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It was many years ago when I first heard people talking about “cognitive technology”— mostly in academics, and those in Hollywood who painted scenarios of fully humanoid robots taking over the world. As the years passed, the discussions grew and the terms changed—machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and of course, artificial intelligence (AI)—but the undertone was always there how real is this technology and should we embrace it or be afraid of it?

Clearly, we’ve come a long way since those early days and cognitive technology has become a normal part of almost every consumer’s daily life, whether they are aware of it or not. Interactions with brands on social media, an interaction with a help desk, even asking Siri or Alexa a question is employing some type of cognitive technology. The pace of this adoption is also accelerating. Why— because it makes our lives easier. That singular motivation will continue to drive organizations of all types and sizes to move more rapidly in understanding and deploying some level of cognitive technology in their operations.

The adoption rate of voice-assisted devices alone will create a new channel of engagement between humans and machines well beyond the pace of anything we’ve experienced in the past. With over 100 million active voice-enabled devices in use today, we are essentially talking to the robots that Hollywood envisioned decades ago. The AI behind these devices will continue to learn and create personas that are unique to their users. These devices will learn your favorite route to work and alert you in your morning briefing to take a different path given the accident that just happened.

AI and other will enable organizations to completely re-imagine their customer interactions and create real personalized engagement, a prerequisite for true customer loyalty

They will learn what characters your children prefer and tailor bedtime stories to fit each child’s unique personality. They will not only just answer questions, but recommend alternatives based upon learning your individual likes and dislikes.

The drive toward AI-enabled voice devices across your home, car and workplace will quickly drive adoption given its convenience. It will no longer be necessary to type anything—we’ll have all come full circle from using our voice for phone calls to going to fingers for email to thumbs for texting and now back to voice—but this time, we’re talking to everything around us—not just our phones!

This migration from a consumer perspective should not only encourage, but compel organizations and brands to completely rethink how their interactions and experiences need to change in the future. Consumers will expect to interact with brands as part of their daily lives, engaging in conversations on multiple platforms whenever and wherever they may be. These requirements will need to an integral part of every organization’s technology and marketing strategies.

But where do you start and how do you ensure your investments in this new technology drive a Return on Investment (ROI) versus just supplying some PR in the press? The key is to use the Consumer as your guide and create “use cases” from their perspective, not your organization. How will this new effort drive a consumer to spend more time with your Brand? How will it encourage a +1 visit or +1 dollar in their basket? How will it affect their perception of your brand—will they be more loyal, a greater promoter? Basically, will the technology make your customers’ lives easier, better, more convenient, etc.

Once you’ve defined the cases from a consumer perspective, the key next step is to understand how to make it work for your organization. There is an underlying fear that these cognitive technologies will replace your internal resources. While that may happen for very manual activities moving forward, the reality is that these technologies don’t replace, but augment and provide scale capabilities to the resources you already have.

As more of these consumer interactions occur, the level of detail and time required will not allow a few individuals to engage with millions or even thousands of customers. Allowing the “machine” to handle the majority of the common questions and interactions allows the existing team to focus on higher, value-added and more complex conversations and/or more valuable consumers. Additionally, the AI supports more timely and actionable recommendations for the existing team so that they are more productive and reactive to consumer needs—instead of “artificial intelligence”, it can be viewed as “augmented intelligence” for the teams. Imagine the AI technology suggesting appropriate responses and resolution actions to a call-center representative based upon the specific history of the consumer on the phone—presenting it in real-time and driving a much higher level of service for the customer.

Finally, it is imperative to get “early wins” in these efforts. Starting small and creating measurable results to highlight the value of these technologies will begin to create momentum within the organization and drive more “pull” for additional efforts moving forward. At the end of the day, AI and other cognitive technologies will enable organizations to completely re-imagine their customer interactions and create real personalized engagement—a prerequisite for true customer loyalty. The future is here and changing rapidly. Brands should actively begin to initiate their own efforts to utilize cognitive technologies across their organizations and learn to love, not fear the Machines.

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