AI chatbots are at the heart of a great experience for the next generation

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt January 6, 2019
Like it or not, AI powered chatbots will be at the heart of what younger people rate as a great experience. ServiceNow's Philip van der Wilt explains why.

AI chatbot customer experience smartphone in hand urban © panuwat phimpha - shutterstock
We all know that artificial intelligence (AI) is getting smarter and that software tooling to drive increasingly useful AI chatbots has improved massively.

But one CIO I met recently refuses to adopt any chatbot development altogether. He says that his firm will exclusively use human interactions instead and champion that factor as a Unique Selling Point.

A neat enough business idea I thought, at least initially. He was one of a group of around fifteen Chief Information Officers I had met to discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis.

All the CIOs agreed that they felt increasing levels of accountability for the successful operation of their firm’s IT backbone and services. They were also in agreement that keeping all the lights on while also finding time to innovate and future-proof their systems was among their biggest challenges. While most agreed that yes, chatbots have an important role to play, perhaps the one who disagreed had a point.

Enabling greater experiences

I had cause to reflect again on the CIO chatbot conversation a few days later when talking to my daughter as she was trying to book a restaurant. She wanted to make a booking, but was frustrated when she found out that the only way to interact with the restaurant was to make a phone call.

This was alien to her. She’s used to texts, social media and email.

This has made me realize and remember that the application of digital workflow technologies and supporting developments like chatbots exist in order to give us greater experiences – and that means greater experiences in work and greater experiences when booking a dinner table.

Post-millennial expectations

Our post-millennial youngsters don’t expect non-digital work processes like phone calls when a more intelligent and convenient option should logically exist. Inside and outside of work, it’s all about unlocking productivity. For my daughter, productivity means freeing up time for the other things she needs to do to organize our restaurant visit, such as share online links to menus, plan meeting times and so on.

We’re moving fast towards a point where many of us will trust machine decisions and interactions more than we trust human actions. The next generation will simply not care whether they are speaking to a chatbot or a human and many will prefer the experience without human intervention.

Augmented intelligence in motion

This allows us to move to a stage where we begin to embrace ‘augmented intelligence’ that becomes part of the digital platforms we build that enable digital workflows.

If you have to renew your car insurance, you want to be able to interact with a system that already knows your policy number and preferences. That’s the augmentation of intelligence we are looking for.

These are IT systems that – based on our agreed level of privacy setting – can also provide us with additional information for any given request or interaction. When you renew your car insurance, you might also like some travel tips and guides or perhaps a car service offer, right?

Questions of ethics

We have to remember though that there are ethical elements to consider here. We must look carefully at exactly how far we push the intelligence envelope.

Think about the famous example of the Tay chatbot that went wrong as a result of it ‘parroting’ inflammatory and offensive tweets made by mischievous humans. Think about the Wikipedia ‘edit bots’ that have been reported to engage in edit feuds with each other in infinite loops of digital aggression. Think about self-driving cars and the potentially life-threatening decisions their AI brains have to make on the road.

Further still, what happens when we start to apply AI to military-grade operations? There may be some distance in architectural terms between restaurant booking chatbots and active war zones, but many of the same ethical questions are thrown up.

Making change happen

What all of this brings us to as business people is a point of self-analysis. We need to look at what areas of the business can be segmented out as discrete tasks that are quantifiable and repeatable.

Then we need to think about how much of each person’s data is needed in order for us to build platforms that are capable of making digital workflows happen.

There is a lot of change to be done here, but it’s high on the agenda for everyone.

Firms should realize that change at this level must be company-wide and span the whole organization. The tough part often comes down to building an articulated business case that will ultimately drive forward the IT strategy.

Next-generation experiences

Eventually it all comes back to experiences and the younger generations should tell us what we need to do in the future. If they want to search using speech rather than typing, then we have to be ready to enable that kind of functionality, and so much more.

Chatbots will soon drive the digital workflow inside the restaurant reservation system that enables my daughter to book our next family meal. These will be the great experiences that unlock productivity for us in all aspects of life.

It may not be to everyone’s taste, but for my daughter’s generation – and increasingly for all of us – AI chatbots are going to be at the heart of a great experience, whether at the restaurant with the family, or at work with the team.

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