Artificial Intelligence or AI is driving organizations across industries to reimagine their customer engagement strategies for better business success and outcomes. Sunil Mittal, EVP & Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, CSS Corp, explains to CXOToday how we are moving towards a conversational economy where a few spoken words can accomplish a business transaction.
CXOToday: Artificial Intelligence is a huge topic. What are some of the areas that you find are most exciting and have an immense opportunity in the near term?
Sunil Mittal: Demand for personalized consumer experiences across different industries is fueling the explosion of AI. Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today we have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years. We are moving towards a conversational economy where the voice is the new frontier. A few spoken words to a smart virtual assistant can help accomplish a seemingly complex business transaction. As AI technology matures, forward-thinking businesses are plugging in conversational AI in their strategic investment roadmaps to leverage it for their customer service function.
Today, voice assistants and social messaging have given birth to the intelligent experience economy and made the customer experience more conversational than transactional. For example, you can ask Apple’s voice assistant – Siri – to get you weather updates, find out and help you buy specific movies, play your favorite songs and a gamut of other specific activities. Amazon’s Alexa can help you perform several tasks for you like booking a doctor’s appointment; sports scores and game times; important event dates, hear the latest news; tracking traffic; manage calendars, to-do list and shopping list, set alarms and timers; read Kindle books and play audio books; make purchases; control smart home devices, etc.
Also, the new trend has given rise to Conversational commerce that refers to real-time customer communication through different messaging applications and chatbots. These platforms empower businesses to generate a sense of need for their products to potential customers, they also act as personal shopping assistants to customers. Many B2C businesses are using conversational intelligence with bots as a platform for offering customer support. We offer tech support services with this new conversational model that would field customers’ questions and help get more real-time access to resolutions. This boosts overall business efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
At CSS Corp, we have embarked on a new journey in AI to disrupt the customer experience ecosystem with a new model called “Conversational” that aims at simplifying and personalizing customer engagements through AI based Voice platforms. We offer AI-based solutions that enable customers to have powerful, impactful conversations with brands and helps them with insights and a new radical vision to solve a challenge. Our focus and investments in AI are helping enterprises adopt the right customer engagement and support strategy and help move from traditional models to new age service models that help them identify new revenue streams.
CXOToday: Gartner Says AI Technologies will be in almost every new software product by 2020. How are businesses using AI? What are some of the transformational benefits from AI?
Sunil Mittal: The human and AI relationship is evolving fast and making forecasts in today’s dynamic world. AI-fueled automation and predictive models have augmented human intelligence and helped many businesses drive revenue through predictability capabilities. Regardless of their customer base and business model, organizations in B2B and B2C are adopting AI capabilities that help to predict customer/system behavior, drive revenue and bring businesses closer to their customers and also streamline the operations thereby ramping up the productivity and flexibility through its adoption.
From a B2B environment, AI boosts predictive maintenance that allows for better prediction and avoidance of machine failure in industrial sectors. This, in turn, increases asset productivity and cuts down maintenance costs considerably. For instance, for a railroad and locomotive company, CSS Corp has deployed our AI based solution for predictive intelligence capabilities to pre-empt equipment failures, optimize daily operations and field resources. We constantly monitor customer’s sensor-based IoT devices and enable ideal failure prediction analysis with the use of real-time intelligence, image data analysis, acoustics data analysis, and operational intelligence.
From a B2C environment, AI is transforming the customer service space today with Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA). As per Gartner, VCAs yield phenomenal results like a 70% reduction in call and/or email inquiries, increased customer satisfaction, and a 33% saving per voice engagement. Organizations are positioning AI-powered VCAs at the center of their customer engagement strategy. CSS Corp has built Cognitive CX Platform an intelligent Virtual Assistant platform that aims at bringing together various technologies like AI, automation, and analytics with pre-built vertical assets, 360-degree customer context, intelligent process guidance, and actionable insights that enhance customer interactions.
CXOToday: What suggestions do you have for CEOs, CIOs, and other CXOs who have just started exploring the implications of AI for their business?
Sunil Mittal: Today’s digitally empowered, adventurous and experimental customer is the fundamental driver of all the business and technological changes. CEOs, CIOs and CXOs are facing some basic but tough questions and to what extent they need to go to:
(a) Get closer to the customer
(b) Deliver the simplest customer experiences to diverse customer segments across multiple products
In 2017, many new CIOs and CXOs have been facing a “deer in the headlights” moment since the subject of AI is so vast that they feel clueless as to where and how to start with AI. That it is a powerful and disruptive technology is a no-brainer but CIOs and CXOs need to collaborate with CEOs closely to make them understand the clear business case for AI and not take an immediate headlong plunge into the AI stream immediately.
Eventually, AI will be ubiquitous. The technology landscape is inundated with choices – from machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to Chatbots and recommendation engines. But the moot question is, are all businesses yet ready to adopt it? The CIOs and CXOs new to AI revolution must work out the business strategy part first and how it would get augmented if blended with AI. They must evaluate on how a good investment in machine learning will add a competitive edge to their product/service and whether adding AI to the business strategy will help in inching closer towards the customer with good service. They must try to understand if it will boost employees’ productivity, simplify customer experience and help them make better purchase decisions and monetize the business.
CXOToday: Given how quickly AI is rising, and skills shortage becoming a big issue, what suggestions do you have for filling in this gap?
Sunil Mittal: The benefits of the new age technology like AI are irresistible; however, this is hemmed in by lack of qualified talent to exploit it to its full potential. According to a survey by Tech Pro Research, only 28% of companies have some experience with AI or machine learning, and over 40% said their enterprise lack the skills required to implement and support AI and machine learning. In our opinion, it’s been a long time now that the industry has been fretting over the topics of “skill gap”. It becomes more pertinent in the age of AI. Though AI is increasingly acing the number of roles and tasks, we’re still a long time away from human jobs completely fading away from the scene. We can bridge this yawning skill gap by helping our workforce adapt to the jobs of the future through education. And, both the corporate and the governments need to participate and invest equally in imparting technical learning.
AI can also be used to fix this skill gap as it can provide personalized help to learners and identify successful teaching patterns. We, at CSS Corp, have developed a Digital Career Progression Framework called “Reimagine” which has been specifically built to fast-track employee reskilling initiatives within the organization. Our framework facilitates an innovative approach to employee up-skilling and cross-skilling in new age digital technologies. Nearly 30%- 40% of mid-level managers at CSS Corp are engaged in reskilling through this initiative, in niche digital technologies including AI, autonomics, augmented reality (AR), cloud, IoT, deep learning, and cognitive computing. The framework brings in greater personalization in employee learning, wherein employees can learn anytime, anywhere, and on any device through Virtual University, Massive open online course (MOOCs) and JAM (a collaborative tool). It has also created more career and growth opportunities for employees while seeing an overall drop in attrition. We recently won the NASSCOM Digital Skills 2017 award for having one of the best digital reskilling platforms in the Indian IT industry.
CXOToday: What are the top capabilities that are important in an AI solution that drives customer adoption?
Sunil Mittal: AI is proving to be one of the fastest-growing technology segments in 2017, and is being rapidly adopted by organizations, big or small. However, the top three capabilities in an AI solution that drive customer adoption are 1. Does the AI solution have good predictive capabilities? AI solutions are self-learning systems. Banks and financial institutions are widely using AI solutions based on machine learning models to detect credit frauds by analyzing customer’s past spending patterns and predict the transactions that the customer is likely to make and flag unusual activity if any. If we talk at the consumer level, Google Now is a great example of a self-learning application. This personal assistant tracks its user’s activities and interactions to collate and put together relevant information for the user on the smartphone. This application constantly improves based on the feedback it keeps getting from the user and its own learning algorithm.
2. Is it enterprise class? AI solution must fit in seamlessly, non-intrusively into the technology environment of the business. It must be a traceable solution that can undergo complete auditability. The AI solution must be fast, flexible, extensible and responsive. It should be able to adapt quickly to the changes. The AI solution under consideration must be able to address all the concerns of an enterprise such as growth, cost, compliance, and responsiveness. It should be able to bring in automation of high variability processes and legacy modernization into the business and tech environment, and trigger operational efficiency, which in turn will boost productivity and consequently drive revenue.
3. Does it offer a smooth customer experience? A good AI solution acts like a great customer service channel that provides a customer experience in which customers feel the same comfort interacting with a machine as they feel with a human. The solution must understand the content as well as the context of the customer’s feedback, questions or requests. Never-sleeping chatbots offer cost-effective, powerful customer support and never make the customers wait to get their problems resolved. The AI solution must be able to collect customer data from support interactions and analyze the same to offer personalized customer experience.
CXOToday: According to you what are the top three barriers of AI Adoption in an enterprise set up in India?
Sunil Mittal: As AI accelerates up the hype cycle, its adoption in an enterprise set up in India is still relatively low. We see the following top 3 barriers of AI adoption in India:
1. Lack of differentiation: With an increasing number of startups entering the AI space, enterprises are finding it tough to differentiate between one AI solution and another. With hundreds of AI vendors in the industry today claiming to be providing best-in-class AI solutions, enterprises are immensely confused about the true and clear AI capabilities of these vendors and what business problems these solutions will solve for them.
2. The disconnect between the current curriculum and the work skills in demand: Success of an AI engagement depends on the people that program the systems and the data being fed. Identifying and sourcing the right people and skill set from the market for AI engagements is key to any AI engagement. AI projects require people with specialized skill-sets who can apply AI techniques across business processes in real time. The synergy between the current sequential education system and the work demands in the enterprise set seems to be missing. For India to maximally benefit from the AI revolution, the challenge of talent shortage looming large on the industry needs to be addressed faster. Many Indian firms are grappling to scale resources for the new AI challenge. The lack of adequate AI talent to meet the growing demands is a matter of huge concern in India.
3. Unpredictability and uncertainty of resources required: AI systems can behave unpredictably. A badly implemented AI system can lead to objectionable consequences, including a privacy breach. Companies must carefully evaluate the business processes and system for AI adoption and take into consideration legal, regulatory and ethical implications.
Understanding the cost, time and effort involved to get an AI-powered system up and running is one of the most important factors that enterprises should think while building or evaluating AI solutions. Based on the maturity level of processes, the accuracy of data sets and knowledge base, the success of AI engagements varies between months to several years
Enterprises face challenges during AI adoption in identifying the right use cases, data sets, and business processes and while mapping it with customer benefits in terms of revenue, convenience and experience
CXOToday: What’s CSS Corp ’s future roadmap on AI?
Sunil Mittal: CSS Corp has built two AI Platforms in the last 12 months: 1) Cognitive CX Platform to manage customer support engagements and 2) Contelli to simplify and modernize IT Operations. Our AI platforms understand behavioral aspects and relationships between customer, business processes and systems. Our solutions provide end-to-end customer clustering and deeper insights into customer sentiments, buying behavior and satisfaction-levels, to drive business success.
Despite the hype, adoption, and investments in newer technologies like AI, enterprises are finding it challenging to manage IT operations and customer support operations as they mostly carry baggage of legacy systems, infrastructure and software stacks that are aging. This significantly contributes to the complex support landscape, making life extremely painful for customers. We understood, perfecting customer support operations requires rigorous planning, focused technology investments, strategic roadmap, and execution, as it is linked to the overall productivity and efficiency of an organization.
Our AI solution enables enterprises in managing their complex IT and Customer support operations and introduces relevant frameworks, providing enterprises agility, speed and flexibility. AI is at the epicenter of all our customer engagement programs. Today as we speak we are integrating AI as a part of all our new age platforms and we will continue to encourage our customers to embrace AI solutions. We’re committed to our mission of embedding intelligence across different functions of the enterprises and help each of them innovate, grow and compete.
In this context, CSS Corp has invested significantly in AI and has plans to scale up our solutions that can help companies understand their customer’s next best action and drive additional revenue. We will continue to focus on customer support engagements and as well build AI solutions to solve unique business challenges in TMT, Healthcare, and Manufacturing.
Forrester recently recognized our AI capabilities in their Forrester Wave for Customer Analytics, we recently won the Stevie Silver Award for our AI Platform, Cognitive CX Platform. Most importantly our existing customers and prospects have shown utmost interest and enthusiasm to implement our AI solutions. Our customers feel that our technology is far superior as compared to any AI solution offered by other leading players in the IT Industry.
All of us at CSS Corp is excited to explore new frontiers with AI that harnesses the power of customer centricity and build an ecosystem that fuels unprecedented growth and innovation for our customers.