How companies engage with customers is quickly evolving as conversational AI moves beyond simple voice interfaces and basic chat to offer end-to-end transactional capabilities. Savvy digital natives expect sophisticated conversational AI capabilities and are driving the rapidly changing AI landscape. But they’re not the only ones. A 2018 study in the healthcare space revealed strong adoption trends among the 50-plus community, specifically around messaging, digital channels and self-service.
It’s up to leadership to set the pace and priorities for conversational AI and ensure they align with the overall business strategy for AI adoption. Where and how will you use AI? What do you want it to do for your company? Will it make your organization more intelligent or more efficient? Will it improve customer experience by making interaction more personal or contextual? Will it open new markets or drive new revenue streams? Regardless of whether the answer is some or all of these, if AI is not one of your top-level goals, your organization is already behind.
It’s important for c-suite leaders to know where AI technologies are being used across industries to get a sense for where to apply them in their own organizations. A structured education process will reveal the possibilities AI offers, help prevent unrealistic expectations and keep you from oversimplifying AI’s challenges. Educational avenues such as conferences, journals and articles about where and how to use AI technologies, and advice from third-party innovation partners offer insights and a multipoint perspective that will help you develop AI strategies that integrate conversational AI.
As AI expertise evolves, up and coming players are receiving considerable attention from venture funds. Amazing innovations and ideas are emerging every day from these well-funded up-and-comers and traditional, large consulting firms. Looking beyond your current partnerships for an innovation partner to help guide you through strategy, design and implementation will open opportunities for you to develop market-leading conversational AI capabilities.
Developing a winning AI strategy can’t be done in a vacuum. Most companies will need to rethink their organizational structure to ensure collaboration among areas that directly engage with customers or support those that do, including marketing, IT, HR, finance, supply chain, manufacturing and others. As the stewards of customer experience, marketing will be front and center in the quest to understand how customers want to interact with conversational AI.
As customer-facing technologies like conversational AI become more prevalent, many processes across all areas of the company will need to be redesigned or reengineered. These groups will need to prepare their teams for the impact AI will have on skillsets, expertise and the nature of work. How will roles evolve? What jobs will change? What jobs will go away, and what new jobs will emerge because of these technologies?
At Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 4, for example, the airport implemented facial recognition capabilities in its automated check-in and boarding systems and high-resolution X-ray into its baggage checks. Jobs did not disappear, but the nature of jobs changed. Airport staff now spend more time guiding and assisting travelers, as well as attending to and overseeing the automated machines.
One of the biggest challenges with AI is the learning curve and training needed that is specific to your environment. This hinders the ability to buy your way to faster implementation, but how do you address the issue? The answer: start yesterday. Moving fast is important. You should plan big but start small, investing for the near term as well as the long term. With a long-term view in mind, near-term investments will lead to quick successes and set the momentum. Your strategy should include target projects that can achieve early gains or allow you to fail fast so you can quickly move on to the next initiative.
Know your customers, and let them be your guide so you don’t end up simply replacing what they don’t like about engaging with you today with something equally frustrating. Conversational AI can transform customer engagement in ways that strengthen your brand and drive bottom-line profits, particularly as end-to-end transactional capabilities emerge. Knowing your customers and having a broad perspective of their needs and desires is critical and will help keep you from being outmaneuvered by your competition or miss opportunities to provide a better customer experience.
There are no hard and fast rules, but creativity, agility and speed are vital. Force yourself to think differently and empower your teams to do the same. Most of all, don’t let yourself get caught off guard by thinking conversational AI is just a toy for younger generations to check the weather or play music. It isn’t. It is imperative and needs to be a priority driven from the top to ensure your organization survives the AI revolution.