While adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) by business is nascent, there’s no doubt that AI is finding its place beyond the research lab and in the organisations it can help transform. From banks to call centres, from advertising to manufacturing, the power of AI is being harnessed across industries to improve customer experience (CX), optimise productivity and boost revenue.
And AI itself continues to develop with huge advances in deep learning (a subset of machine learning) set to transform how business can tackle a wider set of challenges. Such advances will also make it possible to automate more complex physical tasks that require adaptability and agility.
AI’s deep learning capabilities will enable constant improvement and adjustment of processes based on past experience and historical data. Its ability to identify patterns, recognise and flag deviations from optimal engagement, and make predictions to a high degree of accuracy, means every aspect of a business can be monitored and improved.
While full engagement with the emerging new powers of AI may still be some time off, businesses can prepare themselves to make the most of what’s to come by embracing what AI can offer today.
High performers and their customers know AI is where it’s at
AI is recognised by leading teams and customers alike as vital to creating outstanding experiences.
- The best sales teams know that adopting intelligent tech is key to ongoing success. While only 21% of sales leaders said their organisations used AI in 2018, adoption was set to increase by 155% over the following two years with 54% of sales leaders expecting to use AI by 2020. High performers are 4.9% more likely to use AI than underperformers.
- AI is crucial to the continued success of marketing teams, with its ability to power personalisation at scale seen by marketers as improving lead generation, customer acquisition and upselling. 29% of marketers said in 2018 that they used AI – up 44% on 2017 – and high performers were 2.7 times more likely to be using AI than underperformers.
- 64% of customers expect tailored engagement based on past interactions and 62% expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviour. Providing personalised, relevant experience is one of AI’s many fortes and customers are here for it, with 75% expecting companies to use new technologies to create better experiences.
AI now and in the future
As the research shows, many organisations are already using AI to get closer to their customers, and share information and knowledge in a personalised exchange.
The customers appreciate this new standard of personalisation whether or not they recognise it’s fuelled by AI. Credit card fraud detection, email spam filters, automatic reminders and predictive traffic alerts are all AI-powered features customers have come to take for granted. AI-powered voice-activated personal assistants have also been embraced, with 27% of customers using one daily and business buyers particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by voice technology.
As more companies start to adapt deep learning-powered applications (like speech recognition interfaces) for their businesses, the benefits of AI will be amplified even further.
“The rise of digital voice assistants – such as Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant – are leading a fundamental change that will impact every business,” Peter Schwartz, SVP Strategic Planning at Salesforce, told Diginomica last year. “Customers, partners, employees – every individual – will expect to engage with brands across every industry through voice-enabled interfaces.”
By continually analysing vast troves of data in real time, the next wave of AI-powered assistants (including the recently-announced Einstein Voice) will rapidly grasp customers’ priorities and predict their needs, as well as providing insight into actions companies can take that address them.
Brands that want to communicate with customers as quickly as possible anywhere in their daily lives will be able to take advantage of AI-powered platforms to deliver timely, hyper-personalised experiences.
The future of AI will also give companies the capabilities to analyse sentiment – for example, what customers think based on their social media posts.
“Sentiment analysis searches language to pinpoint the opinions of your customers on, say, Twitter, and estimates the emotional reactions shown towards a product,” Salesforce Chief Scientist Richard Socher wrote last year. “This could allow you to see if a marketing campaign was working in real time.”
Is AI here to take our jobs?
One of the great anxieties associated with the rise of AI is that it will replace people as paid workers. However, AI’s value is not in replacing people’s entire roles with robots. Rather, it’s in using capabilities like automation to perform repetitive, routine tasks so people can spend time on higher-value tasks.
Machines don’t perform so well when it comes to abstract tasks involving human capabilities like empathy, judgment, creativity, inspiration and leadership. Innovating and managing people – to take just two examples – will be almost impossible to hand over to a robot, no matter how well programmed. Indeed, AI has the power not just to supercharge productivity but to create jobs. Leading businesses are using AI and other emerging technologies to help people do more of the work they are good at and to do it better.
Reducing the perceived threat level
AI’s ability to contribute positively will depend largely on how organisations prepare their teams – the best results will come from humans augmented by advanced AI systems.
An open mindset must be cultivated among employees to ensure they trust and embrace AI as a partner. By showing teams that AI is there to enhance their abilities and improve productivity by empowering them to get on with what they are good at, companies can create a collaborative environment in which trust, not fear, flourishes.
Encouraging employees to experiment and create tests to produce effective business processes is vital. Executives should also commit to using responsible AI that is transparent, accountable and unbiased.
More learning, more of the time
The transformative effects of AI will best be leveraged by organisations that can help their employees upgrade their proficiencies and quickly gain the new skills they need to exploit the power of AI. A focus on developing the human capabilities upon which the future of business will depend is just as crucial as the focus on developing new technologies, with the so-called missing middle set to become a new source of jobs.
Companies that commit to pivoting their workforce today are much more likely to survive the disruptions to come and thrive in the next wave of AI-powered capabilities.
Workforce training programs are essential and because of the rapidly changing nature of new technologies, training will need to be on-going so workers can keep up with the evolving job requirements of the new wave of AI. A shift to lifelong learning is essential. Using immersive new technologies like virtual reality can accelerate the speed and scale of training, and allow companies to attract new talent. Apprenticeships and in-house training for non-tertiary-educated employees will also play an important role.
Is there a downside to AI?
The benefits of AI to businesses are abundant. Its impact on CX has already been dramatic, and CX is just the beginning. But as AI-based decisions start to have a greater impact on human lives, ethical questions arise about how the technology is affecting society. How can we ensure AI treats everyone fairly, and to what extent are organisations responsible for protecting privacy?
Ideally, when an AI system recommends a course of action – for example, regarding a patient’s medical treatment or a bank customer’s home loan application – the same recommendation should apply to everyone in an identical situation.
Computers, in theory, are not subject to the biases that influence human decision-making. Yet the reality is that AI systems are designed by humans and are only as good as the data fed into them. Even when one algorithm makes another, the original algorithm was made by humans – it’s therefore subject to human bias. If it’s not possible to have an unbiased human, it may not be possible to have an unbiased AI system.
Building an ethical framework for AI
The enthusiasm of businesses for the extraordinary capabilities of AI must not be allowed to overshadow the ethical imperative to use them in a way that doesn’t harm, discriminate or perpetuate damaging stereotypes. The ethical use of AI isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, with Salesforce research showing 88% of customers believe companies are responsible for ensuring they use technology ethically and 78% of customers are more loyal to companies that are transparent about how their data is used.
AI is only as smart as the data it’s supplied with but it is unable (so far) to be alert to the bias that might be present in that data. Only humans can identify and manage that bias before it becomes amplified by AI-powered systems.
Diversity will be critical to the creation of AI systems that reflect a diverse array of perspectives. Just as we know that diversity and inclusiveness is essential to successful workplaces, marketing and advertising, and CX. Diversity in design, training and analysis will be essential to getting the most out of AI.
Organisations must seek out and eliminate bias from their training data to mitigate its negative effects. This can also help to make AI systems more transparent and less inscrutable, which in turn makes it easier for companies to check for any errors that might be taking place.
At the same time, as with any technology, trust in AI systems depends on whether the systems themselves can operate reliably, safely and consistently. So it is also vital that these systems have appropriate privacy and security protections.
Simply put, people will share personal data – the essential information that guides AI – if they are confident their privacy is protected and their data is secure.
Harnessing the power of AI comes with great responsibility, at the heart of which is trust and transparency. Get those right, and there seems to be no limit to what businesses can achieve with AI on board.
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