By Haymans Fung, CMO, Sun Life Hong Kong
Ask someone to think about AI, the first image that many people conjure is machines taking over the world. There is a fear and underlying insecurity that we humans will one day be rendered irrelevant and immaterial by machines of superior intelligence.
One million people in Hong Kong could lose their job to AI over the next 20 years, noted a recent study by The One Country Two Systems Research Institute. The report estimates around 28 percent of the total of 3.7 million jobs in Hong Kong are vulnerable to automation.
Hence there is a backlash against AI, robotics, and the unstoppable trend of automation. While technologies like chatbots, voice assistants, and AI-powered apps promise massive time savings and new levels of productivity and efficiency, people still argue how humans prefer human interaction over say a chatbot.
But hold that thought. Ask most people on the street if they prefer talking to a human or a chatbot – most will invariably reply a human. The point to hammer home here is that chatbots, AI and voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are here to replace humans. They are designed to assist, to support and enhance our capabilities and our lives.
Painful voice and web experiences
In the past, we’ve had automated voice recognition systems that test the patience of a saint. While on websites there’s the usual link to the extensive but un-navigable FAQ. There are times I’ve lost the will to click and want to ask a human. While at other times I’m quite happy finding my answers in my own time. To go human or bot? It all depends on the context, on the specific situation and also on the individual’s preference. Currently, there’s still disconnect for many marketers when trying to automate basic tasks but also provide that high-touch customized and more human experience.
Enter conversational AI and a company called AutoMat that provides natural language processing with machine-learning algorithms to create conversational marketing tools such as intelligent chatbots. During a recent trip to Montreal, I had the opportunity to meet and experience several AI technologies at work. Instead of being bombarded with discount or ‘special offer’ banners and animated Gif images on your Facebook or your mobile browser, imagine being asked: “how’s your day?” or “what’s top of your to-do list?” As I interacted with one chatbot demo, conversations began and at the same time a journey of discovery. For the bot, it was trying to figure my age, my skin type, my preferences, while for me, I was intrigued by where this conversation was leading.
By Creating this More Natural and Humanized Interface by Combining Conversational AI, Bots, and Humans, Customers are More at Ease and More Trusting in the Process
This replication of human interaction was surprisingly engaging, and my first thought was how this could be applicable across a number of customer marketing scenarios.
One of the biggest challenges with insurance and similar financial services is the trust issue but also that fear factor that many people have with financial products. On one hand, they may not possess the knowledge but refuse to admit it to anyone. While also many detest being badgered by a pushy sales agent. Conversational AI is the ideal glue to bring these parties closer together.
Why not provide more intelligent self-service ways like a chatbot to help customer research, answer queries, and develop an understanding and a profile. Given the complexity of financial products, a customer will, at some point need to talk to a human to get more specific insight and information. But that point of handover from bot to human is completely down to the customer.
This non-invasive, conversational engagement lowers the barrier to connect to customers while giving the individual complete control over what information to seek, share, and act on.
This example highlights the different roles that bots and humans can undertake in the future customer journey. AI and bots can give customers intelligent and customized access to the exact information they want, and they can ask questions and query at their will, anywhere and anytime. The data is captured and can be picked up again if the conversation stops and starts. If needed, a human agent can join, see all the relevant data and take the conversation further to eventually conduct the transaction.
It’s worth noting that 77 percent of Hong Kong consumers prefer humans offering financial and wealth advice rather than robo-advisors. This according to the recent study -- Artificial Intelligence in Asia: Trust, Understanding and the Opportunity to Re-Skill, conducted by YouGov, commissioned by Sales force.
By creating this more natural and humanized interface by combining conversational AI, bots, and humans, customers are more at ease and more trusting in the process.
It is clear that people on the street today harbor an inherent fear of AI as they envisage algorithms and robots taking over the world. But by allowing machines to take over the more mundane or predictable tasks, people can actually do more. Time is freed to give people greater capacity for higher value tasks or more meaningful actions such as building genuine emotional connections with customers or tackling complex decisions and problems. Rather than be seen as a threat, AI could be seen as a savior when you imagine how it could provide all of us with the simple pleasure of more downtime.
Ironically it is AI, if used correctly that could unlock the challenge to make customer service more engaging and ultimately more human.