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Bringing conversational AI Into Your Business: Strategies for Quick, Efficient and Affordable Implementations
In the conversations I have with customers, channel partners, and colleagues, the subject of Artificial Intelligence almost always comes up, especially conversational AI. There are good reasons behind this. AI is perhaps the most exciting innovation to enter the market in generations. It has the potential to literally change business operations, from automating repetitive tasks and workflows, to enhancing customer experiences. Conversational AI offers businesses enormous efficiencies and benefits, but it also has its limitations. Customers who have deployed it into their own businesses—either in customer service, sales, fulfillment, or other processes—report that while the net impact is positive, it does need to be carefully managed. After all, the technology is still in its infancy, and while the potential is enormous, AI will go through some growing pains as part of its maturation process. Businesses should recognize this, and proceed with caution as they begin to consider AI tools for their own needs.
This point was made crystal clear in a recent conversation I had with Anne Bakker, who leads the Enreach AI department. As Anne explains it, AI should be thought of as a specific tool instead of a multi-faceted solution that can handle every business function or process.
“The current state of artificial intelligence is solid and always improving, but it is nowhere near as complete or robust as many people believe,” explained Bakker. “One reason is the early stage of the language models we use to build conversational AI. These iterations of natural language processing can create challenges in many popular AI solutions like ChatGPT. Language models, in their early stages of development, may struggle to grasp the nuances in a person's speech, leading to incomplete or inaccurate responses, or, in some cases, responses that might even offend customers. It really requires effective oversight to be used successfully.”
While the gap between expectation and reality is significant, it does not mean that conversational AI tools are not suitable for practical business use. In fact, we receive regular reports from the field where customers are successfully utilizing these tools to reduce errors, redeploy staff to revenue-generating positions, and substantially lower operating costs.
What’s even more promising is that many of these organizations are SMBs category. These include restaurant chains, government offices, health care providers, transportation companies and other businesses that can leverage the profound benefits available through conversational AI, but may not possess the technical or financial resources that are common among larger enterprises. SMBs are smart, savvy businesspeople that are finding ways to use conversational AI to improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage.
How are they doing this? The businesses we spoke with agreed there are three elements that are necessary for successful conversational AI deployments: simplicity, appropriate workflows, and reliance on a knowledgeable partner.
Given the state of natural language algorithms, it is best to use conversational AI in situations where clear commands and recurring terms are commonly used. This reduces the chance for the system to misinterpret requests or create replies that have no relation to the question received. If a query is fact-based, such as ‘can I reserve a seat on a flight to Madrid?’ the system intuitively knows what commands to bring up, and how to fulfill the request—from booking to seat assignment to requesting an upgrade. But what if the question asked is vague, such as ‘If I want to go to South America sometime in the future, will you offer discounts to frequent flyers?’ This is where conversational AI would have issues. An undefined request invites the system to go into areas that may not be relevant, such as providing current discounts, or even listing travel requirements for South America. While conversational AI is getting better each week, it still needs guardrails. Placing it in situations where the language is consistent makes it more accurate and will increase the likelihood of customer satisfaction.
Conversational AI is an ideal method to improve performance in areas that have recurring processes, such as customer service and sales. We have seen how automated tools enable businesses to provide efficient service to customers without using expensive agents, who can in turn be redeployed to handle more specialized tasks. Conversational AI is great for facilitating orders, pursuing accounts receivables, and other tasks that have defined workflows. Conversely, it is not reliable for cold calling, outbound sales, HR interviews or other needs that are based on ad hoc conversation. Activities like these require a degree of expertise that resides in human employees. Know precisely which processes can be automated before venturing down the AI path. It will save time and frustration.
The Value of Partners
Conversational AI is a complex technology that can reside in a CRM or contact center platform, and be integrated with voice, text, chat, messaging, and video services. While the technology is certainly sophisticated, it should be easy and straightforward to use. Businesspeople are not developers and should not need to learn unique skills to manage their implementations.
It only makes sense to work with experienced partners that understand how to implement conversational AI tools into communications platforms. These partners should not only be educated in AI-based services, but also have expertise with those UCaaS and CCaaS platforms that will handle customer interactions. AI is not a DIY solution; make sure you work with a reputable partner who can simplify both the deployment and usability.
As many businesses are learning, conversational AI is a tool that can benefit almost any organization. This doesn’t mean the technology can run an entire business, or that it doesn’t warrant strict supervision. But by simplifying how and where it’s used, and working with experienced and knowledgeable partners who understand the outcomes it delivers, any business, regardless of size, should be able to quickly see instant efficiency and productivity gains throughout the company.