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Marketers: You Need to Keep Evolving

It’s clear that marketing has drastically changed in the last decade. The rise of digital, accompanied by its ever-evolving technologies in mobile and advertising will build a perpetual environment of test and learn. As well, continuous emergence of audience platforms will create a nomadic culture that follows the fickle consumer paths. Ultimately, this will dictate the sustainability of platforms.

Marketing has been one organizational function that has succumb to tremendous pressure to evolve in the last decade. It’s turned both ad agencies and companies on their ears, furiously attempting to learn and adapt, while desperately hanging on to what they already know.

Perhaps it’s time to let go. If there ever was a time to accept change it’s now. In my personal experience, and from what you’ll read,

- I’ve witnessed an incredible evolution in the digital space by way of technology and targeting,

- I’ve also witnessed rapid changes in consumer consumption and the increasing fragmentation of media,

- Adapting and learning has been integral in helping me evolve with the market demand.

Consumers have changed the game for marketers.

No longer do we have only a few mediums for content consumption. In as little as 2 decades we’ve moved beyond just TV, radio, print, billboards. We’ve also raced beyond the standard network channels, the key national newspapers.

As consumers our attention has moved to sites that speak to our own areas of interest. They may not necessarily be as popular or as known. Our peers greatly influence what we do and where we go. But, our ever trusted smart phones gives us access to inform us about the things we want, when we want them and where we want them.

This always-on economy is not about to die down. The growing consumer expectations will mandate companies to have greater visibility into where their customers are, what they’re saying, their preferences, their preferred channels and modes of communication. The growing pressure to keep the “owned” and “earned” channels “on” will challenge the business to become much more responsive than ever before.

Marketers are slowly becoming obsolete.

As marketers, our roles have been forced to evolve. It hasn’t been easy. Coupled with this consumer evolution we’re witnessing, the economic times have changed the way we operate. No longer is marketing a cost centre. We are now more accountable than ever. The old performance measures which we were accustomed to need to change. We need to evolve beyond the mindset of traditional mediums, and embrace the inherent benefits of digital and where it’s going.

Becoming obsolete is a reality in today’s fast-moving environment. Yes, today’s marketer needs to leave their comfort zone and venture into an environment that does not seems to want to sit still. Luckily, it doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the principles they’ve learned along the way. It just means evolving their thinking and applying these same principles to the new mediums.

1. Data is the new norm: The promise of big data brings with it enormous benefits that can now inform customer preferences, propensities; identify relevant prospects in real-time; distill meaning from reams of information where it impacts competitive or brand reputation. The opportunities to target more granularly beyond just “company”-collected transactions provides profound instances to find the right customer, at the right time, in the right channels, with the right message. The need for strong data analysts to compile this information across multiple platforms and mediums will be an essential component to effectively target for acquisition; improve retention rates and optimize for real-time performance.

2. Agility is imperative: Gone are the days of relying on historical data. These days, any data point longer than 30 days is too old and therefore, irrelevant. Gone are the days when media plans or strategies are “baked”. No longer are we required (or should we be required) to sit and wait for results. With data becoming more embedded in our daily work, marketers must work towards a more agile environment: This means becoming more data responsive to an increasingly  fragmented and splintered market,  having the structures and processes to change tactics on the fly.

3. Value is the new currency: One of the hardest lessons for marketers to have learned was to refrain from leading with overt company or product messages. “Leading with value” has become a difficult principle to adopt, after years of “me-me-me” communications. Declining performance of digital ad units means marketers must rethink content from the position of the customer. The rise of editorial as an essential function within marketing will be necessary to instil this new discipline.

4. Customer convergence has arrived: All mediums are converging. Appointment TV is dead. The customer dictates the content they want to consume, across multiple mediums, the times they want it.  On-demand mediums will challenge the marketer as consumers move swiftly between tablets to smartphone to television. The new ways of targeting customers across multiple-platforms now allows the marketer more long-tail opportunities that will augment and support traditional mass targeting.

5. Customer experience mandates an always-on presence: A more informed customer expects consumers today an optimal experience that “allows them to shop and receive their purchases where they want, when they want and how they want.” This means providing the ‘continuous experience’ across brands, devices and format: mobile internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog etc. Today’s marketer is channel-agnostic and is aware of sites, platforms and channels the customer is researching, eliciting recommendations, price-comparing and ultimately, buying.

6. Sustainability, not campaigns: The value of social media as an open channel two-way conversations now provides brands with the ability to not only build relationships, but benefit from the effort and commitment to nurture customer relationships through these channels. Word of Mouth and Advocacy are strong indicators of brands doing it right. The value of organic traffic that results from content value, social consistency and customer-commitment, will surpass the more costly campaign-driven ad-buys and promotions.

7. Social cannot be outsourced: Agencies will never be able to truly be able to build effective community management services. This function needs to live within the organization. Customer relationships with brands cannot be fostered via surrogate means, and then adopted into the organization. Only employees within the organization, with the proper knowledge and solutions, can effectively troubleshoot customer complaints and provide the right responses in the expected timeframe. An emerging discipline in community /customer relationship management will be critical to gauge the pulse of the community and to bridge the gap with the organization.

8. Context is key: Google has gone beyond just keyword and now tries to extract real meaning from what people search or speak about. Semantic algorithms go this one step further and now give marketers the tools to truly understand what people need and want. It’s here that will help predict and define areas the brand can connect and provide value to customers.

9. Customer-centric needs to be the standard: As digital grows up, the areas mentioned above will move companies to start to shift in ways that puts the needs of the customers at the centre of the organization. One-to-one marketing will a reality as data allows us to truly customize experiences for each customer. Retention will get increasingly harder as mediums and platforms rise and fall with the nomadic consumer and Facebook and Twitter become less standard platforms. Where pundits have prophesied the death of marketing, a more responsive, dynamic and collaborative organization will take its place.

10. A dynamic organization is a social organization: The result of these changes will inevitably move away from marketing and become embedded in all parts of the organization. A responsive, dynamic organization means that PR, HR, Product development, Inventory Management, Operations will need seamless communication channels to properly receive and disseminate information intra and outside the company to stakeholders and customers. The future CMO, in my opinion, will become more operations-minded but will rely on the collective organization to function effectively.

Marketing is no longer a discipline with best practices and tried and true techniques. As long as technology exists, and media evolves, consumers will continue to find new ways to connect and consume information. What’s clear is that these days our traditional definition of longevity is short-lived. Not only does the marketer need to morph with the times, the organization does as well.

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Meet Eliza, the Mother of AI

                                                             

Meet Eliza, the Mother of AI..

Today, Artificial Intelligence seems to be the buzz of every major enterprise. Salesforce is formally announcing Einstein this fall, IBM has worked on Watson for years now, and after 20 years of working with AI, Microsoft has made a few attempts to bring the technology to the market. With all this activity, you may be asking yourself what kind of impact AI will have on you and your business, and where you might want to look to investigate the possibilities Artificial Intelligence represents.

Before we discuss how AI will impact customer support and consumer experience, and how you may leverage it in your contact center, I thought it would be fun to take a look where AI got its start.

The term AI was coined by computer scientist John McCarthyin 1956 who subsequently went on to create the Dartmouth Conference to advance the ideas and technologies associated with machine intelligence. While this collective of thought leaders and scientists made huge advancements through programs at MIT and others, most of their work was only circulated in academic fields.

Not many people were aware of Artificial Intelligence, how it worked or its potential uses, until around 1964 when MIT computer Scientist Joseph Weizenbaumwrote Eliza, a program based on Natural Language Processingthat was able to successfully question and respond to human interactions in such a way as to almost sound like a real human being. Eliza, with almost no information about human responses was able to use scripts and pattern  matching to simulate responses that might occur between two people.

The most famous of these simulations, highlighting  AI ability to intersect with modern needs and technology, was DOCTOR. DOCTOR was able to question and respond to a human in such a way so as to almost sound like an actual psychotherapist. As the human subject made statements, DOCTOR asked questions and made statements relevant to the conversation as if it were a present and conscious being… almost.

Over the years  computer scientists, whether academics or industry professionals,  have worked tirelessly to improve upon these developments with the hope of delivering a computer program capable not only to ask and respond, but to understand the context of a conversation. A program that can relate relevant data to responses, thus providing value to the human it’s conversing with, while helping to chart the course of the conversation, just as if you and I were talking over a cup of coffee or across a conference room table.

Why is this important, you may ask? With the introduction of Chatbots, we began to see some of the potential in Artificial Intelligence. Companies could now front-end customer chat interactions that allowed the company to be more responsive to its customers while shortening wait times and deflecting inquiries from the call center, which as we all know are hugely expensive.

The one problem with Chatbots? Customers hated dealing with limited technology that was cold, often incorrect, and frustrating. People are accustomed to dealing with the cold, sterile nature of technology when they type numbers in a phone to be routed but expected a human to be chatting with them. These negative experiences have made a number of companies a little gun shy about implementing true Artificial Intelligence. The last thing a business wants is a customer complaining, especially on Social Media, about a poor customer experience due to a bad interaction with technology.

There is a significant difference between Chatbot technology and true AI, consequently the outcomes and customer experience are proving to be very different. Where a Chatbot is more like an IVR, answering simple questions and routing customers to the correct agent, Artificial Intelligence is aware of the conversation and able to present relevant responses, thereby providing a faster response and shorter customer interaction times and better customer service. I mean, if Eliza’s DOCTOR could simulate a psychotherapist in 1964, what can AI do for your contact center in 2016?

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