How Robots are Invading Commerce and Sales Enablement

The Increasing Role of AI in Customer Journeys and Lifecycles

What if I told you that consumers are now happy to give up personal information in exchange for quality conversations with robots?  Let me provide some context to that question.  In my research over the past few months most recent studies show that consumers don't mind giving up their personal details if the value in return is perceived as fair.  As evidence, let me reference the extraordinary popularity this year of smart speakers powered by voice enabled digital assistants (VEDAs) such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant.  VEDAs enable what Capgemini calls "Conversational Commerce."  Conversational commerce is when VEDAs help users shop and buy things through an AI supported voice interface.  In order for them to be effective, they capture huge amounts of personal data, and consumers don't seem to mind at all.

How important is it then for companies to support "conversational commerce" today and in the near future?  In a recent survey of 5,000 consumers conducted by Capgemini*, 24% of surveyed consumers prefer VEDAs over shopping on a mobile apps or website today, and this number jumps to 40% when asked about their anticipated preferences three years from now.  This giant leap in popularity from 0% just 4 years ago to 40% preferring VEDAs by 2020 suggests that consumers realize a high value in them.

When asked about their preferences for using VEDAs, or visiting a physical retail shop or bank branch, 20% said they prefer VEDAs today, while this number jumps to 31% by 2020.  Nearly a third will prefer to interact with robots instead of humans within 3 years (35 months from now).  That is a massive change in a very short period of time, and this should raise the alarm for all C-level folks, especially those involved in sales enablement.  The robots are on the march.

There are many questions the C-suite should be asking themselves today.

  1. What sales enablement processes and tools must change to support VEDAs?
  2. Does the value of VEDAs stop at sales enablement, or is it equally as valuable for customer service and other areas of customer and partner interactions?
  3. What IT systems must change to support it?
  4. How do I integrate VEDAs across all my channels?
  5. How do I take advantage of the value found in conversational commerce solutions internally?  Do my employees also prefer VEDAs instead of a plethora of mobile apps and web portals?
  6. How can I implement VEDA supported commerce?  (Google recently announced that over 40 major retailers are partnering with them to support voice enabled shopping.)
  7. What data management and data privacy processes and policies must change (in addition to the impact of GDPR in May of 2018).
  8. How do I integrate a combination of both humans and robots into a complex customer journey to optimize our customers' experiences?

VEDAs of course are software robots supported by artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, CRMs, CMSs and personalization engines.  None of these function effectively without good and complete data.  When a third of your customers prefer using VEDAs to interact with your brand, then you had better be feeding your VEDAs the largest amount and highest quality data possible.

Companies can often get away with being laggards - slow to upgrade and digitally transform back-office systems, but companies cannot afford to be laggards in customer facing sales and marketing interactions.  Consumers' expectations and behaviors are changing at an accelerating rate, and increasingly driven by changing digital technologies.  Digital transformation within the sales enablement process cannot be ignored or delayed.

Now let's return to Capgemini's study*, more than two-thirds of VEDA users want them to be personalized, and to demonstrate an understanding of context, such as providing relevant recommendations, while understanding different languages and accents.  In fact, 60% of VEDA users said they want them to anticipate their needs!!!  All of this requires a great deal of personal data, but that seems OK with VEDA users.

For those of you following me, I have recently joined Regalix.com as Senior Vice President of Solutions Strategy. Regalix is focused on helping the world's largest companies bring together the best digital strategies, technologies, processes and people to deliver exceptional customer experiences, journeys and successes through the combination of best in class thinking, artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, automation, process management and services.

Now instead of just pontificating and writing about digital transformation and strategies, I must now deliver. Sounds like a fun challenge! If your company is in need of help in any of these areas just raise your hand!

*Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute, Conversational Commerce Survey, October-November 2017. N=5,041 consumers in the US, UK, France and Germany.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict serves as the Senior Vice President, Solutions Strategy, at Regalix, a Silicon Valley based company, focused on bringing the best strategies, digital technologies, processes and people together to deliver improved customer experiences, journeys and success through the combination of intelligent solutions, analytics, automation and services. He is a popular writer, speaker and futurist, and in the past 8 years he has taught workshops for large enterprises and government agencies in 18 different countries. He has over 32 years of experience working with strategic enterprise IT solutions and business processes, and he is also a veteran executive working with both solution and services companies. He has written dozens of technology and strategy reports, over a thousand articles, interviewed hundreds of technology experts, and produced videos on the future of digital technologies and their impact on industries.

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