Adapting to Change: How Conversational AI Delivers Opportunities in an Uncertain World
We look into some of the changes Covid-19 has wrought and how business can use conversational AI to stand out.
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The world is already several months into what has been described as the greatest work from home experiment the world has ever seen. The Covid-19 pandemic will result in a seismic change in work and life culture. But while remote working may be one of the more obvious changes, it’s by no means the only one.
People’s leisure and consumer habits have started to change, influenced by the adaptions they’ve had to make during the lockdown. Social distancing, long queues for food and movement restrictions, not to mention the worry of infection, is increasing people’s desire to do more online, at a distance.
Even when we can move about more freely, will the now ubiquitous use of video meetings curb the desire for frequent foreign travel? Or will the stark drop in oil prices mean that cheap flights will be back on the agenda tempting us to forget all about climate change? The disruption caused in everyday life is immeasurable and it’s unlikely any business will operate in the same way that it used to before Covid-19.
Covid-19 has also shone a spotlight on areas of weakness within enterprises. Many companies had established contingency plans, but these didn’t include a worldwide shutdown affecting workforces, supply chains and customers.
The risk of future pandemics, or even other risk factors such as climate change, could affect companies similarly in the future. They must now develop a more strategic approach that delivers resilience into operations with flexibility and scalability, while improving operational efficiencies.
The rise of conversational AI as an essential element for businesses has come as no surprise. Nearly five years ago, the importance of conversational AI to businesses was already being predicted to be as critical to a company as its website in 2020. The strategic importance of these platforms was undeniable.
However, we never anticipated a global pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 that would change so drastically and overnight how people interact with brands and how businesses operate.
Still, uncertainty brings opportunity, and the sharpest enterprises are problem solvers. Knowing how to meet priorities and navigating decisively through uncertainty with agility, resilience and precision should be ingrained into the dynamic strategy of any business. We will look into some of the changes Covid-19 has wrought and how business can use conversational AI to stand out.
The Covid-19 Effect
In March 2020, online grocery retailer Ocado thought their servers were suffering a denial of service attack. But in fact, it was shoppers scrambling for food delivery slots after the UK Prime Minister announced a country-wide lockdown. Within one hour all available slots were booked out for the next three weeks.
Nothing could have prepared organizations for the way Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of their business across the globe. Nor could they have anticipated the effect of having entire workforces, customers and partners locked down for weeks.
Even businesses still able to operate have implemented sweeping new changes to accommodate government regulations, employee safety and the safety of those that come into contact with their service or product. Everyone is working to a new reality.
Already businesses are starting to react. Pizza chains are offering touchless purchases, contactless card limits have increased, entertainment streaming services reduced their bandwidth and restaurants are teaming up with delivery companies.
But these solutions are only simple solutions, serving immediate needs. For enterprises with complex operations, surviving Covid-19 – and the changing world that will follow – requires a deeper strategy of transformation.
Lessons From the Past
In the middle of a pandemic, where nothing is as it was and things once relied upon are now uncertain, it’s very easy to be caught up firefighting minor catastrophes and miss the larger opportunities to get ahead of the curve.
History shows that companies that stop being reactive and place their energy into solving issues today in a way that enables them to transform their tomorrow have a much greater chance of surviving global shocks.
A study from Harvard Business Review three years after the 2007 global financial collapse reports that only 9% of companies flourished, outperforming competitors by at least 10% in sales and profit.
Their secret? “These companies reduce costs selectively by focusing more on operational efficiency than their rivals do, even as they invest relatively comprehensively in the future by spending on marketing, R&D, and new assets.”
Back in 2003, the SARS outbreak threatened to destroy Alibaba’s burgeoning B2B marketplace as business travel from around the globe to China halted. At the same time an employee contracted the virus forcing the entire company to quarantine and work from home.
However, during this time they launched Taobao, a rival site to eBay and took advantage of the necessity of doing business, both B2B and B2C, online. The rest, as they say, is history.
PWC’s 23rd CEO survey had already shown a drop in confidence in market growth for 2020. Citing trade wars, climate change and social unrest, some companies were starting to change their strategies. 53% of US CEOs were concerned about the market and were “doubling down on operational efficiencies, thanks to intelligent automation and cloud-enabled tech services.”
Drawing conclusions from the survey, PWC says there are plenty of opportunities for agile businesses that can achieve differentiation, upscaling and sustainability. It’s here that conversational AI has the power to help enterprises take advantage of the changes presented in a downturn while helping to increase operational efficiencies.
How Businesses use Conversational AI to Differentiate
Conversational AI allows businesses to transform customer and employee touchpoints into fast, meaningful, rich interactions. People can communicate with technology using voice, text and gesture and receive an intelligent response in return.
This might be as simple as answering a question about price, or as complex as triggering a back-end process to carry out a transaction or document creation. Conversational AI takes chatbots out of the realm of animated FAQs or command-driven bots, to delivers something meaningful for the end-user.
By creating a frictionless user experience that increases customer engagement businesses can grow brand differentiation with fast, intuitive interactions.
Personalization Delivers Relevance
Conversational AI uses personalization to ensure interactions are relevant to the user. A telecom giant for example, handles 61% of authenticated user support inquiries without any human intervention.
Using conversational AI, it can not only understand the customer’s issue, but the application also knows the customer’s equipment and services.
It uses this information to reason out the most relevant response from the different variables and can deliver a staggering 80% first call resolution.
The human resources department of a large financial institution uses conversational AI to automate much of the day to day work. When employees interact with the conversational AI application, the chatbot takes into consideration several factors during each conversation including the employee’s job function, geographical location and the date.
It then uses this information to deliver the most appropriate response to the employee’s question. In addition, the intelligent virtual assistant can remind staff of other activity that needs to be completed including tasks that relate to the personnel they oversee. The chatbot can also handle ancillary actions that occur as a direct result of the conversation such as arranges for notifications to be sent to other relevant personnel.
This frees up time to allow HR staff to concentrate on other tasks such as helping employees move forward with their career, that also benefits the company in improving job satisfaction and lowering staff turnover.
Choice of Channels Captures the Customer
People use a wide range of channels to communicate during work and at home. They’re used to texting friends on WhatsApp while waiting in line for coffee, talking to colleagues over Teams, asking Siri questions on the commute home, or getting Alexa to recommend what’s good on Netflix tonight.
But that experience frequently isn’t reflected when they choose to communicate with their bank, utility company or favorite clothing store. All too often, the choice is far more rigid, and functionality can vary wildly depending on the choice of website or mobile app.
Conversational AI allows businesses to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience. Integration into back end systems and processes ensures customers can carry out the same types of activity as if they were on a website or calling a contact center.
Wanting to embrace new communication channels, Italy’s premier online bank took the investment they already had in a web-based conversational AI application and used it as the central communication tool in its virtual reality banking app. Customers can wander around the virtual branch and talk an assistant or just use the machines on the wall to carry out transactions or check balances.
With the right technology, it’s possible to build conversational applications that can be ported across channels and languages with minimal changes required. Allowing enterprises to divert inbound queries away from resource-intensive channels to engage with customers on their terms.
Companies already using CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) technology to embed voice, chat and video capabilities into customer-facing applications can seamlessly incorporate conversational AI and maximize the benefit of existing integrations.
Intelligent Automation Increases Engagement
Until conversational AI, the words automate and customer engagement weren’t a natural fit. Many businesses have already discovered that while taking their business model online created savings, they lost the close connection they once had with customers, and with it, their loyalty too.
Conversational AI redresses the balance. It provides a two-way interaction in a human-like and intuitive manner that engages the user while delivering a fast and accurate response. Engagement can further increase using intelligent automation behind the scenes.
For one financial organization, providing necessary documentation for customers to utilize their pension fund to secure a mortgage required the customer to make at least one call to the contact center and then a seven day wait. Now, thanks to conversational AI, customers can receive the same information within an hour.
The company’s chatbot discusses the customer’s needs with them, provides the relevant options complete with regulatory disclaimers, and then, once it has ensured the customer has provided all the information required, triggers the integrated Robotic Process Automation (RPA) process to complete the documentation. When the process is complete the chatbot sends the documents via the customer’s preferred channel.
These types of integration benefits are also driving the use of conversational AI within companies as departments such as HR and IT start to see ways to improve efficiencies internally through intelligent automation using conversational AI as the universal interface to a wide range of procedures.
For this reason, it’s important to ensure that the development platform chosen to build these applications is capable of scaling with the organization and allows for the reuse of AI assets already created to ensure speed in development and a greater ROI.
Data Analytics Reveals Opportunities
One of the key benefits of conversational AI is its ability to capture and interpret the conversational data generated to reveal the voice of the customer, giving businesses a greater understanding of what customers really think. Key insights that can deliver crucial information to transform a company’s bottom line.
By using a development platform that is easy to maintain by both developers and business users, organizations can take advantage of fast-changing customer habits and learn more about the types of products and services they are actively searching for.
One retailer that delivers products and services to help drivers as they travel during the day saw that while questions on normally popular services had gone down during the Covid-19 lockdown, queries on car washing were at an all-time high.
It’s this type of information that can provide businesses with an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships at a time when they might not be interacting so frequently and deliver insight into potential new revenue lines too.
Conversational AI is not an ephemeral trend. With business assessing the importance of digitalizing their services, processes and customer attention, these platforms have been providing solutions for some time now. With Covid-19 has accelerated the need for this companies to deploy these solutions and to prepare for the future.
Published at DZone with permission of Andy Peart, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.
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