• February 1, 2017
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Look for AI’s Role in CRM to Grow

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There is a lot of debate about whether robot overlords powered by artificial intelligence will one day take over the world. Physicist Stephen Hawking, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Tesla Motors CEO and Space-X cofounder Elon Musk have all expressed concerns that AI could develop to the point that humans can no longer control it. Hawking said in 2014 that “success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.” Musk, during a recent speech at MIT, even likened advances in artificial intelligence to “summoning a demon.”

Luckily, not all tech experts are as fearful of AI as Hawking and Musk. In fact, the White House in late December released a report in which it praised AI as “essential to improving the U.S. ­economy.”

On the CRM front, AI has already found a home in many innovative ways, from virtual agents and chatbots to voice biometrics, analytics, and marketing campaign optimization. Its potential in CRM is boundless, as Constellation Research’s Ray Wang points out in this month’s Customer Experience column. AI, Wang posits, has the power to “orchestrate, automate, and deliver mass personalization at scale.”

Wang suggests that AI “will play a key role in defining business models for customer experience,” and takes it a step further: “Every brand and customer experience will move from automation to intelligence,” he predicts.

Fellow analyst Paul Greenberg, in this month’s Connect column, also shares a rosy outlook for CRM infused with AI. “It will genuinely benefit businesses and at the same time benefit customers perhaps even more,” he writes.

Greenberg also maintains that among AI’s greatest contributions to CRM will be the ability for deep personalization at scale, but beyond that, it will have a role in sifting through the massive amounts of data available. “We can no longer handle the volume of data and communications usefully without advances like AI,” he writes.

That’s the case made in one of our feature stories this month. In the article “How to Avoid Sales Tool Sensory Overload,” Associate Editor Oren Smilansky points out that sales data overload is “cutting away” at reps’ ability to focus on the sales activities that lead to results. The article cites an Accenture study that found that 59 percent of sales executives said they have too many sales tools to be effective. More than 55 percent said they would miss their annual sales targets largely because of data overload.

That’s not the only time when companies can have a wealth of information but don’t know how to use it effectively. This is a common problem when it comes to the thousands of reviews that show up on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and others every day, as demonstrated in our feature story “Customer Reviews Require the Right Response,” by Phillip Britt. Far too many companies are not capitalizing on this valuable, and free, user content, and AI should be able to help there as well.

Conversely, there are areas where there is no such thing as too much intelligence. The White House report calls out fraud detection as one of those areas. With advances in AI, technology will make near-real-time or just-in-time fraud detection and prevention much more of a reality. But because fraud is such an adaptive crime, ongoing development is needed to stay ahead of perpetrators, the report argues.

The White House report does approach AI development with some caution, however, but not from some Orwellian fear of computer domination. “AI has already begun to transform the American workplace, changing the types of jobs available and the skills that workers need to thrive. AI raises many new policy questions, which should be continued topics for discussion and consideration by future administrations, Congress, the private sector, and the public.”

So it would seem that AI technology will march on, despite what Hawking and Musk have to say. CRM will undoubtedly continue to be a leading beneficiary.

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