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This forum found around a hundred of us back in the red leather seated theatre on the tenth floor of Blue Fin: – a favourite launch pad for many Engage Business Media face to face events

It was a fine line up and a fascinating day. From my perspective it was one of three events that week on the subject of AI and its impact on customer engagement. I left all three with the same feeling.  There is much talk but far less action at this point. Attention has certainly been captured. Expectations have most probably been over stretched as competing solutions ratchet up the claimed benefits. But the medium term view of uplifted productivity benefits coupled with smarter models of customer engagement look certain and compelling to my mind.

The Gartner view

That perspective was expertly laid out by Brian Manusama, global research director for Conversational AI at Gartner. In short, Brian’s compass reads we are at the peak of inflated expectations and therefore due to descend into the infamous trough of disillusionment before self -correcting as characterises the journey of all new technologies.

Hence his advice is to be selective in your use cases. Interestingly Gartner research shows how strongly both customer service and customer engagement feature in early trials of AI empowered solutions.

Another key message Brian gave was that AI is a positive force. It scales people by enhancing productivity. It generates jobs and wealth. To the tune of $2.9 trillion of new business value by 2021 by Gartner’s reckoning.

I picked up that theme later in the agenda looking at the recently released national industrial strategy for the UK. This communicates the vision for UK’s opportunity to leverage an AI driven fourth industrial revolution in which smart supply and demand transforms the cost of manufacturing and tilts the balance away from lowest source of labour to the source of smartest labour – an opportunity to rebuild the UK manufacturing capabilities in certain key niches.

Smart cities, autonomous transport, clean energy are some of the new manifestations of a data driven economy powered by machine learning and other key sub categories of AI – which itself is a leading UK competency if commercialised to our national advantage as recommended in the strategy.

An ‘uberised’ world

Peter Massey of Budd continues the big picture theme with an incisive view of the disruption being caused by AI and the wholesale change of behaviours this is catalysing. In an ‘uberised’ world, does a contact centre even exist? Something I strongly share with Peter is the need for each of us to look at the horizon and develop our own points of view in this changing mix.

With that as maybe the broadest context for discussion, we were treated to an enthusiastic presentation of the latest innovations happening within the NHS to help in patient recovery in terms of physical recovery, increased duration and intensity of therapy, even gamification for recovery goals.

It’s all amazing stuff. How about paralysed patients using thought controlled robot arms to serve them drinks?   Or virtual rehabilitation that uses game style environments to motivate patients in order to rebuild strength and flexibility? Or exoskeleton suits that allow body movement before muscles are ready to fully work?

Clearly there is much great work going on. In fact the team are actively looking to connect into the business world to share learning and collaboration opportunities. If you are interested then make contact with Mike Gibney, Director of Workforce at the Walton Centre to explore opportunities.

The humanisation of AI and Robotics

Wim Rampen from CX Company provided further continuity to Gartner’s view that AI when applied to customer service needs a pragmatic view.  In fact there are plenty of opportunities in a world of broken journeys that remain full of effort despite all  the ‘digital first’ flag waving. We need to humanise digital by providing low effort conversations. Specific advice Wim provided from the twelve years of collective experience within the CX company included:

  • Start early but crawl before trying to race
  • Experiment using Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and A/B testing techniques
  • Use them to learn and scale fast
  • Use a conversational style to engage but limit failure by designing tight perimeters
  • Think omni-channel and make the movement between self service and assisted service seamless

Live assistance and self-service

This last point was also explored by Paul White, Director of Customer Engagement at IFS mpl systems who explained the use of AI from the point of triaging an inbound enquiry to either routing to live assistance or self service.

There are many ways in which AI then offers practical help to advisors by helping deliver personalised data and process guidance or by actively searching knowledge bases for relevant information for the advisor to pass on.

Finally.

Laetitia Grammatico, Director Strategy & Innovation, Consumer Experience, Consumer Care at Philips had an interesting story to tell around the challenges of getting things to a point of readiness for this type of conversational self service.

For instance what is the current process used in a live interaction to fully identity customer intent and need so it can be replicated? Does every question lead down the same decision tree or are there variables? Where can you find existing customer conversations to train your chatbot? How easy is it to extract chat or voice archives? Are existing FAQs published in conversational style or do they require re-editing? Is there enough volume on a given enquiry type to justify automation?

Hers was a story of perseverance and a clear sign that much additional work to optimise the transformational journey from live assistance to self service needs to be built over time as a background activity.

The start of something transformational

So there you have it. It was great to gather together experienced consultants, solution builders and end users to tell their stories and provide perspectives. We are at the start of something with genuine transformational potential. Current technology is good enough for a great start. Future versions (due soon) even more so.

Getting ready and able to affect this type of improvement for all stakeholders is something that will become more apparent over time as practical experience is gained. But it implies new resources and roles to enable it.

How will that affect customer engagement? As far as customer service is concerned and I suspect sales, marketing and account management, AI offered many productivity hikes that will erase certain tasks from human effort over time. Does this remove humans from the equation? I’ve seen nothing within the technology or within the CX ‘must get right’ pot to suggest this is likely or desirable. Customer engagement remains a synergy of human and virtual touch.

However it does change people’s focus and reallocates their time and priorities. To end on a Peter Massey favourite, hopefully we spend less time doing dumb things to ourselves and customers and spend more time on things that matter in terms of having mutually profitable customer relationships.

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