Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet: What exactly is conversational AI? To what extent can a virtual agent be used in today’s e-commerce sector?
Andreas J. Weick: Conversational AI (Conversational AI) is a robotic dialogue system powered by artificial intelligence. Unlike simple chatbots or earlier speech recognition systems, conversational AI can understand more complex expressions in natural language and process freely formulated text. As a result, it enables a human-machine dialogue roughly corresponding to a conversation with a real person, since the conversational AI is constantly learning and processing new expressions and terms.
This feature makes conversational AI an attractive tool for the e-commerce sector. There are many ways to use the virtual assistant – either via a chat window or a so-called voice portal. For example, he can work as a janitor. In doing so, it receives a request from a customer presented in a natural language. Then he decides to which department to send it. It is also possible to act as a consultant answering questions about ongoing products or processes such as delivery status. A more complex robot can walk the customer through the entire ordering process. For this purpose, it asks for all the necessary data and starts the necessary background activities in parallel. This way, the entire process, from ordering to delivery, can be fully automated. Microsoft tools like Power BI can also be very insighful, you can choose from any Power BI Training for a better understanding.
Conversational AI: The virtual assistant should reflect the brand image
What qualities should a virtual agent add to an e-commerce company?
Overall design and dialogue development are among the most important factors that determine the success of conversational AI. The following applies here: As with real human relationships, the agent must match the target group. His personality, appearance, language and language as well as his visual appearance must be consistent with the brand image. Above all, the specific customer segments that use the virtual assistant should be taken into consideration. In general, the virtual assistant should above all contribute to ensuring that the concerns of users – whether they are customers or employees – are dealt with faster and more appropriately than human intervention.
How does conversational AI affect the customer journey?
Thanks to the use of conversational AI, the customer has the opportunity to easily address their queries, requests or information in a dialogue, rather than filling out an often unpopular form. The current results also show that users react quickly and frequently to messages via messenger or chat. This is another point that speaks in favor of using conversational AI. During the interaction, the conversational AI directly interacts with the customer. In this way, the company can design the customer journey in a more situational way and create an enjoyable customer experience along the touch points and, at best, inspiring them.
From payment to complaint
What services will soon be possible via virtual proxy chatting that were previously only possible via the classic route, i.e. via a web portal (eg, updating client data)?
Essentially, the well-established conversational AI can take over all the services that the customer is currently performing in person via the web portal. This starts with a simple change in customer data and continues through to full acquisition of the most complex purchases. For example, it will be possible to book an entire business trip – including available flights, trains, hotels or rental cars – according to the company’s predefined guidelines. Conversational AI can also independently select products, report damage or complaint, and conclude a contract with a mobile operator, insurance company or electricity supplier.
In the future, it will also be possible for customers to make a payment directly in the chat, that is, in exchange with the virtual agent. How can you imagine that exactly?
Payment while chatting works exactly the same as in a web portal – that is, via a plugin. This means that an entire purchase, including the payment process, can be made in a dialogue without the customer having to switch to another website or landing page. Instead, show him the payment methods available in the chat. After completing the purchase, the virtual agent receives a response from the payment service provider and thus completes the process automatically. In parallel with the entire payment process, discussions with the client proceed smoothly and other issues are dealt with.
Conversational Artificial Intelligence of the Future: A Virtual Agent with Augmented Reality
The future use of augmented reality in e-commerce is already being discussed. In this way, the virtual agent can also present products directly in the chat. Future dream or reality soon?
Technically, this is not a dream for the future. Both technologies are available and already in use. Much is still being tested, but some companies are already using augmented reality (AR) in sales or customer service. If customers accept this, technologies continue to mature and costs fall, we will see more and more of these offerings.
Can a virtual agent also be used for cross-selling and over-selling in this regard?
Yes, a virtual proxy can also be used for this. However, technology still lacks the particular taste of a good salesperson. It is able to read its counterpart and fire the correct impulses automatically. Therefore, a well-thought-out ‘script’ and careful selection of occasions when cross-selling or overselling by a virtual agent can occur is required. If that works, chances are good along the customer journey.
What other trends do you see for the coming years in conversational AI?
In general, the use of intelligent automation will increase significantly. This is also confirmed by our annual work CGI Customer Survey. A new addition is that conversational AI is used for internal training purposes. For example, virtual customers can be designed for training purposes, where employees practice real-world sales and service conversations. However, in the future the voice interface will become more important in the business context. Customers will be able to make purchases, book appointments or send orders at any time via their smartphone, without the hassle of typing.
A virtual assistant cannot and will not completely replace humans.
Can the hypothetical agent also assess emotional states or read facial expressions in the future?
Yes, that will be possible in the future. The technologies here are already very advanced and are constantly being developed. Conversational AI is enriched with more and more data and skills in order to recognize faces and capture a customer’s emotional state from facial expressions or speech. CGI has been successfully implementing such solutions for several years. In Finland, for example, it is used to assess mood at concerts.
In what situations does a virtual agent reach its limits in the future and have to resort to the intervention of a human contact?
We won’t be able to give AI our “inner sense” so quickly – it remains questionable whether this will ever be possible. In addition, reservations about putting decisions entirely in the hands of AI will remain. And there will still be customers who would rather talk to a real person or reject virtual customers altogether. After all, it has to do with relationships and emotions. A virtual assistant cannot and will not completely replace people, but it will always provide better support.
Also read: Conversational Commerce – How Online Retailers Are Making the Most of the New Trend.
Andreas J. Wick is the Director of Intelligent Process Automation at CGI.
“Certified gamer. Problem solver. Internet enthusiast. Twitter scholar. Infuriatingly humble alcohol geek. Tv guru.”