Smart speakers are a new medium of interaction for the consumers. These devices are making the discovery of the products for consumers and in many cases, they’re making purchases as well.
Globally, smart speakers (Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and others) have already managed a significant penetration. In developed markets like the US, almost 25 percent of households have got smart speakers. In the US, nearly 70% of the people said that they have made at least one purchase on their smart speaker in the last 12 months. That is a rapid rate of adoption. But Conversational AI can be a godsend for developing markets as well says Kath Blackham, founder and CEO, Versa, who is among the pioneer-leaders of the emerging ‘voice’ business around the world.
She is a leading voice on emerging technologies like Conversational AI . She is soon going to be expanding her agency Versa to the Indian market and she believes that the potential of conversational AI extends to helping not the top tier consumers but also the ones at the bottom of the pyramid.
Giving voice to the unreachable
When I talk about conversational AI, I’m talking about voice, but in a human way where it’s a machine talking to a human. And, we are basically using artificial intelligence to do that. So the way that conversational AI is going to be used in the future, is about reaching the unreachable.
I think it’s going to be really important, where a consumer or a user wants to speak to a brand, they’ll be able to do it in a multilingual way. What conversational AI really opens up is the ability to reach people who have low literacy rates, and are not able to use technology in the same way that other people are able to use it.
The second thing is omni-channel. We are really seeing at the moment is this move from having one channel, like a website or an app for a brand to taking an omni-channel approach. Consumers, these days are expecting that you are everywhere. So if they are on WhatsApp, I think there are 400 million WhatsApp users in India, which seems astounding to somebody who’s in a country of 20 million. If they’re on WhatsApp, they want you to come to them and have a conversation with them on the platform that they use, whether it’s WhatsApp, whether it’s messenger, the website, or be on an app, or using SMS. So brands are now being forced into this Omni channel experience. Conversation AI is a really good technology to allow that.
The onset of hyper-personalisation
We talk a lot about hyper personalization and we’ll see a lot more of this in the next 24 months. Until now, we’ve had personalisation where we’ve looked at certain personas or at certain behavior that the user is taking on the website. And then we offer content based on that behavior.
But actually what we’re going to be seeing is brands, companies and government organizations using their CRM to learn about that user and then deliver very, very personalized, which is why we call it hyper personalized content based on just that individual person.
There will be a real demand for that. Obviously on the data collection, I think there’s a certain responsibility to use that for good.
About the future of technology, we always used to say build it and they will come. But the days of building and then waiting for users to come and use your technology and then testing from there has gone. So what we’re seeing a lot more of today, particularly in the conversational AI space, is a test and learn methodology. If you ask me what the biggest change that is going to happen in the next six months, it will be this paradigm shift to conversational AI as an interface, rather than the traditional navigation that we’ve been seeing up until now. This test and learn methodology will allow us to build out these amazing experiences based on true data and true user behavior, rather than building it and hoping that we’ve got it right, which is kind of what we’ve done in the past.
Lessons from facial recognition
People will feel the same way about voice as they have with facial recognition. There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of doing voice authentication, for example. So testing and learning with your own customers, rather than just throwing it at them just like we did with facial recognition is not recommended. So I think taking people on that journey would be the biggest lesson.
The technology will only be available when it is safe. So there’s a lot of work being done in voice authentication. But the one thing that I always say to particularly banking customers is that, there is so much that you can do that doesn’t have anything to do with people’s bank accounts. You can answer queries around where the nearest teller is, or you can ask about opening times or so on. You can answer all those basic questions and that might be 10% of the calls that you have, or the queries you have so that you can deal with those ones.
But I’m also saying to customers these days, technology is now caught up to our aspirations. Now it’s up to us. What is right, how far we take it, is it ethically the right thing? Those are the decisions that we need to make. And that’s why there’s a big question around what role the government actually has to play in making sure that people are protected.
(Kath Blackham spoke to Prasad Sangameshwaran during the launch of Sandeep Goyal’s book “Future Shock”)