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The AI and automation revolution: Are chatbots pushing you to shop more?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya)

Nowadays businesses have to compete fiercely for every customer, the reality is that providing a good product is no longer enough. Companies are striving to find new and innovative ways to attract customers, deliver excellent services and retain customer loyalty. One of the key technologies driving this customer engagement is AI chatbots. With everyone from Amazon to Domino’s using them, what does the integration of chatbots and other AI-solutions mean for consumers and the salespeople they’re challenging?

For organisations looking to reduce costs, chatbot’s have clear appeal- zero marginal costs. Moreover, new research from Sichuan University and Fudan University has revealed that chatbots outsell humans by four times. Performing better than their human counterparts and reducing costs, adopting chatbots should be a no-brainer. However, the same study found that as soon as consumers discover they’re talking to AI, the likelihood of converting a sale drops dramatically. This indicates that consumers aren’t ready for the AI and automation revolution. While consumers may be uncomfortable with the ‘robot salesman’, the reality is that AI and automation are already powering a host of processes behind the scenes that enhance the customer experience.

Chatbots: AI in disguise

Simply, chatbots are able to outperform traditional salespeople thanks to AI and machine learning integrations. With these, chatbots can automate a range of tasks once considered exclusive to humans. In the 20th century, the Turing Test was allegedly a conclusive measure of whether computers could hold human intelligence. The test required a human participant to speak to both a human and a computer - without indicating which was which. The test was passed if the participant couldn’t distinguish the computer from a human. Considered impossible for decades, AI is now sufficiently advanced that customers are regularly communicating with chatbots that pass this test without realising it.

Complex tasks such as mimicking human speech are becoming accessible to computers through the use of AI and these capabilities are only expected to increase. Chatbots are only one part of the tide of AI-integrations augmenting sales. The latest AIs are capable of interpreting and matching images, recognising patterns in data, making recommendations and predicting outcomes. While impressive in their own right, chatbots barely tap into the potential that AI has to offer.

Just as chatbots are automating the time-consuming task of engaging potential customers, AI-integrations are augmenting equally important back-end sales tasks. By alleviating the pressure to perform these tasks salespeople can direct their focus to value-on activities. This not only allows salespeople to improve their performance, but enables them to focus on the customer experience.

Automation is delivering the goods

More than augmenting tasks for salespeople, AI is changing the way goods are bought and sold. At all steps of the sales process, AI has the capacity to streamline processes and drive efficiencies. Not only does this mean a more efficient salesperson, it means a vastly improved customer experience.

AI has a role to play at the beginning of the sales journey in lead generation. Using chatbots, AIs quickly determine which potential customers are interested and which are a poor time-investment. While this saves the salesperson countless hours, this also benefits the customer who will no longer have to field calls from eager salespeople. In sales forecasting, AI can determine which products customers are likely to buy based on their online activity and search terms. As a result, customers are being offered only the products they are actually interested in.

Death of a salesman?

Boasting an array of offerings for customers and salespeople, AI is building momentum in sales. However, with much of AI’s appeal residing in automating jobs performed by humans, we should ask how this effects the future of work. Some claim the writing is on the wall: robots are taking our jobs.

Looking to other industries that have made use of automation, it’s clear where this argument originates. In banking, for instance, tellers have been replaced by Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and in the service industry self-service kiosks have replaced the role of cashiers. While these examples may be cause for concern amongst salespeople - there is one important distinction. Unlike a bank teller or a cashier, sales requires a human touch. As the research from Sichuan University and Fudan University proves - nobody wants to buy from a robot.

The future of work for salespeople is one where AI is an ally and not the competition. AI-solutions, such as chatbots, are inevitably going to become more deeply ingrained in the sales process, but as long as a human touch is required - humans will still be a central component. In the meantime, AI is making the work of salespeople easier, and the customer experience greater though doing all the heavy lifting. Chatbots, while they might not be pushing you to shop more, might make it a more enjoyable experience.

Vinay Ramani, Chief Product Officer, Pipedrive