Is it Human, and Does it Matter?

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We are living in the age of machines. What used to be thought of as science fiction is now simply fact. Electric cars, payment by watch, and TV on the go are all being used by everyone every day. In addition, thought-controlled bionic arms, space travel, and waste-blasting toilets without the need for a sewer are all being trialled right now. Surely teleportation isn’t too far away and pretty soon we can all go Back to the Future.

Rise of the machines

In the world of marketing and building customer engagement, machines are already commonplace. Machine-learning models, chatbots and AR- and VR-based content are being used, and well received, by the end customer. In fact, there are areas, such as gamification, where consumer demand is greater than the usage at present. As a Fitbit obsessive, if someone were to tie my daily step count with rewards in exchange for data then I would sign up immediately.

One of the many debates this creates is around whether it is necessary to inform the end customer that they are engaging with a machine. Personally, I’m not sure this is needed. To me, the bigger issue is ensuring that the right combination of person and machine is in place in order not to lose a great customer relationship.

Striking a balance

Research shows, for example, that people really want to talk to people when the request is complex or where there is a need for a complaint to be made. Making sure that the conversation can be identified as moving in a particular direction and the right intervention is in place feels more vital than the end individual knowing if the operative is real or not.

74% of consumers admit they would sooner complain about a product or service to a human rather than a chatbot [DMA Customer Engagement 2019 – Facing the future: how consumers and brands view new technology]

The AIs fight back

Certain AI platforms, such as the financial assistant, Plum, are now being programmed to deal with abusive messages such as those containing swearing, rudeness and sexism. This has seen a positive impact from a customer perspective, as witty and humorous responses from the AI bot have often helped to defuse a situation and reassure the consumer that they are dealing with an intelligent entity.

And in reality, it isn’t too long until we allow our own machines, home assistants or phones or even our fridge, to engage with a brand’s machines and make decisions for us – making the identification moot.

Data fuels success 

Of course, at the end of the day, there are some constants that always need to be in place. The first is identifying who the customer or prospect is and being confident that you have the right person, and the second is having enough data of interest to make the interaction relevant. In amongst all the chat about AI, VR, AR and machine learning it is vital to remember that it’s the data that fuels the success – or otherwise – of these technologies.

At REaD, we often talk about giving brands the right to be personal. That is never more real than when there is a combination of machine and person doing the engagement. Not having the data infrastructure, or indeed the base data, in place means that the discussion about machine v. person is irrelevant. Ultimately, having a clean, up-to-date, enriched dataset is vital to the success of any AI, chatbot or other technology-based pilot.

Scott Logie

MD, Insight at REaD Group

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