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The How-To: Using AI To Transform Consumer Businesses If you think about your everyday life, it is almost certain that AI-based technologies are an integral part of your everyday experience.

By Sunil Suresh

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you are sure to have heard of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML): it is the current buzzword, and every technology company worth its salt talks about how AI is going to transform everything. The strange thing is that most business leaders, especially in consumer businesses, claim to be excited about AI, but they will be hard-pressed to give a tangible example of how AI has been used in their business, or what difference it has made to business performance.

So, is this all just hype, or is there some real impact that AI is going to have on businesses? If you think about your everyday life, it is almost certain that AI-based technologies are an integral part of your everyday experience. See content and posts that you like on social media? Powered by AI algorithms. Talk to your smartphone assistant to search for answers, or set a reminder? AI again. Order food on a food aggregator app, and chat with customer support? You're likely talking to a machine for the first few minutes. If you watched the latest Google I/O, you'd have seen the new Duplex AI, where it can have whole conversations with real humans, and do things like book appointments for you.

AI is slowly but surely transforming the way consumers experience the world by allowing for personalized and easy experiences. The algorithms are able to gobble up the vast amounts of data created every second, and use it to predict and take decisions on what is most likely to be relevant and appeal to different people. This is leading to consumers increasingly living in an "easyverse," an easy universe of connected and seamless experiences. What's more, AI and ML gets better at its job as it learns from data and interactions.

For any business to survive, being able to be part of this easyverse, and provide consumers with the experience they have come to expect is critical. To be able to compete, deploying AI is going to be mission critical. So, what are the areas where AI is likely to have maximal impact in the short-term? While there are several long-term bets being made, from self-driving cars to cyborg technology or robots as friends, here are a few of the tangible competitive advantages consumer businesses should be looking for immediately.

1. Quicker, better insights
Say a business wants to know why sales are down the previous week. The traditional way would have taken a team of analysts a few days to come up with answers, and the accuracy of these answers would be limited by what questions have been asked. With AI, tens of thousands of questions can be processed, and the impact of these factors on the business can be assessed in mere seconds. It can throw up surprising insights on what action is likely to have most impact on the business. This can be an incredible advantage in a fast moving and evolving environment.

2. Personalized and connected experiences
AI can learn from your consumer's behavior, and make predictions of what they may like. This allows for the most relevant products and recommendations to be served up. In various studies, it has been proven that personalization improves conversion by as much as 30%-50%. Think big marketplaces like Amazon, where each customer sees a different set of products and recommendations based on what is most relevant. This is now easily possible on your brand website!

3. Better, 24x7 customer service
Deploying AI as chatbots and using natural language processing algorithms as call agents means that they can do a credible job of handling and resolving the vast majority of routine queries that typically hit customer service centers. This allows for quicker resolution, 24x7 service, lower cost and, of course, happier customers!

4. Automation, personalization of campaigns, and marketing ROI
Marketing is typically an area with a lot of spend and where it is difficult to keep track of return on investment (ROI). As American marketer John Wanamaker famously said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." With AI tools, it is now possible to manage campaigns on an individual level, with each consumer being put on their personalized lifecycle, with messaging that is almost unique, tailored to their unique behavior and needs. It is also possible to track thousands of signals across the marketing lifecycle, both in traditional and digital media to continually optimize the marketing mix and improve sales performance and marketing ROI. Indeed, the holy grail for any marketer!

5. New powerful streams of data from offline stores
The past decade has been a story of online marketplaces and e-commerce stealing consumers away from offline retail. While convenience and easy experiences are an important factor, with the advent of omni-channel retail, offline retailers are able to hold their own and, in fact, have an edge in providing consumers with a great experience. A big gap however, continues to be the amount of data available, and how it can be used to create personalized experiences, and to optimize the business. In the online world, you know who is visiting the mobile site or app, what they are looking at, how much time they are spending, and so on and so forth. This was typically information that was just not available offline. Now with AI tools including computer vision and natural language processing, it is possible to anonymize and track visitors to store, generate style profiles, track trends, identify hot zones and in effect create an offline clickstream. This data can have profound impact on the consumer experience and business results- with sales impact of upwards of 10%!

These are just a few of the key areas where every consumer business should be looking to deploy AI-powered solutions so as to be able to win with their consumers. There are several reasons as to why, a lot of businesses are not able to make meaningful progress in driving digital transformation that delivers results, let alone deploying AI within the business; but that is a conversation for another time!

Related: AI Can't Solve All Of Our Customer Service Problems (Yet)

Sunil Suresh

CMO and Global VP – Strategy at Capillary Technologies

Sunil Suresh is CMO and Global VP – Strategy at Capillary Technologies. 
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