Artificial Intelligence and the Customer Journey

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“Whether because of hype, or as a by-product of hope, customer expectations still outpace conversational AI and its ability to satisfy consumers,” says Redickaa Subrammanian, founder and CEO of Resulticks, an omnichannel marketing platform. “The technology has a way to go to become the ‘genie in a bottle’ that can satisfy any wish or command.”

Still, given the growing enthusiasm and acceptance of voice technology among consumers, says Subramanian, brands should at least be exploring the potential applications of this technology. “The technology isn’t going away; it is only evolving and will need to be revisited again and again,” she says. “Brands that miss the bus now will surely face challenges from those competitors who dare to adopt early and get more up close and personal with customers and prospects sooner.”

How Brands Are Meeting Demands

While most of the consumer-to-brand interactions taking place these days are traditional voice- or text-based, brands are working hard to take this a step further by aligning voice technology with the customer journey. Examples of both innovative and practical applications are being explored.

For instance, the Australian government has worked with the company Soul Machines to develop an experimental avatar—Nadia—to give people with disabilities better access to insurance benefit information. According to coverage by the Content Marketing Institute, “Not only can Nadia convey human emotion in her conversations, she can ‘read’ the emotional state of those who talk to her (by analyzing vocal tones and facial expressions), helping her to gauge the most appropriate response.”

Currently, while only 4% of businesses are actually using “conversational commerce,” Gartner has forecast adoption to rise to 25% by 2020, according to Retail Customer Experience. The article points to Domino’s AnyWare as an example. Customers can order pizza via Slack, Facebook Messenger, Google Home, and Alexa.

AI technology is poised to impact the consumer experience and customer journey in myriad ways, from product searching to price comparison to purchase, product tracking, feedback, and more—seamlessly and with the ability to anticipate consumer needs and offer brands with the information and analytics they need to make informed choices, streamline operations, cut costs, and boost sales. All via voice—or at least that’s the promise.

How Conversational AI Vendors Can Help Brands Meet Their Needs

But while the technology is rapidly emerging, it’s not quite there yet in terms of providing a seamless, consistent, and consumer-friendly virtual-voice conversational experience. Subramanian says such tools still have room to grow when it comes to the refinement that will provide a truly human, personalized touch—everything from sensing to responding with emotions. “Consumers today are fed the ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘please repeat’ responses. A human-to-human approach will provide more context throughout conversations and interactions, creating more of a relatable, personalized feel and dialogue.”

Howard Tiersky, CEO of FROM, a digital transformation agency, agrees. According to Tiersky, most current examples of conversational AI generally consist of a single question and answer, or command and action. Sure, it’s useful to ask Alexa when your Amazon order will arrive, or to tell Spotify what song to play, but, he notes, “this isn’t really a conversation any more than ordering a Big Mac at a drive-up window is a conversation.”

As the technology evolves, says Tiersky, AI conversational interfaces will be able to understand context so that, for instance, a conversation about the weather might include follow-up questions that assume the bot understands context: “Is this typical for this time of year?” or “How will this affect traffic?”

“Advancements in AI will prompt the bot to look at the last few times the weather was similar and see how the traffic on the route you intend to travel—based on your typical commute or addresses in your calendar for your appointments—was impacted by similar weather,” says Tiersky.

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