We need to talk about conversational AI – and why it facilitates better services at lower cost
In today’s world, we’re all used to talking to our smart devices – a form of human-computer communication that was unimaginable even a few years ago. The sharp rise in this kind of technology can be attributed to the fact that speaking to a machine is both intuitive and convenient, enabling us to access the information we need more quickly with minimal fuss.
This frictionless user experience is already being put to good use in business, where chatbots have revolutionised the way companies interact with their customers and process their own internal operations. Whether they are voice or text-based, chatbots are powered by conversational AI – powerful computer programs which reproduce natural human conversation.
Ahead of an exclusive event in London on the application of conversational AI in financial services, Dr Ronald Ashri spoke to Foundry4 about the benefits, impact and future of this important technology.
Conversational AI – what you need to know
As with every aspect of AI, it’s important to understand what we mean when using the term. Definitions of what precisely constitutes AI vary, with different parties using it for different purposes.
For Ashri, whose company – GreenShoot Labs – builds conversational AI interfaces to improve digital services, any definition of AI has to be highly practical.
“I take a very pragmatic view that I find useful in the context of building effective digital products,” he says. “AI is a science. It concerns itself with developing models that can replicate the broad array of behaviours which humans consider intelligent. Over the years this science has developed a number of techniques and capabilities. We can use them to build increasingly sophisticated software to which we can delegate aspects of decision-making.”
“Conversational AI concerns itself with exploiting AI techniques and capabilities in order to build applications where the primary means of interaction with users is through conversation – what I call conversational applications. We are using conversational AI to delegate to a machine the decision of what the user is asking for and how to best serve them.”
This framing of AI in practical, decision-based terms helps to illuminate the advantages the technology can offer to industry.
Although conversational AI provides many benefits, Ashri identifies three key positives in the ways businesses communicate and build relationships with their customers.
- They allow us to interact in a way we are comfortable. We all know how to converse. We do not need to learn how an application works (what menus and buttons to click); instead it is the application that needs to understand what we are saying.
- They allow us to interact with people in channels and contexts where a conversation (whether typed or voice) is the most natural means of communication. Use of messaging applications is growing faster than the use of social media. Whether on the go, at home or in the office we are always only a click away or within hearing distance of an application that we can just tell it what we need and have that happen.
- They allow us to better understand what people need because they can express it in the way that feels best for them. This makes for applications that work together with people to solve the problem in a more efficient manner. It empowers users and also enables organisations to provide services that are much more useful.
While all organisations can benefit from conversational AI, the nature of the financial industry – with its heavy reliance on relationships and consumer interactions – makes it ideal for this technology.
“When it comes to the financial industry,” says Ashri, “where a person needs to feel understood and valued in order to build trust and loyalty to a specific institution, conversations offer a way to achieve that. A conversational application allows a financial institution to engage in a more direct way and differentiate itself by building a strong relationship with a user.”
“In addition, effective conversational AI can facilitate automation and the scaling of operations in a cost effective way. This means that the support team can focus on the more complex issues and ensure better client satisfaction across the board.”
The use of conversational AI in business is not limited to interactions with customers. As Ashri is keen to point out, conversational applications and AI more generally can also be introduced internally, making the tasks of employees easier and more enjoyable.
From dealing with internal support issues, to facilitating more and better communications between teams, automation through AI can go a long way towards making an organisation a better place to be.
Interestingly, although the technologies around AI and chatbots have been around for a long time, we are only now beginning to apply them effectively at scale in real world contexts.
“A good analogy for where conversational AI is currently is the early web circa 2000,” Ashri says. “The initial excitement is out of the way and now it is about learning how to most effectively build conversational application with purpose and focus, ensuring that user needs are properly met. We know more about what works and what doesn’t and people are also increasingly used to interacting with conversational applications.”
Getting down to business
In order to aid senior leaders in finance with their understanding of conversational applications, Foundry4 is hosting Leveraging Conversational AI in Financial Services – an evening with Dr Ronald Ashri – on 28th January 2020 in Canary Wharf, London.
The event will explore:
- The importance of conversational interfaces and AI in financial services and how it fits into wider digital transformational strategies
- How conversational AI is already disrupting financial services, and use cases that demonstrate the value it delivers
- Factors you should consider when you’re planning programmes of innovation like this to ensure you consider people, process and technology equally
“If you are doing anything that has to do with deciding how best to serve people, whether internally or externally, you need to be aware of what conversational applications can bring to the table,” Ashri says.
“This is not about the esoterics of the latest advances in machine learning. It is about building better products and creating more effective strategies to make people happier.”
Attendees at the event will be guided through the hype surrounding AI, to its real world, practical applications. By demonstrating what conversational AI can do to make things better for businesses – and their people – Dr Ashri aims to inspire leaders to seek transformative solutions of their own. When it comes to the benefits of conversational AI, we should all be shouting from the rooftops.
Research and Insights Manager
Sarah is renowned for her ability to communicate complex concepts with clarity. She plays a central role in managing the insights programme at Foundry4.