a better customer experience.” It adds that “…the data generated by conversational systems may seem insignificant. It is, after all, free format unstructured “chatter,” that is traditionally very hard to break down and categorise into meaningful information. But this assessment would be a grave mistake. In the same way that conversational AI is revolutionising the front-end chatbot, so it is changing how conversational data is captured and used behind the scenes. Indeed, if data is the new oil, then conversational data must be the new golden oil!”
While CX is everyone’s job in an organisation, the CIO in particular must champion it. It makes Conversational AI vital because it is up to the CIO to head digital transformation. In a role that is increasingly filled with complexity, access to the board as well as the C-Suite, the CIO needs to be able to break down the necessity of technologies. It is technology decisions that drive strategy in a digital world with CIOs entrenched in the role of change agents.
The C-Suite needs to grasp the simplicity of the front end and the complexities of the back end when it comes to Conversational AI. They, as much as their employees, need to be customer-centric and customer-driven.
Written by James Bayhack, Director – Sub Saharan Africa, CM.com