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The importance of virtual conversations in a contactless world

Artificial intelligence (AI) has woven its way into the fabric of our everyday lives, and many of us are completely unaware of it. Our morning commutes are quicker, depositing a check online is easier, frustrating daily spam emails are fewer. And businesses are buying into it. According to Gartner, thirty-seven percent of organizations have implemented AI in some form—that’s a 270% increase over the last four years.

On a broader level, artificial intelligence has become a catalyst for improved digital customer experiences and personalization. While there are many forms of AI, one popular and widely adopted application is Conversational AI.

Conversational AI is designed to engage with customers  for various purposes and comes in varying degrees of sophistication. The most basic, the chat bot, is typically text-based and programmed to reply only to a specific set of questions or statements. Chat bots don’t support prolonged human interactions but do provide a FAQ-like structure.

Conversational AI provides more sophisticated interactions with visitors, either answering questions in a fluid manner or giving them recommendations for products and services. It  works to establish extended conversations with customers by not only understanding the language, but also the meaning behind what the user is saying, allowing it to learn from inputs to provide answers for unpredictable questions and perform slightly complicated tasks.

Conversational AI can improve almost every aspect of virtual connections and enhance the vital two-way dialogue between brands and consumers. The desire for  services, coupled with the demand for fast and simple customer assistance, has created an ideal climate for Conversational AI to thrive.

An increasingly ‘contactless’ world

The idea of contactless experiences for customers, while not necessarily new, has exploded in the wake of COVID-19. Seemingly every business is trying to go contactless; even Walmart and Apple  have implemented new business practices to go contact-free.

And it’s not necessarily out of innovation, but necessity. Customers are concerned about in-store shopping experiences, and probably will be for some time—even with improved in-person safety measures. Uncertainty has driven herds of consumers to scratch their retail itch online. Forbes reports that even retailers selling non-essentials have seen double & triple digit increases in sales.

With more customers venturing online, it’s make or break for brands to craft an exceptional digital experience rivaling that of instore. While this may seem challenging, what is lost from in-person shopping (immediate help from store workers, straight-forward returns) can be simulated online with Conversational AI.

Even prior to the everyday disruption from COVID-19, consumers were looking for ways to bypass lengthy contact methods, like calling a customer service representative hotline or venturing instore to get product information. The reality is that humans are stretched thin, and we’re constantly looking for ways to save time and energy. Conversational AI offers a solution by affording on-demand, immediate services that will satisfy customer needs.

The idea of the contactless world, while somewhat strange and unfamiliar, is likely here to stay.


Read more: Four elements that drive digital transformation in marketing


 

We want it now

Think back to the last time you were on hold with a company, awaiting help from a representative. The elevator music is blaring and you’re growing increasingly frustrated by the second, debating on ending the call. It’s a tale as old as time. According to a study from Velaro, it takes waiting on hold for one minute for almost 60% of customers to hang up. People want immediate and attentive responses, and they want it now.

Enter Conversational AI.

Rather than waiting to speak with a representative over the phone, customers can chat with a virtual assistant to solve pain points ranging from the most basic questions to full blown product recommendations and decision making help.

Conversational AI can break down language barriers, find information more efficiently, and generally eliminate human error from the customer service experience—and consumers have noticed. 56% of people would rather message a customer service platform than call.

This indicates a massive paradigm shift in how customers interact with brands digitally, and what their expectations will be moving forward.

How conversational AI can serve marketers

Let's get into some specifics on how brands are using it to improve the customer experience and impact the bottom line.  

1. Service

Automation of customer service: Conversational AI automates basic, time-consuming tasks for consumers. It can retrieve quick account details, answer basic questions and preform transactions in the blink of an eye. 

Example: Captial One's Eno.

Eno, a virtual assistant, “looks out for you and your money around the clock, reaches out if it spots something unusual, and helps you fix it.” It monitors transaction confirmations and spending details.Customers can interact via any web device or even via text and quickly order new checks, browse accounts, and even ask, “what is my ABM routing number?” Eno is a solid example of a service-driven program that takes the grunt work out of consumers’ banking experience.

 

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2. Experience 

Painless customer experience: Customer experience is everything. When its good, it’s great. But when it's bad, customers will actively avoid your brand and look elsewhere for services. Conversational AI has the ability to engage in seamless live chats that are goals-driven and help customers achieve something. It also can anticipate customer needs and inquiries to quickly respond with proactive suggestions. And of course, Conversational AI can be programmed to engage with humor and pleasantries for a more comforting and positive interaction. 

Example: H&M's Virtual Assistant. 

H&M’s official virtual assistant wears many hats. It can help customers with general questions and operational functions, but goes a step further by recommending items to customers based on past purchases. The assistant leverages existing information to deduce your gender and style preference to suggest relevant outfits (with prices). If you dislike what is suggested, alternate options are offered. If you want to take the next step to purchase the item, you receive a direct link to add it to your cart. H&M’s virtual assistant gives customers an easy and interesting way to discover new products while skipping the endless online shopping scroll. 

 

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Read more: In times of uncertainty, data helps us stay connected


 

3. Commerce 

Bottom line impact: While bots and virtual assistants can be a fun way to engage with customers, they’re also an investment, and should ultimately improve your bottom line. Customer service cost savings, improved customer experience and engagement plus increased sales through upsell or product recommendations are just a few of the ways Conversational AI can help.

Example: Kayak.com.

Kayak’s chat bot is a best-in-class solution that aids travelers with online bookings and helps them get where they need to go (and even if you don’t know where you want to go, Kayak’s bot can help). It will inform users of the cost estimate for flights to a destination during a specific time period, then provide a direct link to book through their website. It can also share recommendations of activities in your desired location. If you’re not quite sure where you want to go, the bot will ask you a series of questions and list off locations that may fit your needs. The ease and convenience Kayak serves up is unmatched, increasing bookings and truly putting a “travel agent in your pocket.”

 

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Each example above illustrates the value Conversational AI can bring to your brand. While of course contactless interactions are especially helpful now, they’re likely to become the new normal for brands across industries.

Customers will still demand positive experiences, online or not. This means brands must invest in strategies and technology that will make people’s lives easier, afford them information quicker, and foster the two-way dialogue that enables stronger connections between consumer and brand.  As a natural evolution of digital transformation, Conversational AI is a useful tool to seamlessly evolve the customer journey with contact-free interaction and attentive responses, providing an improved service, experience and bottom line.

Want to learn more about how Conversational AI can make an impact on your business? Download this informational guide.