AI can go beyond the hype, but to do so must start delivering ROI

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Despite much industry discussion and even more hype and press attention over the past few years, artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that is yet to truly reach its full potential. AI’s power to automate certain tasks within an organisation and bring significant computing power to data analytics mean that it does hold a lot of appeal. Yet despite some early adopters already seeing fantastic return on investment (ROI) from their AI, for the most part it is yet to impact the business mainstream in a meaningful way.

Some organisations are still in discussion mode, seeing how AI might be best deployed in their business. Others have dipped a tentative toe in the water on smaller AI projects to see if it adds value to their organisation, while there are others that are yet to even entertain the use of AI, too conservative or too fixed on traditional approaches.

There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most important is that some organisations see AI as a ‘one size fits all’ solution, capable of solving any number of enterprise challenges. To a large extent this is true – AI is a highly versatile technology that can be applied to address many different issues and challenges, and to improve many different processes within a business.

But AI deliver better results when deployed for a particular or specific purpose. The next 18 months could be a pivotal period in the evolution of AI - there is certainly an appetite for it to succeed – but for that to happen it must be applied to specific uses and it must deliver ROI. This is the ultimate bench test for any technology. It has to give value back to the business and that value has to be quantifiable.

Here are some of the most powerful ways and applications to get AI working and delivering ROI in your organisation:

Reducing customer churn

Churn is a significant threat to most businesses in most industries. With customers – both enterprises and consumers – having more choice of product and service than ever before, and finding it easier to change providers than ever before, improving loyalty and reducing customer churn is a major objective for most organisations. Key to achieving this lies in understanding those customers better – what are they interested in, what can they be offered that would really make a difference to them, where might any potential issues with service arise and what can organisations do to address these before they even occur?

But most CRM systems only deal with structured data, and the data with true customer insight is unstructured, such as social content, email conversations and service call scripts. By deploying AI to empower their CRM platform, an organisation can extract fresh and insightful meaning from their unstructured data, which will give much more help when managing and improving the overall customer experience.

The insight gleaned can be used to pre-empt any potential issues a customer might be having, and the right AI technology will even make recommendations as to the best course of action to take, based on analysis of previous incidents and what is most likely to be of benefit to the customer. Delivering such service to customers via AI can have a significant impact on customer churn.

The knowledge economy is a paradox. Never has it been so important for knowledge workers to locate the right information in their organisation in as short a time as possible, yet the technology and approach behind traditional search has never been more unsuited to these requirements.

Improving enterprise search is one area in which AI can really deliver. The right AI engine will deliver automatic context, insights, and next steps to a knowledge worker, anticipating their needs by analysing their activity and habits over a period of time and recommending the most helpful information to them.

In just the same way as consumers show Amazon what they are interested in through their browsing and purchase history, AI-based enterprise search will deliver similarly accurate results to knowledge workers. With recent McKinsey research revealing that employees spend on average 1.8 hours every single day searching for and gathering information, a more effective and efficient enterprise search is desperately needed – AI is the answer, and can save organisations countless man hours and resources with smarter and more contextual search.

Delivering up-sell and cross-sell opportunities

A deeper understanding of an organisation’s customers can not only help address churn, but it can also really make a difference when it comes to up-selling and cross-selling, key deployments in a competitive business landscape. Knowing when to make an offer, what that offer should be and how it should be delivered is vital knowledge for any sales executive or account manager, and AI-driven customer understanding can help drive sales across the enterprise.

Users can search for new insights on competitors, partners, markets, individuals and much more, all of which deepens their knowledge of each customer and allows them to know when and how to up-sell or cross-sell. AI can also help a user understand and be aware of all interactions and engagement with a customer.

Using AI analytics a user can look at an organisation’s unstructured data – including all emails sent - in real-time to reveal who within the supplier knows who within the customer organisation, when they contacted them and what it was about. This invaluable insight into customer relationships is a key attribute when approaching up-selling or cross-selling with clients.

As AI moves through the hype cycle we are approaching the period when it should start being deployed much more widely than it has been to date, moving away from the early adopters towards a more mainstream business audience. But key to this deployment is for organisations to apply it to specific issues or processes within their business - the efficiency driven approach of deploying AI. Approached in this way, results (and ROI) will soon follow and AI will become a trusted business tool to many. 

Dorian Selz, co-founder and CEO, Squirro
Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock