AI customer service bots
I travel KLM from Minneapolis to New Delhi on a regular basis, and I always make a stopover in Amsterdam. I’m regularly in Minneapolis for research, and this is the path I use to get home and relax. I’ve made the trip so many times that I know practically every shop in Schiphol like the back of my hand. In the summer of 2019, though, the predictability was shattered when I missed my connecting flight to New Delhi.
The customer service desk was closed, and I was exhausted, hungry, and sleepy. I had the option of walking a short distance to customer service at the next gate or using my iPhone, so I chose the latter.
I texted the KLM WhatsApp number and discussed my options with assistance. I was on the following aircraft in minutes, with my boarding card on my phone. It wasn’t until later that I realised I was working with next-generation artificial intelligence, as part of the emerging field of conversational commerce.
You will soon come across it if you haven’t already. Customers can use voice-enabled shopping services at some supermarkets, for example. Walmart customers in the United States may ask Google Assistant to add items to their virtual shopping carts and learn about their buying patterns.
Google has similar agreements with two other grocery behemoths, Target in the United States and Carrefour in France, while Amazon offers voice-enabled purchasing to Ocado’s online consumers in the United Kingdom. Walmart, not to be outdone, recently purchased Botmock, a conversation-commerce expert, to enhance its offerings in this sector.
More than a billion individuals now use text or voice-based conversational tools to communicate with businesses. Conversational commerce is predicted to generate total revenues of US$41 billion (£30 billion) in 2021 and is expected to expand five-fold to approximately US$300 billion by 2025, with chatbots accounting for half of that. What is the state of this market, and what does it represent for our buying habits?
Coffee connoisseurs and ultra-personalized purchasing
One reason conversational commerce has remained under the spotlight is because the majority of development has occurred in China, Japan, and South Korea. Regardless, it’s popping up all over the place. You don’t even have to leave the discussion if you suddenly want to send flowers to your girlfriend or boyfriend on Facebook. You go to 1-800-Flowers.com, a Messenger-integrated conversational AI tool, and tell them what you want. If you use Apple, Samsung, or Google Pay, you won’t even have to input your credit card information.
Perhaps you, like me, are a coffee aficionado. I used to wait in line for my morning latte, but not anymore. I just order from my sofa using the My Starbucks Barista app’s chatbot, and my coffee will be ready when I arrive at my local shop.
Deep learning, advanced natural language processing, speech recognition, and cognitive computing — a machine-thinking system that mimics the human mind – are all examples of AI that drive these advancements. But, aside from convenience, comfort, and the ability to shop at any time, the biggest selling feature is arguably the ability to make a customer’s retail experience considerably more personal.
Customers may soon be able to communicate with an AI that knows what they want in great detail if it meets up to expectations. Big businesses are already selling customised items to entice customers, such as Nike and Adidas, which allow customers to create their own sneakers.
Personalisation, on the other hand, maybe taken to a whole new level by using powerful AI. Customers will receive personalised recommendations in their native language, lessening the burden of choosing and enhancing the overall experience. As a result, individuals may spend more money — not because they are being duped, but because they feel like they are buying from a friend.
Businesses will acquire fresh insights into people’s buying habits in the meanwhile. Yes, this poses privacy concerns, but it will also assist firms in fine-tuning their services. This should result in fewer returns and more sales.
Where is it going?
Conversational commerce reminds me of the 2013 film Her, which is set in the near future and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, an AI-based virtual assistant who falls in love with Samantha (Scarlet Johannson). When it becomes clear that Samantha is having close connections with thousands of guys at the same time, the relationship becomes untenable. She then joins forces with other AIs to execute an update that causes them to stop interacting with humans.
We may be a long way from falling in love with chatbots, but there are certainly ethical concerns here. Humans must not be harmed by technology, and their dignity must not be jeopardised. Microsoft, for example, recently limited its vocal mimicking technology since it makes deep-fake videos simpler.
Another concern is employment. Conversational commerce might be an element of it. Automation is certainly a danger to labour. Businesses, on the other hand, will not pay for as many support personnel if AI can do the job just as effectively. One ray of hope is that AI as a whole may produce more employment than it eliminates. For example, the World Economic Forum forecasted in 2018 that AI will create 58 million net new employment by 2022.
In the Metaverse, the virtual reality version of the internet, conversational commerce might become even more prominent in the future, with voice-enabled purchasing possibly accounting for 30% of all e-commerce revenues by 2030. We may soon be engaging with AI avatars in virtual reality stores or conversing with bots in real-life grocery aisles using augmented reality glasses.
What may appear strange to our age will likely be commonplace to future buyers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this technology, but I expect my brief interaction with the KLM chatbot at Schipol airport to pale in comparison to what follows next.