A New Era Of Emerging Technologies: Welcome To The Age Of Intelligence

A New Era Of Emerging Technologies: Welcome To The Age Of Intelligence

If it wasn’t clear how critical customer experience (CX) is to business success in the digital age, Harley Manning, Forrester’s VP and research director serving CX professionals, recently shared this sobering prediction for 2020: One in four CX leaders will get fired this year if they cannot improve CX to ensure revenue gains or cost savings.

Indeed, more than half of consumers (54%) say CX at most companies needs some work, and a third (32%) will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience, according to PwC.

But here’s the good news: In the years ahead, CX leaders will have at their disposal an array of advanced technologies capable of transforming customer experiences.

In fact, we are on the cusp of a new era of emerging technologies that Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis calls the “intelligence wave,” and it's bringing us machines that are learning how to see, hear, sense, and interpret the world around us. New, immersive technologies will create breakthrough experiences that extend into the physical world--beyond the screen of a mobile phone or lens of a pair of smart glasses.

What’s more, there is “a pervasive intelligence fabric that is being established across hardware, software, and a new ecosystem that's going to power all these new experiences,” Parasnis said during his keynote address at the Adobe Tech Summit.

Ready to ride the intelligence wave? CMO.com by Adobe talked to experts about some emerging technologies that will have the most profound impact on CX, as well as some early examples and considerations before moving ahead.

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Conversational AI

Conversational AI is not a single technology but rather a combination of multiple capabilities, including machine learning (ML), conversational user interfaces, natural language processing (NLP), and leading-edge design, to name a few.

“Conversational AI interfaces—from text and chatbots to voice assistants—will leverage more robust machine learning technologies, making them more predictive and allowing businesses to serve customers more quickly and efficiently,” said Philip Say, vice president of innovation product management at experience design agency Sutherland Labs.

In the simplest terms, conversational AI “is really about giving a voice to brands,” said Aaron Reich, global emerging tech lead at Avanade, an IT consulting firm. It can enable always-on support with the potential for an enhanced experience at a time when 51% of executives ranked ensuring a proper personality or a connection to the brand a top priority, according to Avanade’s research.

Enterprise adoption is being spurred by consumers now accustomed to interacting with voice-activated smart devices like Amazon Echo. Indeed, Gartner analysts called chatbots the face of AI in the enterprise and the No. 1 customer service and support use case for the near future. It’s more than a command-and-control interface, too, Parasnis said—it’s a new model for creating more fluid conversations and experiences.

There are already some early use cases. For example, Quaker Oats created a Facebook Messenger bot named Otis to walk customers through the customer journey: finding products, discovering new recipes, setting reminders to make overnight oats, and offering customer support. The brand increased conversations by 13% without any dedicated media or marketing support.

There's also Erica, Bank of America's virtual financial assistant, which in December passed the 10 million user mark. In the beauty industry, hair product manufacturer Kenra offers salon stylists a voice assistant for hands-free help with color conversions, mixing instructions, and processing times.

The barrier to entry for many conversational AI apps is low, but the cost of a bad experience is high, so proceed with diligence and develop a clear business case, experts advised.


Jay Baer, Founder, Convince & Convert
“Sure, you can make a fun voice app, but just like in the early days of mobile, the best use cases in the first wave are, 'How do we use voice to save time and hassle?'”
Jay Baer, Founder, Convince & Convert

Look for hindrances to scaling during the proof-of-concept phase and work with vendors that support multiple applications, advised Gartner analysts in their hype cycle report. And be wary of over-automation. “A human element is still required when it comes to service,” said David Clarke, PwC's global chief experience officer.

Emotion Detection And Recognition

Recognizing emotions is something humans are able to do at an early age. Now computers are catching up, as algorithms learn how to detect human affect based on input from multiple channels. In fact, the market for emotion detection, or recognition software, is predicted to reach $24.74 billion this year.

“As organizations seek to understand customer experiences across multiple channels, customers’ emotional state will become an important dimension to consider,” Gartner analyst Werner Goertz wrote in the company’s customer service and support technology hype cycle report. “AI-enabled emotion recognition brings emotional intelligence to the digital world, transforming not only how humans interact with technology, but especially how humans interact with each other.”

Machine learning algorithms can learn how to interpret human emotion by analyzing speech patterns, facial expressions, gestures and postures, skin physiology, or respiration, for example. Some systems on the market today can provide a high level of emotion detection accuracy through facial recognition, Goertz noted, with AI- and cloud-enabled video and image analytics and test-mining tools getting better as well.

Talk about a whole new level of customer experience.

“Businesses are turning to AI for emotional intelligence, going beyond general customer interests to what customers are interested in at the moment,” said Wipro Digital President Rajan Kohli. “This deeper level of personalization creates a more accurate and helpful customer experience, so that consumers receive experiences that are suited for their unique context and circumstance.”

In addition, Gartner predicts that artificial emotional intelligence (AEI) will influence more than half of digital ads by 2024. “In fact, we view AEI-based advertising as the next frontier for better consumer engagement and deeper customer understanding,” said Kristina LaRocca-Cerrone, a director with Gartner for Marketers, in a separate interview with CMO by Adobe.

MetLife began using algorithms in call centers to monitor the emotional state of both its agents and its customers, which it says has helped employees become more empathetic and efficient. Global food and candy maker Mars participated in the first and largest research study tying facial reactions and emotional responses to sales effectiveness. It found that facial coding and emotion analytics more accurately predicted short-term sales than relying on self-reporting alone, and combining all three provided the best sales prediction results, with an accuracy of 75%. (Chocolate ads produced the highest emotional engagement.)

Consider whether the application of emotion detection could significantly improve the CX, advised Gartner's Goertz. Companies already using speech analytics can assess the additional benefit of adding emotion detection capabilities. But handle with care: Emotion analytics can point you in the right direction, but it should be applied in conjunction with other data. In addition, there are privacy concerns to take into account, particularly if analyzing emotion without consent.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)

Immersive experiences, enabled by virtual and augmented reality capabilities, are still early on in their development. But they are “potentially the most disruptive experience shifts of the next decade,” Adobe’s Parasnis said.


Abhay Parasnis, CTO, Adobe
“There is an iPhone moment coming for immersive media, and we better be ready.”
Abhay Parasnis, CTO, Adobe

Expected advances in glasses and other hardware as well as content delivery systems to fuel this transformation in which “content actually becomes more aware of physical world, much the same way Google Maps democratized the notion of using GPS to actually give you directions for a 2D world,” Parasnis said.

“The best AR today helps you visualize your future life with a product,” says Virgil Wong, global practice head of digital experience at consultancy HGS Digital. Other examples of current and future applications for AR and VR include contextual instructions for setting up, repairing, and maintaining complex products and equipment; CX centers that use VR/AR to showcase services and solutions; and the augmentation of human field service.

“What we call extended reality experiences, which include mixed, virtual, and augmented realities, represent a fundamental transformation in CX,” said Raffaella Camera, global head of innovation and market strategy at Accenture Extended Reality.

AR is the “secret power” behind emerging direct-to-consumer brands, such as Warby Parker with its virtual glasses try-ons, Convince & Convert's Baer pointed out. Sephora's “Virtual Artist" lets customers test and try on different cosmetics using their smartphone camera in selfie mode. Lowe’s Innovation Labs offers a variety of visualization tools that enable do-it-yourself’ers to see how products will work or fit in their homes. InterContinental Hotels Group’s XR Event Planner puts event planners and hotel sales staff side-by-side in a virtual 3D reconstruction of an event space, allowing them to remotely envision and configure the layout in real time.

But don’t just adopt AR/VR for its own sake. “First, give careful thought to the specific challenge you are solving for,” Accenture's Camera told CMO by Adobe. “From there, you can assess how to go about developing and implementing the technology at scale.”

AR can help in areas like remote support, access to information, and training. But know that AR and VR experiences can require a lot of custom code, IT support, and ongoing maintenance. Agile development methodologies can help to compress development cycles.  

Blockchain

No longer in its infancy, blockchain technology is more than just cryptocurrency. It is essentially self-managing distributed ledger systems, which has the potential to bring its key traits—building trust and increasing transparency—to developing great customer experiences.

“Most organizations are still learning about the potential use cases of blockchain for customer interactions,” Gartner analyst Nadine LeBlanc wrote in the firm’s customer service and support technology hype cycle report. “Blockchain-based disruption can optimize and, in certain cases, transform the way organizations deliver services and engage with their customer beyond the organization’s boundaries.”

And as it matures, “it could be used to transform processes like customer onboarding, problem diagnosis, delivery management, asset tracking, dispute resolution, and more,” according to LeBlanc. “The benefits will include enabling multi-party customer service and more accurate predictive customer service because of the ability of blockchain to provide identity management or proof of a sequence of events."

“There have been several recent examples in the news of blockchain being used to connect consumers with a product’s origins,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president of corporate development at GS1 US. For example, Farmer Connect uses blockchain to enabled consumers to trace the journey of raw materials that make up its coffee.

Meanwhile, MIT researchers built an app around placing a patient’s health data on a blockchain where it could be read and updated by multiple doctors; a record would be made of each change, with patients having control over who sees the data. Lo3Energy’s Pando platform uses blockchain technology to let homeowners directly sell energy they have generated from rooftop solar panels. 

Gartner’s LeBlanc advised starting with a small pilot and taking advantage of existing tech providers that offer blockchain technologies or services. As blockchain is the least mature of these emerging technologies, due diligence especially around security and privacy is key.

“For companies testing emerging technology to make an impact with their consumer base, the focus must really be on the network of trading partners sharing data and then trusting in that data,” Nuce said.

Giving customers data control and self-service access to the blockchain functionality will help to increase trust in the capabilities, LeBlanc added.

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