20th March, 2018
Imagine you’re attending a trade event when something resembling a miniature Dalek trundles up to you. Instead of croaking “exterminate!” it asks you in a friendly voice if you’d like to take an interactive survey.
It’s called a Surveybot and it was one of the main attractions at the recent Inside Retail Live conference in Melbourne.
Brought to the event by MYOB, it asked attendees questions such as “What’s the best customer retention strategy?” and “What’s the key to a great customer experience?” People would choose an answer from the bot’s touchscreen and while digesting their responses it would offer comments like “Great answer!”
Devices like Surveybot are entertaining promotional tools, but they have a serious purpose: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are now making a major impact on how businesses look after their customers.
Customer Experience (CX) technology has been with us for several years now – in the service sector particularly.
For example, companies that service commercial air conditioning systems receive automated alerts that a customer’s building is due for inspection or maintenance.
Sick aircon systems can harbour dangerous bacteria such as legionella, so certified inspections are a must.
Commercial cleaning companies use similar alerts to ensure that contracted work is carried out. The customer can also view that information online, to ensure the work they’ve paid for is done.
“At the same time that machines are getting better at reading and interpreting data from a broad range of sources, personalized data is becoming abundant,” says a report by Kellogg Insight.
“Credit cards track customer purchases, web browsers log searches, social-media companies monitor likes and dislikes, and, increasingly, smartwatches and fitness bands track movement.”
Customers of Amazon.com and users of Google are contributing to the mountains of Big Data that enable both companies to offer a better customer experience.
A report by McKinsey Analytics estimates that between $26 billion and $40 billion was invested in AI by companies worldwide in 2016.
An Aberdeen Group survey of global customer experience leaders in 2017 showed the following trends:
In call centres and interactive websites, chatbots are commonly used to answer repetitive, routine questions.
This frees up human resources for more interesting and value-added work.
Air New Zealand currently has a chat bot, dubbed Bravo Oscar Tango, in beta testing.
This “virtual travel assistant” is designed to offer customers a more efficient way to make their bookings by dealing with FAQs and refining the customer’s search through both verbal and text interaction.
Bots are also being used in other industries, such as healthcare.
For example, a chatbot may ask a patient how they’re feeling today. If the response is “not good”, the bot can then notify the company that the patient needs human help.
Business systems with intelligent analytics are already recognising the value of being able to make better use of their data: monitoring actual sales against targets, turnaround times, pipeline projections, and even identifying how individual product lines or staff members are performing.
Analytics engines are also used to trawl through social media – companies like Twitter and Facebook sell this information to businesses, which is how product advertisements related to topics you’ve been browsing can pop up on your social media page.
Naturally, not everyone considers this a positive step.
“However, companies can earn customers’ trust simply by being relevant and providing value. Just like in any relationship, a business can earn trust and loyalty by being a good listener and being there for the customer at a point of need,” says a report by Harvard Business Review.
Overcoming people’s technophobia and the scaremongering “robots are coming to take your jobs” scenario is the biggest challenge to acceptance of AI by the public at large.
However, you’re already experiencing it if you have one of those supermarket customer loyalty cards.
Based on the purchases that are recorded in its database every time you swipe your card, the supermarket can offer you special deals on products you buy most regularly.
The next time you swipe your card, you get that price discount – and of course, your accumulated loyalty points will earn you a reward, such as a $15 discount voucher.
Everyone likes a bargain or a freebie, and that’s where AI and machine learning are bringing in the business.