Historically, trading or bartering was said to have originated some 150,000 years ago. You can bet the concept of Personal Service soon came to be considered, when people figured out that a nice (but probably toothless) smile and pleasant attitude amongst other things could lead to more trade or better terms.
Ever since then, customer service before, during and after a trade or sale hasn’t just been the domain of human to human interaction.
Self-service has been around for a very long time, starting with an enterprising chap named Heron of Alexandria (a.k.a. Hero of Alexandria).
Hero, a first-century engineer and mathematician figured out how to make a vending machine that dispensed Holly water, in exchange for a coin. For me, it is not about the dispensed product, but the engineering involved to provide the product and the service. Awesome.
Up to now, even modern self-service hasn’t involved much in the way of intelligence. You see a product, you put in your cash or your card, you click a button, and through the slot it comes.
If you’ve ever done that and got a broken product (at an airport for example), or worse still – no product, you really are left standing with very little options.
But now, a new era is upon us where highly intelligent Artificial Customer Service (ACS) assistants will help guide you through a sale, performing not just the sale transaction, but the pre-sale and post-sale customer service and support that so many people often complain about.
Advances in Cognitive Artificial Intelligence (I refer to as COG) enable a persona to represent a company or brand, much the same way an actual human would. This is not a self-service kiosk where a user has to select and decide and search for more information by clicking buttons or touch screens. It is also well beyond the narrowly focussed interactions you may find with online chat-bots.
A COG based ACS assistant is a digital representative that is capable of full conversations and understanding how to advise you.
For the rest of this article, when I talk about the COG or ACS, you can consider them to be one and the same. Present in either a commercial or retail environment, or in your home.
What do I mean by “AI-Commerce”?
Creating synthetic intelligence is challenging for a number of reasons, but the single most difficult part of the equation is the fact that humans are involved. Humans change their mind, their views and their actions so quickly that it can be extremely difficult for logic to keep up and to make sense of the context.
But what if the COG was taught to use this to its advantage, in order to help you to purchase various goods and services?
AI-Commerce is about the influencing abilities of cognitive artificial intelligence to persuade you like no other form of advertising ever has before. But also to assist you in making choices that are better suited to you as opposed to the seller.
How can a COG do this?
The answer lies in the psychology of humans. The way we mentally rate information and the emotional responses that are elicited between the parties in a conversation. It is very much to do with bonding between the parties, regardless of if they have just met, or are long term friends.
Let’s consider the following three parts of a transactional lifecycle.
- Pre-sales bonding
- The sale with enhanced customer service
- Post sales customer support
In order for a COG to be effective at pre-sales, it really needs to show its intelligence straight away. It has to recognise if you are male or female. It will also need to approximate your age and analyse your emotional position in order to deliver a verbal handshake with its greeting.
Consider if you will, a COG advanced enough for you to accept it to be friendly and intelligent within the first few seconds of interaction.
This little bonding exercise, this beginning of an engagement relationship can happen extremely fast, with the right entry point.
Instead of just showing you an image or a movie based advert, the COG will talk with (not at) you about a product or service that analysis shows you have an interest in. You may then engage in a meaningful and insightful conversation with the COG, further advancing the bond.
Sometimes you may end up poking fun at an idea (which is a bonding mechanic). You will in effect “teach” the COG what you know about the subject (a psychological bond - your feeling of human superiority) and all the time you will be sharing an emotional output with regard to the given topic of your discussions.
You’re now bonded.
In the home, the COG has even a more dramatic ability to strengthen that bond over time. The COG becomes your friend.
That concept may appear kind of weird if you are reading this objectively, but how many of you have a relationship with your phone or your computer that you are not aware of?
The sale transaction.
A conversation is exactly what all sales people need in order to sell.
The conversation feeds the selling process, informing the salesperson what your objections are, so that they can overcome them.
The COG will not only provide the highest possible chance of a positive transaction for the seller (if all requirements are met), but the COG will actively work to protect you as the consumer, by analysing relevant and contextual information – not just feedback and recommendations about the products and services.
For example, if you are staying in a hotel and want to know what is going on in the local area, the COG won’t recommend you partake in an outdoor activity, if it knows that there is a good chance of rain. And in addition, it will check and see if you have valet parking and if not, may optionally offer to organise a taxi to pick you up at an appropriate time.
The sale occurs because it can be propositioned to be entirely logical and rational to you at that time. It will also be just so simple to do.
Post sales customer support.
The COG could possibly be the deciding part that provides the confidence for you to make the transaction.
Considering a home consumer scenario this time, instead of a commercial example - I was talking to a friend the other day about IKEA furniture, and he said that he didn’t mind the style of it, but he really doesn’t rate his own ability to put it together.
When I propositioned the concept of the COG being able to help guide him step by step on the construction, his response was:
“I would feel more secure knowing that I would have someone to talk to about it and to help me at each step. It would be like having someone from the store in my house, helping me out.”
In the event of something going wrong with a product, the COG will also be able to take away the hassles of getting supplier support. The COG could not only take over the role of first line support, walking you through appropriate troubleshooting processes, but in the event that none of those things work, the COG could discuss and organise the appropriate next steps directly with the supplier on your behalf.
The result being that the COG would make the consumer more efficient and implicitly make the supplier more efficient along with a perceived higher level of customer experience.
Is AI-Commerce a good thing or bad?
In the end, there will be ethical boundaries that will need to be considered. These will be the topic of future discussions, I am sure.
As with most things, there are positive and negative angles that can be extracted from this concept, but what I like to think may happen is that customer satisfaction could rise.
While AI-Commerce may ultimately compel companies to operate more ethically and with greater respect for our environment and for our fellow humans creating a great deal of our consumed products, I also think it could provide enormous cost savings in operational efficiencies.
It may be a step too far to think that they would then use those savings to benefit society more than they have to, but then again, perhaps ultimately that will become a criteria for consumers when deciding to buy.
Then it will be interesting to see who the COG does and doesn’t recommend.