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Beyond chatbots: The future of AI for marketing and the customer experience

Nick Reynolds
Nick ReynoldsChief Marketing Officer Asia Pacific
As Chief Marketing Officer for Asia-Pacific at Lenovo, I am responsible for marketing PCs, tablets, smartphones, enterprise servers and storage, in a diverse and fast growing region. I’m an energetic and highly driven marketing leader who embraces innovation and has a deep understanding of the customer-led, digital transformation happening in the current market. I joined Lenovo in 2007, bringing with me a wealth of expertise from both sales and marketing roles built at several FORTUNE 500 companies including Dell, Apple, Gateway and SABRE.

Follow me on Twitter @nickonthemove

There’s a great deal of current focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in technology and business circles. So much so, the interest and attention has branched out into society at large.

Little wonder when AI is the stuff of a sci-fi aficionado’s dreams – take George Lucas’s polite C-3PO robot, or my favourite android from Star Trek: The Next Generationaptly named Data, or a hopefully more benevolent Hal, everyone’s favourite sentient computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But if we’re not quite there yet, where are we?

Part of the focus is on AI industry market size predictions, expected to be around US$36 billion by 2025. We also see significant public and private sector R&D investments into machine learning, along with C-level guides on how to position one’s business for an AI future.

For marketing, AI presents increasing opportunities to harness data even more effectively than we’re able to today. But our industry will need to keep the best possible customer experience top of mind.

The key marketing question to ask of AI is: Does this application of artificial intelligence increase relevance and usefulness for the customer?

Our technology landscape is increasingly informed by the opinions and behaviours of millennials and post-millennials (those born after approx. 1995). How they see the roll out of AI in the context of society, business and marketing will be critical.

 

What is AI exactly?

The easiest way to think about artificial intelligence is to visualise computing software that teaches itself how to understand, reason, strategise and act when exposed to the right information.

A PWC guide for C-level execs discusses typical use cases being explored today, defining AI as “software algorithms capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perceptionspeech recognitiondecision-making, and language translation.”

These are the AI applications getting much of the attention in research and development today.

Today, we’re able to make bigger steps toward more meaningful AI due to the availability of massive data sets along with the increased computing power to analyse and interpret information.

Despite the buzz on AI developments at major corporations and academic labs that include Stanford University and MIT, machine learning itself is a decades-old idea. In fact, machine learning is just one component of AI.

Today, we’re able to make bigger steps toward more meaningful AI due to the availability of massive data sets along with the increased computing power to analyse and interpret information. This is also the reason machine learning and AI has re-entered the public consciousness.

 

AI meets marketing and the customer experience

Will AI become more integrated with our everyday lives? Yes, and the early steps are visible with the use of personal assistants on our smart devices, signalling something of a generational change. (Lenovo and other tech companies have released smart home products in this space such as the Amazon Alexa powered Lenovo Smart Assistant.)

Millennials and post-millennials (plus a good portion of the rest of us) increasingly expect to use voice recognition daily.

This is only set to continue because that is what we want from our technology. Forty-six per cent of millennials with smart phones use voice recognition software today, and over 70% of voice recognition users are happy with the experience.

In this sense, customers are AI and machine intelligence ready. The impact from AI on how the customer experience is managed will be profound. Gartner estimates that by 2020, 40% of mobile interactions between people and their virtual personal assistants will be powered by the data gathered from users in cloud-based neural networks.

Customers are AI and machine intelligence ready. The impact from AI on how the customer experience is managed will be profound.

Before that, by 2018, digital customer assistants will recognise customers by both face and voice, 20% of all business content will be written by machines, and more than 3 million workers globally will report to a “robo-boss”. I wonder if Arnold Schwarzenegger has been contacted by scriptwriters for another Terminator sequel (or even if he now needs to be)?

 

How will AI and AI-fuelled CX impact marketing?

Customers already expect algorithms to pick up on their preferences and target them with contextually accurate offers. Brand creative, content streams and user platforms have morphed significantly in recent years as new channels have become normalised.

Intelligent chatbots will continue to interact with customers, supported by more sophisticated data analytics platforms on the back-end, capable of absorbing greater amounts of customer data in shorter periods of time. Look no further than what Facebook are doing with up to 30,000 active bots via its Messenger service. Or in Australia, where News Corp’s AI and machine learning engineers created a unique conversational interface: they took the diary entries of Australian soldier Archie Barwick, and programmed them into a bot that answered questions posed by the public.

AI gives brands even clearer views on what customers really want and how they want it.

Marketing automation has been around for a while, but AI gives brands even clearer views on what customers really want and how they want it. It will increase both the relevance and usefulness of marketing, which itself will improve the customer experience.

AI will also make greater sense of the big data that’s being gathered to drive deeper contextual insights into how customers engage.

AI will also make greater sense of the big data that’s being gathered to drive deeper contextual insights into how customers engage. Complex systems and advanced analytics will change the way we experience information via our mobiles, our wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT).

 

What about ethics?

Are there considerations to keep in mind as artificial intelligence is applied to business and society? I believe so.

Society first started considering these issues in 1942 with the introduction of science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. And they ring true to this day, covering some of the very questions the self-driving vehicle industry is currently grappling with.

With profound implications, the discussion today has evolved to cover how we want our society to develop. As MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito said in January, “One of the most critical challenges is how do we make sure that the machines we ‘train’ don’t perpetuate and amplify the same human biases that plague society? How can we best initiate a broader, in-depth discussion about how society will co-evolve with this technology, and connect computer science and social sciences to develop intelligent machines that are not only ‘smart,’ but also socially responsible?”

This position coincides with the viewpoints of millennials and post-millennials, and I’m optimistic we’re moving in positive directions in terms of addressing socioeconomic issues. Facebook recently announced technology that can help detect when people with immediate mental health concerns need assistance. And Intel has set up a thought-leadership board to address how society can use AI for the common good.

In summary, while we harness AI to make marketing and CX more positive, efficient and relevant, industry and academic leaders will all need to play a role in developing responsible applications of artificial intelligence.

We’re about to embark on a fascinating new era of interaction between computers and humans.

Exciting times ahead!

I welcome your thoughts and comments. Please tag me below or find me on Twitter.

 

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