The human race has been fascinated by artificial intelligence (AI) for decades. Case in point: Just consider some of our favorite sci-fi films, from the classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the more recent “Blade Runner 2049.”
When these types of films were first released, the level of innovation required to engineer AI seemed impossible. However, as today’s technology continually pushes the envelope, we are increasingly able to incorporate what were once science fiction concepts into our everyday reality. In 2017 alone, the economy witnessed $12 billion in AI-related investments across 27 documented industries. And, eager to disrupt the modern ideal of how we live and transact, many companies are experimenting with AI advancements in ways that are turning several business arenas on their heads.
One of the most common topics within industry AI discussions is the use of chatbots, or online systems that can “talk” to humans. Think about the popularity of messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, and Slack. Billions of people around the world are using these types of apps for personal networking purposes, and businesses have adopted them for internal communications as well. In fact, Oracle conducted a survey revealing that 80 percent of C-suite leaders and senior marketers already had implemented chatbots into their operations or plan to do so by 2020. It was only a matter of time before a combination of consumer demand and technological innovation led to the use of chatbots for customer and prospect engagement.
The bottom line is this: In order to stay competitive and relevant to consumer demands, today’s brands must maintain their presence via innovations to the customer experience and buyer’s journey. Savvy companies are leveraging chatbots to redefine their client support process and lead generation funnel. Not only can AI chatbots cost-effectively manage straightforward requests on demand, but they can also be trained to understand complex languages. What’s next? In this age of “conversational commerce,” it’s safe to predict that we’ll see chatbots becoming more “human-feeling,” perhaps one day to the point that a customer can’t tell the difference between a bot and a live rep.
5 key industries embracing chatbot technology
AI chatbots are disrupting a number of industries in a variety of ways. Here are just a handful of industries that are feeling the biggest impact:
1. Customer service
The largest immediate opportunity for chatbots is in the customer service industry. Customer service calls cost businesses as much as $1.3 trillion annually, and simple requests eat up a considerable amount of customer service agents’ time. Studies show that the use of AI chatbots can decrease companies’ operating costs by as much as 30 percent. The result? Live agents can bypass simple issues and spend more time working on complex problems that require a human touch.
A growing number of airlines are embracing chatbots to help answer customers’ frequently asked questions and provide basic flight information. For instance, Alaska Airlines introduced “Ask Jenn” to offer simple answers to hundreds of common questions that arise when people book travel plans. This blending of customer service with increased operational efficiency is indicative of how AI can streamline processes in other industries.
3. Food service
Food delivery chains have also been eager to adopt chatbots — in this case, to allow customers to place orders through digital channels. Domino’s, which generates $5 billion a year from digital ordering, was one of the first household brands to launch chatbot ordering on Facebook Messenger. Other brands that have jumped on the bot-ordering bandwagon include Taco Bell, Wingstop, and Burger King.
4. Financial services
Because it’s by nature a transactional industry that is increasingly adopting mobile and wearable devices to carry out payments, the financial arena is an excellent fit for chatbots and other AI applications. One example: Bank of America’s Erica, a chatbot that provides customer service online by responding to basic inquiries.
With so many people seeking healthcare information online (72 percent of U.S. adult internet users in 2014, and counting), the use of AI chatbots is a clear opportunity in the healthcare sector. Most healthcare information searches are questions that can be triaged quickly with health chatbots and apps. In fact, HealthTap, known as “the world’s first Global Health Practice,” is able to process requests and route questions to a network of more than 100,000 physicians, who then provide specialized responses to patients’ healthcare questions.
“But won’t this steal jobs?”
Despite water cooler conversation, the idea that chatbots and other AI technologies will eliminate entire industries or bring about employment Armageddon just isn’t sound. After all, in its simplest form, a chatbot is just an advanced form of automation: technology that is already in place in almost every industry today.
If you’re looking for historical relevance, the ATM is a textbook example of technology that spurred fears of job loss to automation. The invention was introduced in the early 1970s and was designed to replace the more transactional efforts of bank tellers and empower consumers to access cash on demand. But according to economist James Bessen, it took 45 years after the ATM made its debut to see even an 8 percent decrease in the number of bank tellers. In fact, of the 271 occupations listed on the 1950 census, the only one eliminated by 2010 was the elevator operator. This data furthers the argument that technological innovations don’t destroy jobs — they just change their composition.
It’s fair to assume that AI chatbots will eventually redefine some jobs as we know them today. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that work will disappear, but rather that the skill sets required for particular positions will morph. In his book “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth,” Bessen warns that instead of worrying about employees losing jobs to “robots,” we should instead do a better job of “getting them the skills and knowledge they need to work for the new jobs.” Addressing this skills gap requires education to undergo a paradigm shift focused on preparing workers for the jobs of the future.
Not even the best economists can predict with certainty how AI technology will disrupt commerce in the future. One thing we do know is that industries that are slow to adapt to new technology risk being dubbed as obsolete. Blockbuster’s death after the advent of video streaming services is an unfortunate example of destruction by a failure to innovate.
So while the jury is still out on the overreaching impact of AI chatbots, it’s safe to say we’ve come a long way since HAL 9000. Now is the time for industry influencers to watch this trend closely and assign their best innovators the work of leveraging bots to streamline processes, while also developing a strategy to attract and train the workforce of tomorrow. Much like its technological forebears, AI is not going away anytime soon. Sound advice: embrace its power to build your business. You can be sure the competition will.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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