5 Fundamentals of the Conversational Cloud

The opening session of the Conversational Cloud Conference (#OpusNOLA22) closed with a slide citing the five major factors shaping Conversational Commerce in the coming year. I called them the “key takeaways” that attendees should commit to memory as they pursue their plans to introduce conversational AI to bolster Customer Experience (CX) and Employee Experience (EX) initiatives in the cloud.

  1. Conversational AI is a commodity  – meaning it is “raw material” that can be bought and sold in order to improve a service’s ability to understand natural language input and reply with correct responses or recommendations
  2. Conversations replace contact centers  – which is a more polite way of saying that “the contact center is dead”, replaced with distributed, cloud-based resources that support interactions and transactions carried out between brands and customers over multiple digital channels and involving multiple departments and traditional silos
  3. Search starts all conversations  – acknowledging that most commercial conversations start with a visit to one of Google’s many properties, and also affirming that the individuals populate search boxes, more often than not, with natural language input
  4. Conversational Intelligence is the true voice of the customer  – raising awareness that resources exist to capture every word of every conversation between brands and their customers, making it possible to recognize intents, understand commands and extract insights that can be employed in real time and shared with multiple departments
  5. Automation drives ROI and Vice Versa  – recognizing that business cases for conversational AI-based projects are built on cost savings from automation, i.e. replacing people with machines; but the end result is freed up cash to fund more projects and purposes.

Change Will be Incremental

The presentation closed with the observation: “It’s all About Incremental Improvement.”

Adoption of new technologies is governed by a concern for business continuity. Executives seldom toss out technology that is already working in favor of the latest shiny object. Instead, they build business cases around purpose-driven projects and then conduct A/B tests to validate assumed impacts on a department’s top line revenue, conversion rates, operating expenses and their bottom line. The result is slow and steady progress toward the implementation of AI-infused solutions designed to improve each customer’s satisfaction, as well as employees’ efficiency and overall experience.

Participants in the panels that followed were able to provide practical answers to questions that arise when launching one of those AI-infused projects. Executives involved with implementing a Conversational Cloud strategy at USAA, Charles Schwab, Lowe’s, Oschner Health and Insightrade were joined by those from solution providers including NICE, Vonage, Five9, Invoca, Interactive Media,  Sestek and Knowbl. Both were generous and forthright in sharing perspectives on the current state of Conversational AI, the power of Conversational Intelligence and the pervasiveness of cloud ecosystems.

Looking  back on their conversations and presentations, three insights strike me as profound. First and foremost, it should come as no surprise that “search,” instead of chatbots or voicebots, is destined to be the predominant form of intelligent assistance. Earlier in this post I noted that “Search starts all conversations.” But that’s just the beginning. Successful implementers are finding that their customers and prospects expect to be able to carry out natural language searches and assume that some form of artificial intelligence (AKA “the algorithm”) will provide them with the most appropriate answer or match them up with an agent who can.

Secondly, it became clear that “Conversational Intelligence” is not just “true voice of the customer.” It is the body of knowledge from a number of sources that, when properly curated and organized, serve as a source of correct answers and real-time responses to the conversational searches mentioned above. This was made abundantly as a problem solver for firms in the Healthcare vertical. Eric Fullmer from Oschner Health, the largest non-profit, academic healthcare system operating in Louisiana, explained how his company was able to use CI to “stitch the patient journey together.” Let’s just say that this is better done by listening to the patient than by using tracking cookies and purchased 3rd party data.

Finally, let’s return to the thought of incremental improvement. While it is true that staffing and investment decisions are made on a project-by-project basis, experienced executives know that it is important to identify those with long-term staying power. Cognigy’s Vice President of Technology Derek Roberti said it best when he asserted that “if you treat it as a project, it will not put user experience first.” Long-term value and ROI result  from building AI-infused solutions that engage customers and improve employee workflows.


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