July 26, 2019
Project management

The c-suite executives’ guide to conversational AI

C-suite executives can’t afford to delegate the adoption of conversational AI to their digital teams. The impact on long-term performance is simply too large, requiring experienced leadership and a cohesive strategy from the point of inception.

In a market where terms like disruption and innovation are on the tip of everyone’s tongues, keeping up with the increasing complexity and competitive pressure of digital technology can be a challenge. Executives must come to terms with the fact that even the most groundbreaking technology isn’t enough on its own to take a company to the next level, at least not without top-level leadership helping to drive the transformation.

Below are three key steps that c-suite executives must consider in order to ensure a conversational AI project navigates its way towards success.

Step 1: Determine if conversational AI will improve operations and boost the bottom line

Conversational AI facilitates companies in automating high volumes of chat traffic via advanced virtual agents. These virtual agents are designed to deliver instant and personalized customer experiences at scale. For companies targeting the consumer market, this technology is nothing short of a game-changer. Why? Because the expectations of modern-day consumers - 24/7 availability, personalization, instant solutions, etc. - are too time-consuming and expensive to satisfy if relying solely on human support staff.

With a virtual agent working alongside your human agents, employees are alleviated of time-consuming, low-level repetitive tasks, while customers get immediate answers to simple questions that would otherwise cause them unnecessary frustration if they had to be kept on hold.

Not only does this make life easier for customers, but it is a bonafide win for your employees, too. With extra time to focus on more important tasks, they feel that their work has more meaning and, ultimately, helps to reduce employee churn. More meaningful work means employees stay at a company for the long haul, helping it to grow and thrive. And, as they become more experienced at solving complex issues for customers, they become customer service superstars that build and maintain loyalty from satisfied customers.

In short, if you believe satisfied customers and lower employee turnover impact your top and bottom line, then conversational AI is a solution you should be considering.

Step 2: Make sure you seek out the right technology that can scale to your requirements

While chatbots have become ubiquitous across a number of industries, it’s also true that almost everyone who has interacted with one has received a disappointing “I don’t understand” response. The reason for this is that chatbots are based on scripted questions and answers that rely on the users’ ability to hit the right keywords and phrases to articulate what they want. If they formulate a question differently from the pre-defined script (or even make a typo), there is a good chance the chatbot won’t understand the request.

As a digital technology, this is extremely limiting and not something you should trust to handle customers on a large scale. An AI-powered virtual agent, on the other hand, can go far beyond these scripted confines. Where chatbots try to match keywords with probable answers from a narrow scope, a virtual agent can recognize context, concepts and even meaning, truly understanding the underlying intent of a customer’s request - regardless of how the customer has expressed themselves.

Another crucial difference between the two technologies is that a virtual agent can leverage user authentication capabilities to act on the information provided by customers. This can empower customers to resolve issues and requests automatically and on their own - all from within a single chat window.

Step 3: Champion the technology - and don’t panic

A global study by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 3,000 executives, managers and analysts across industries. The results showed that 85% believe AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage. But only 39% of those surveyed have an AI strategy in place, and only one in five has extensively incorporated AI into their current processes.

A recurring reason for the gap between recognizing the potential of a new technology and failing to implement it is that the c-suite often delegates responsibility to an IT team.

This approach is problematic because while the IT experts may be able to manage the technical details, they don’t have the leadership skills of the c-suite necessary to make changes happen throughout the organization. When things change, people get worried and cling to the safety of the status quo. Those who work in customer interaction are very likely to see automation and artificial intelligence as a scary prospect.

This is why the c-suite needs to be engaged. While you must certainly play to the strengths of your teams, it is important to not delegate the overall responsibility for the project. A typical c-suite executive is a good communicator, collaborator and strategic thinker. There is no way an organization can bring conversational AI - or any other digital technology for that matter - into its daily operations in a meaningful or lasting way without the validation and endorsement of the highest level of leadership. If the responsibility is delegated to a siloed team, it is easy for a forward-thinking idea to end up in wasted time and effort.

Conversational AI is not just another tech project. It requires an organization to rethink its business model and how it can best serve customers. The c-suite needs to be personally involved at every level to help realize its full potential. Through this involvement, the road between getting started and seeing results is surprisingly short. A shining example of a company seeing impressive results after a short time with conversational AI is DNB, Norway’s largest bank. After only 6 months the bank successfully automated 51% of their online chat traffic.

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