Artificial Intelligence was a major talk point at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in January this year. While it has been a significant part of tech industry discussions as well as pop culture, 2019 was completely different. With almost every industry being impacted by the practical implementation of AI, stakeholders in the industry meant business. We are finally witnessing the reality match the hype, and AI moving away from just a theoretical plane to a much more realized, experiential space.
Conversational AI has crossed the threshold of being that ‘magic pill’ that everyone expects everything out of. Today, businesses are much more aware of the potential as well as limitations of the technology. 2019 can be termed as the year when enterprises have reached the critical enlightenment point, realizing the real-world applications of AI-based bots.
Let us look at how the technology is finally set to break out of the shell of absurd expectations and emerge as the revolutionary advanced computing interface people have expected it to be for so many years.
WhatsApp: The Ideal Platform For B2C Automated Conversations
It is important for any facilitator technology to have an inherent underlying platform, for instance as websites had browsers and search or smartphones existed for apps. However, conversational AI still has not had a medium or platform that is naturally inclined to support automated conversations, and adaptability becomes one of the major concerns before chatbot deployment.
At the same time, with WhatsApp’s introduction of its much-awaited Enterprise solution stack, the wait is finally over. Offering a revenue earning mechanism to probably the world’s largest messaging app out there, the engagement service operates in a straightforward manner with a simple Send/Receive API which allows messages to plug into third-party systems such as support CRMs, ticketing software, etc.
Last year the platform evolved and opened up to a large number of enterprises, and this year it is set to become a popular way for brand-consumer interactions. It is predicted that by the end of 2019, every major consumer brand will have a WhatsApp handle to communicate with users.
The possibilities are endless, from simple customer support to point-of-sale experience or gathering post-purchase feedback. With the amount and frequency of engagement taking place today across various platforms, the only way to maintain seamless and simultaneous interaction is through automated bot responses, driven by underlying intelligence about the customer’s preferences.
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In fact, combined with the conversational AI platform’s ability to handle payments, enterprises are able to have a 360-degree platform that has the potential to become the primary engagement channel for consumers with businesses.
The Alexas’ and Cortanas’ of the world are finally moving away from the sci-fi domain to become a virtual part of families. About 41% of American households have a smart speaker device today, with Amazon selling 100 million of these in 2018 alone. Closer home, the vernacular feature of chatbots seems to be winning big. Google reported that Hindi voice search queries are now growing 400% year on year in India.
In fact, Jio Phone inbuilt Voice assistant, available in multiple local Indian languages, was a major contributor in the way the brand was able to make such a massive impact on Indian tier-II and III markets. Through massive ATL campaigns and on-ground deals, companies such as Amazon and Google are aggressively pushing for adoption of assistant services. In 2019 we will see a lot more of all of this, with the goal of making Voice interfaces a must-have for consumers, bringing convenience and a load of additional features with them.
Rich Communication Services (RCS)
RCS is the next evolution of SMS, a more sophisticated messaging protocol that is pre-loaded with all the features of an OTT app – group chat, send/read receipts, the ability to exchange images, videos, files, etc. It is essentially targeted for Android and agnostic to the manufacturer.
RCS is an important aspect of conversational AI that will enable instant business messaging without the need to add/download any service bundle. This is great news for businesses and brands as they will have now have the option for enriched customer engagement through the native messaging apps on phones.
The reason RCS is important in 2019 and people should pay attention is because of Google’s endorsement last year. In April, Google officially stopped investment in Allo, stating that RCS will become central to its messaging strategy moving forward. This has significantly ramped up the progress of the launch of the new protocol, with 55 operators and 11 OEMs on board along with Microsoft also agreeing to adopt the standard. All of this finally led to the big Verizon announcement in November that it will be launching RCS in “early 2019”.
Emergence Of Chat-First Use Cases
Conversational AI, although diverse in its scope, is still mostly associated with customer support, and segments such as e-commerce have substantially strengthened this assumption. Services like Swiggy, Zomato, Goibibo, Oyo Rooms, etc. are becoming chat first in their approach to solving customers’ support issues. Apart from greatly reducing the workload on customer experience teams, chatbots also for seamless mass communication and 24×7 accessibility.
Chat forms the majority of the query volume today for e-commerce industry when compared with any other channel such as phone, email, social, etc. This makes intuitive sense because most e-commerce orders are placed on a smartphone, where messaging is already established as the most natural interface of communication. The instantaneous nature of responses in the chatbot medium makes it an extremely potent communication tool for immediate responses and positive call-to-action.
Democratisation Of Technology
Lastly, the massive democratisation of plug-and-play conversational AI platforms and the frequency with which large companies and small developers alike have contributed immensely to enable easy development of conversational applications has led to its robust growth. Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud have 100+ AI services that can be used to build any kind of text or voice bot.
There are also at least 100 other independent platforms and thousands of open source libraries like Rasa which can be leveraged for any kind of application customizable to the need of an enterprise. It has almost become as easy as making a website.
The conversational AI world has come a long way from being just a novelty item for businesses to being a feature with actual, substantial quantitative and qualitative advantages. The intelligence and ease of a bot can be used to manage sudden spikes in query volumes and to drive 2x-3x better conversions through a sales lead funnel.
From supply chain to customer support, conversational AI is emerging as the new go-to technology to enhance efficiency, productivity and customer experience. 2019 presents the opportunity to really press on and live up to the long-built hype around conversational AI.