Technology / Businesses of the FUTR

Businesses of the FUTR

Business Reporter went to the FUTR M2020 summit to find out how companies are responding to changing customer demand.

Brands have long been chasing cutting-edge technologies to meet the evolving demands in customer behaviour and improve efficiencies.

But what will things look like in the future? Business Reporter went to the FUTR M2020 summit, which looks at future industry trends, to find out.

The ongoing refinement of voice-recognition software was a central issue to a number of speakers. “The whole voice-technology piece is coming strong,” said keynote speaker John Zealley, senior managing director at Accenture. “We can all say there are indeed certain things that we really like doing with voice. But they may be fairly transactional at this stage.

The ongoing refinement of voice-recognition software was a central issue to a number of speakers. “The whole voice-technology piece is coming strong,” said keynote speaker John Zealley, senior managing director at Accenture. “We can all say there are indeed certain things that we really like doing with voice. But they may be fairly transactional at this stage.

“It is early days. We are certainly seeing it as a way of fulfilling executional tasks. You combine voice with automated light bulbs. You can turn the light on and off without losing your seat. The question is how far is it going to go?”

Companies have already started using AI and machine learning to help improve the customer experience. “It opens up a lot of doors for innovation, to give people a better experience when they are looking for complex things or they want to get complex things done,” said Pepijn Rijvers, chief marketing officer for Booking.com. The e-commerce travel site has been experimenting with AI and machine learning, and has introduced chatbots to help improve services to customers.

“Service bots allows us to make delivering services way more scalable,” continued Rijvers. “Scalable means we also need fewer people to deliver that service. We can deliver that service at a cheaper cost, which in turn can be translated into benefits for customers in the longer term.”

But this doesn’t mean the end of humans in customer service departments just yet. Presently, complex queries, such as someone wanting several different topics at once, or a person in need of urgent assistance, are hard for the technology to execute.

“An example could be, you arrive at the property and the property is closed, or it burned down last night,” he said. “That needs immediate help from us. In those cases, we would immediately do that with our customer service people.”

Similar views were held in the insurance sector. Another speaker, Dr Huma Lodhi, principal data scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Direct Line, also thought the advent of AI will eventually create new jobs in different areas.

Much has been said in the press about such technological advancements costing jobs. “Jobs are going to be lost, but there will be new jobs,” she pointed out. “There will be jobs where humans are not required and ideally humans should not be doing those jobs, whereas there will be more jobs for skilled humans.”

The process will be an evolutionary one that we have seen before, she said. “Once there were no cars, but then there were cars. There were no trains, but as progress has been made, we now have trains and cars,” she explained. “Similarly, now in insurance there will be a change of roles.”

According to Scott Allen, CMO of Microsoft, such advancements are a necessity for companies to ensure their very survival. “Digital transformation use to be something that you consider,” he said. “Now it is something you absolutely have to do if you want to stay competitive and serve your customers in the right way.”

But he warned that organisations needed to adapt their culture to fit such advancements. “You can’t bring about technology change without also the culture coming along on that journey as well,” he added.

The next big disruption will be is in voice technologies for both the B2B market as well as consumers, according to Allen. “You are going to see a lot of individuals adopt that,” he says. “Technology is just going to become more and more immersed, [using] voice and voice assistants built into different platforms.”

He pointed out that voice assistants were already in homes across the country. “If you think about things like Cortana and Alexa, there are voice assistants that will become more and more part of everyday life. You can use different voice platforms in different ways – that will become a key part of interacting with the virtual world alongside your human world.”