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Start the Cognitive Conversation Now

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by Wayne Butterfield

Talk to tech vendors, thought leaders and enterprises looking for ways to leverage cognitive digital labour, and you’ll quickly find that the cognitive story – especially for applications in white collar industries – is still searching for its success stories. If innovators and early adopters have been working to implement cognitive labour technologies internally for the past 12 to 18 months, where’s the proof?

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the benefits of this technology are starting to become a reality for some. A small Israeli start-up with a growing customer base, for example, promises to deliver quick cognitive labour implementation and results. Sounds too good to be true, but its solution is already helping big brands take cost out of their businesses. An intelligent online customer assistance tool –powered by a conversational engine and a little help from the brands’ SMEs who interface with easy-to-use agent to “teach” it – is reducing call volume by nearly 40 percent in areas it is programmed to help.

But are we ready to ditch our fellow man or woman in favour of a digital labour colleague, even it sounds like us? Well, yes and no. While a recent study by Business Insider’s research group BI Intelligence found that 55 percent of Americans have now had at least one interaction with a chatbot, a 2016 Verint study found that 80 percent of consumers still prefer to speak to a live human being when dealing with a customer-service interaction.

At first glance, these numbers may take the proverbial wind out of the cognitive tech sails. But don’t despair. Five years ago, we saw the same numbers when customers were asked their preferred contact channel other than voice when they needed to contact a company – chat, social, communities or web. Even though voice was clearly king then, customers adapted quickly and today don’t think much about using alternate channels. Aren’t Millennials and younger generations likely to consider the presence of a cognitive agent a reason to purchase a product from a pioneering brand over its laggard competitors?

Even if customer demand is growing, albeit slowly, not all cognitive tech is quick and easy to get up and running, especially when dealing with complex data sets. Expensive upfront software and implementation efforts are enough of a roadblock for many enterprises. Without compelling case studies that detail solid return on investment, companies are not likely to start turning over large chunks of their day-to-day business to cognitive digital labour robots any time soon.

Microsoft’s 2016 experiment with its artificially intelligent chatbot “Tay” – who was designed to "conduct research on conversational understanding” but was quickly deleted by the company when it began tweeting racist remarks – is still ringing loudly in many people’s ears. Despite the fact that Tay was unsupervised and otherwise unlike the cognitive tools being developed for business application, the boardrooms of many brands are still more apprehensive than not about what impact AI would have on their businesses.

Cognitive technologies are not fully proven yet, and even the early adopters are only deploying cognitive in small pockets in their environments. But when it passes muster for wide consumption, there is no question that cognitive technology will transform the way consumers interact with brands and the way enterprises serve their customers. Enterprises that invest in cognitive labor will be able to implement immediate, seamless, human-less processes. Their consumers will experience faster, more accurate and more personalised service.

What role will AI play in your strategy and operating model? Now’s the time to start the conversation. 

About the author

Wayne is an automation pioneer, initially starting out as an early adopter of RPA in 2010, creating one of the first Enterprise scale RPA operations. His early setbacks at Telefonica UK, led to many of the best practices now instilled across RPA centres of excellence around the globe. Customer centric at heart, Wayne also specialises in Customer Service Transformation, and has been helping brands in becoming more Digitally focused for their customers. Wayne is an expert in Online Chat, Social Media and Online Communities, meaning he is perfectly placed to help take advantage of Chat Bots & Virtual Assistants. More recently Wayne has concentrate on Cognitive & AI automation, where he leads the European AI Automation practice, helping brands take advantage of this new wave of automaton capability.