For many people, the general idea of artificial intelligence still conveys a dark, robot-master future. Yet simply add the word “conversational” in front of it, and suddenly it’s a whole lot friendlier.
Maybe that’s why conversational AI is this year’s “everywhere topic.” It’s a consensus pick in every technology forecast; a keynote subject at business, marketing, and IT conferences; a core capability claimed by software vendors of all sizes and specializations; and the destination of millions in venture funding. As evidenced by this year’s CES conference, it’s also reaching ever further into the connected home, vehicle, and workplace, at lightning speed. What’s more, conversational AI is a top priority on the 2019 strategic plan for nearly every company we talk with.
Touchless, screenless interface
Until conversational AI, the user interface for most of today’s tech had been the keyboard, mouse, and touchscreen. Now, we can build voice-driven interfaces that are hands-free, understand natural language, and will increasingly deliver a screenless experience. But while the copious chatbots, digital assistants, and voice-enabled smart devices have lit the fuse on the conversational AI rocket, these capabilities are really just the beginning.
Consider the possibility of asking your kitchen smart speaker to read a recipe aloud while you run to the pantry, select ingredients from the shelves, and begin preparing dinner. Running low on pasta sauce? Just say the command to add it your grocery list or even place an order for another few bottles. Consumers, of course, are seeing more and more examples of the brands and services they connect with throughout their daily lives experimenting with conversational AI.
We’re now launching conversational AI projects for businesses in industries like hotels, healthcare providers, insurance companies, soft drink and snack food producers, retail stores, pharmaceuticals companies, and wealth management services.
A double-edged sword
While the upside potential for conversational AI is increasingly clear, this new user interface (UI) is also forcing businesses to evolve. For many companies, adopting conversational AI won’t be just a means to improve customer convenience; it will mean survival.
Recall the mid-’90s, when the new user interfaces made possible from the internet, Web browsers, and software-as-a-service helped launch companies like Amazon and Google. A decade later, the touchscreen interface, spurred on by smartphones, mobile apps, and always-on connectivity, kicked off another innovation wave, creating companies like Uber and Instagram, new platforms like Apple’s App Store, and the explosion in messaging services.
In both of these eras, big advancements in UI led to both a gold rush of new business models, ecosystems, and market expansion, and transformed (in some cases decimated) whole industries.
Five strategies for going big with conversational AI
Fortunately, we’ve seen some best practices and strategies emerge that can help enterprise leaders prepare for the opportunities ahead:
- Invest both for immediate success and longer-term tangible benefits. These can include boosting sales, increasing customer convenience, improving the customer experience, reducing costs, etc.
- Link projects so that code, frameworks, lessons, and best practices build upon one another.
- Let your customers be your guide for how you prioritize voice skills, chatbots, virtual agents, AI-enabled mobile apps, etc.
- Seek innovation partners able to support strategy and roadmaps – not just deliver tech skills for point solutions and isolated projects.
- Think beyond chatbots, voice skills, and smart speakers to an omnichannel, multi-device, and multi-modal future of highly contextualized, intelligent, transactional functionality.
Conversational AI grows up
This acceleration of interest suggests that conversational AI is hitting its growth phase. Business cases are more defined, expectations are higher, solutions are more complex, and everyone we talk to is focused on integrating fast-expanding lists of projects into a cohesive enterprise strategy and dynamic roadmap.
As the conversational AI imperative becomes more clear, these five strategies for success will help steer these increasingly vital initiatives.
This article originally appeared on the Digitally Cognizant Blog and is republished by permission. Cognizant is an SAP global partner.
Today’s conversational AI only hints at what is to come as the technology develops. See “Conversational Applications And The Future of Work.”