The belief that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will have a profound impact on future business operations - especially customer service - is rarely questioned today. Academics and business gurus alike warn that those companies that fail to integrate AI in their decision-making and processes will disappear, forgotten in history's dustbin along with buggy-whip manufacturers and coal-powered locomotives.
In the hoped-for utopian age of high quality, mass customization, and low-cost products, futurists predict that smart machines will perform much of today's dangerous, physical, and repetitive tasks, allowing humans to focus on the exotic, the theoretical, and the exceptional. Dr. Hossein Rahnama, CEO of artificial intelligence concierge company Flybits, agrees, "It allows us to really create a knowledge-based economy and leverage that to create better automation for a better form of life."
The Impact of AI on Human Activities
When will the future - the "singularity" when AI-powered machines reach and exceed human intelligence - become real? Some scientists believe it's 30 years away; others are more sanguine and talk about centuries. In the meantime, specialized, narrowly focused AI applications are expanding daily in our business and personal lives:
- "Smart" home devices, Google search, and travel applications with real-time traffic and weather conditions benefit millions of consumers daily.
- Self-driving cars are currently coming to market with embedded sensors that calculate the distances, direction, and speeds of other objects to help a self-driving car make decisions like when to change lanes.
- Salesforce or Zoho are using artificial intelligence to create self-updating, auto-correcting relationship management systems for better and expanded information to users.
AI-Powered Support Systems
Artificial intelligence systems are revolutionizing the relationship between a business and its customers and employees. According to Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, "Artificial intelligence is kind of the second coming of software. It's a form of software that makes decisions on its own, that's able to act even in situations not foreseen by the programmers. Artificial intelligence has a wider latitude of decision-making ability as opposed to traditional software."
Companies seeking the advantage of AI and machine learning may choose to develop proprietary applications, rely on off-the-shelf software, or integrate an independently-managed, specialized platform with a company's basic IT systems. Each approach has benefits and disadvantages, depending on functionality, costs (initial and maintenance), applicability, and ease of use:
- Proprietary software. Specialized, proprietary software is typically the choice of large, well-financed operations targeting a specialized, diverse, or different purpose for which commercial software is not available or difficult to customize. The advantages for companies who develop their software are control, flexibility, and uniqueness. The capability and application of the software can be programmed to the unique, specific needs of the client and may supply a competitive advantage against competition. The disadvantages are long development times and high costs of development, testing, maintenance, and training of staff users.
- Off-the-shelf software. Non-proprietary software is typically the least expensive option to gain a general capability. Functionality is generally limited, though some off-the-shelf software may be customized to a limited degree. Also, most of the programming "bugs" have been discovered and corrected. Varying degrees of support are usually available from the supplier of the software. The major disadvantage of an off-the-shelf solution is its limited capability, reducing its application to a specific purpose.
- Third-party, integrated software, and support. Combining the advantages of proprietary software with the lower expense of an off-the-shelf solution, companies like Talla offer a proprietary AI platform seamlessly connected into a company's customer and employee support systems. The advantages of a third-party supplier are manifold: specialized training; reduced embedded cost; maximum flexibility and scalability; 24/7 technical support; and automated upgrades.
Talla is one of the companies leading the effort to revolutionize inter- and intra-company communications. Its AI-based agents enable companies to respond to routine customer and employee inquiries automatically, quickly, and accurately, freeing humans for more complex issues.
Multiple company functions - marketing, sales, customer service, human resources, finance - can use intelligent agents, linked with existing software and databases, to answer the bulk of queries that arise each day automatically. One intelligent agent might respond to questions from customers about the company's products, prices, and returns while another replies to employees asking about company policies, compensation, and benefits. At the same time, the software continually expands its knowledge base, identifying gaps where information is missing or incorrect.
John Naisbitt, the author of the best-selling book MegaTrends, once wrote, "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge." Companies continuously search for an easy way to transfer knowledge from one person to the next accurately. Sadly, few organizations today have systems to collect and convey institutional knowledge to customers or employees, making them vulnerable to inflated costs, disengaged employees, and disgruntled customers.
Software like Talla's AI-powered agents preserves and curate institutional knowledge that otherwise might be lost or disregarded. Their use avoids the cost and confusion associated with the development of proprietary software while retaining the flexibility of a customized approach.
Is your company employing smart bots to facilitate communications? Have you experienced AI-based software solutions? Do you see smart agents as a threat or a benefit?