The Long View of AI and Consumers

PJ Surani / 2 years / No Comments

A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies revealed that over 80% recognise that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is crucial to their future.

Ready or not, the revolution is here.  

AI is increasingly becoming mainstream and essential to business success.  The various AI vendors bombarding our inboxes along with triumphal articles from early adopters are impossible to ignore.  Fear of missing out – and courage – is driving all kinds of businesses to action. The only question is what the technology can do for them.

Implementation of AI isn’t a simple prospect. While applications cover a wide range of areas, it’s actually in supply-chain management, manufacturing,  marketing and sales where the AI revolution is really hitting home. Even so, many business leaders are still not exactly sure where they should invest in AI to reap the most profitable rewards. After all, the technology requires significant investment in terms of talent and upgrades to the tech stack. Then there are sweeping change initiatives to ensure AI drives meaningful value, whether it be through powering better decision-making or enhancing consumer-facing applications.

As businesses start their AI transformation, many, including small businesses, elect to begin with the automation of repetitive tasks and customer-facing assistants.  

Personally, I’m more than happy to interact with an intelligent chatbot that saves me from a tedious phone call. In fact, I’m delighted with the personalisation that my favorite online retailers are able to deliver and for transactional/non-emotional interactions, there’s very little resistance from us consumers.

Now, before I get pegged into a corner for welcoming a dystopian future, let me just redirect the narrative to when the interactions are around sober, emotional messages. These need to be delivered with human touch. They can be delicate if need be, and even a touch humourous when appropriate.  

Forward-thinking organisations will hopefully recognise this and understand when to direct customer interaction with human interface over AI. Notably, a study by PwC showed 59% of customers globally feel brands have become so myopic about automation and fixated on trendy design that they’velost touch’ with the human element, and fail to create that great customer experience.  

There are however organisations that have optimised efficiency and cut costs through smart use of automation and AI without sacrificing their customer rapport.  Ocado is one such. Perceived by their competitors as the disruptive child in the grocery business, they’ve invested internally in automation and AI to maximise operation efficiency in the product picking process. Simultaneously though, by thoughtfully focussing on the personal shopper experience at the point of home delivery, they remain human led when customer-facing.  

Then, there’s the impressive case of TGI Friday, which has taken bold step of announcing that it would like to be seen as a technology company that just so happens to sell beer and ribs. One of its customer-focused innovations is the AI powered bartender that recommends unusual cocktails for its customers before unleashing their human mixologists to create exciting drinks, rather than doling out one Long Island Ice Tea after another. It’s the ultimate customer experience focused on the individual at the bar, at a single moment in time. TGI are committed to a journey where the technology powered AI is focused on the human expert (cocktail waiter) serving up that moment of individual serendipity across its 900-strong estate on a Friday night at 6pm ! Now I’d like a bit of that AI experience.    

Looking at businesses across sector I wonder how many businesses are building strategy with a long view with their core customers in mind? After all, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer: Meaningful brands that connected to human wellbeing outperformed the stock market by 120%

As long as customers at the frontline remain recipients of the product or services then the frontline of interaction should be human led.  

This is where competitive advantage sits. Perhaps more businesses should invest first in consultation with experts to determine what their ultimate purpose is and align this with their AI built end goals. Goals that ultimately AI will assist in enhancing  their products and services as well as shaping new market opportunities.

AI is here to stay, and it’s making its impact known right now.