HP has started offering customers a “virtual agent” service on its customer support site. The agent can handle common queries without human intervention, letting customers get help after the support teams go home.
While a customer service chatbot is not the newest of ideas, the HP agent learns “independently” whenever it completes a new chat with a user. This allows it to add it to its “core knowledge” of 50,000 pages of HP product information. As more users engage with the bot, it can construct additional help and guidance to answer future queries with more precision.
Wait. What’s a chatbot?
A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users. They are often powered by machine learning or AI. Chatbots can be deployed over text message, as pop-ups on websites or via messaging apps, like Facebook or WhatsApp.
The chatbot market is expected to grow in value from $703 million in 2016 to $3,172 million by 2021, according to MarketsandMarkets. New research from Juniper expects chatbots to be responsible for over $8 billion a year in cost savings for organizations by 2022.
HP Bot Is Friendly
HP’s friendly and conversational bot is meant to provide customers with a faster self-service alternative to waiting for a human support employee to become available. The agent appears at the bottom-right of HP support webpages, using a similar presentation to the live chat popups on many other websites.
The digital agent is capable of automatically detecting spelling mistakes and interpreting the intended meaning. It parses the customer’s query to understand what they’re asking, before searching for the answer in its catalogue of support documents. If it’s unable to resolve the problem, it’ll automatically hand over to a human operator.
HP Vice President and head of global support centres LaChelle Porter-Ainer explained in a statement said the translation and spellcheck capabilities are the most important in letting the bot help a broad range of customers. In one chat, the agent automatically converted the phrase “noat book” in a customer query into “notebook.”
“A customer can actually communicate in their own words and the virtual agent can translate to find the intention of that customer’s question – and get that customer a response,” Porter-Ainer said. “In other words, you just type as you would normally talk.”
HP said the agent’s already cutting down customer waiting times, however, it has not released details of those efficiencies. With the bot able to takeover handling of basic queries, staff will be freed up to focus on more complex issues.
The virtual agent is built with Microsoft-developed AI technology that was first piloted on the company’s campus. When Porter-Ainer visited Microsoft, the bot’s engineers approached her about deploying it to HP’s support centres. Although the bot’s still technically in an investigative phase, Porter-Ainer said it’s already meeting its design requirements.
Retail transformation being held back by outdated infrastructure
The limitations of legacy infrastructure are forcing retailers to reconsider their plans for in-store tech. According to a study commissioned by retail software provider Zynstra, 98 percent of retailers would use more new tech if deployment was simpler.
Old tech holding back transformation
20 percent of the 308 U.S. and U.K. retail tech decision makers surveyed said they’ve had to postpone or cancel the launch of new in-store tech as a result of infrastructure limitations. Technologies such as augmented reality are set to transform the retail space but are currently being restricted by the constraints of their predecessors.
Retailers are looking to new IT as a way of improving efficiency, offering a modern customer experience and enabling new innovation. As Retail Dive reports, Zynstra found most decision makers have “low confidence” that their tech stack can achieve these aims. This is creating pressure across the industry as retailers find themselves unable to implement their in-store tech visions.
Challenges to retail innovation
The survey found several specific challenges impede the deployment of new applications. Budgetary restrictions account for most of the delays, with 48 percent of respondents finding digital transformation costs higher than expected. Difficulty in finding skilled IT experts is the next biggest problem, with 35 percent of retailers struggling to find the talent needed to maintain in-store IT.
In addition to these problems, retailers are still yet to embrace distributed models for their core IT infrastructure. This makes it hard to manage and deploy the technologies that are used in their business. Almost half (49 percent) of respondents surveyed said they cannot easily make IT changes across all their branches, with 32 percent treating individual stores as their own IT installations. The lack of flexibility makes the introduction of new tech a significant challenge.
“It is clear that IT decision makers in the retail space are going the extra mile to support customer experience improvement initiatives and respond to seasonal demands, despite facing significant challenges. But best efforts and squeezing the last drops of performance out of existing infrastructure is no longer enough,” said Zynstra CEO Nick East. “With the customer experience, and particularly the in-store customer experience, fast becoming the key competitive differentiator, it is clear that retailers need a more effective way for IT to support improvement initiatives.”
The roadblocks encountered by retailers during digital transformation will be familiar to businesses across most industries. Recent studies have repeatedly found enterprises are struggling to implement their digital strategies, with most being impacted by one or several common stumbling points.
The digital skills shortage, industry competition and restrictive legacy tech are the most regularly cited concerns of transforming businesses, so enterprises should more carefully plan and research new technologies before beginning implementation. Even strategies that look good on paper can fail if there isn’t a coherent structure that defines how they will be developed, deployed and maintained for long-term use.
30 percent of business apps to gain AI enhancements by 2019
Almost 30 percent of business apps will be updated to include artificial intelligence (AI) enhancements within the next two years, according to a new article from a CCS Insight analyst.
In addition, nearly 60 percent of enterprises are using or trialling AI technology in their business.
Artificial intelligence is developing at an increasingly rapid rate as it diversifies into more applications and environments. Companies are betting big on AI tech to drive forward digital transformation, improve efficiency and deliver better customer experiences.
According to a study cited by CCS Insight analyst Nicholas McQuire, 58 percent of IT decision makers are using, trialling or researching AI and 29 percent plan to incorporate it into their apps by 2019.
The above figures demonstrate strong interest in AI on the part of enterprises.
At the same time, other recent studies have shown that consumers remain sceptical and general adoption of AI is still quite sluggish. Companies are yet to demonstrate to their workforce or customers that AI is capable of enabling its oft-attributed benefits. In addition, they also need to show that the benefits — if obtainable — can offset the risks to human roles that many people perceive.
McQuire, writing on the Google blog, said companies must be prepared to scale-back their AI deployment plans. If adoption is to be successful, the introduction of new tech should be completed gradually. This gives employees time to adapt to the incoming processes and concepts.
As people gain familiarity with the tech, they’re more likely to fully utilise its features and will be less fearful of potential privacy violations. The same approach should be used for consumer-facing technologies. Continuing to implement AI-based systems at breakneck pace could destabilise the machine learning industry, causing resistance amongst users still concerned about privacy considerations.
Change management & employee engagement
Successfully introducing AI technology will require enterprises to proactively manage change and inform their employees.
McQuire warned lingering fears and confusion must be properly addressed, including points that might be raised by customers.
During the transition period, companies should keep traditional alternatives to AI operational, while steering users towards the AI service and highlighting its benefits. Some types of AI service, such as automated support desks, are already benefitting from use of this strategy. The customer is allowed to make an informed choice that leaves them feeling more comfortable. Regular reminders of the benefits could eventually cause them to use and then trust the AI.
“While our surveys reveal employees are generally positive on AI, there is still much fear and confusion surrounding AI as a source of job displacement,” wrote McQuire. “Be mindful of the impact of change management, specifically the importance of good communication, training and, above all, employee engagement throughout the process.”
Companies can also try early adoption of services that use AI subtly, such as next-generation workplace collaboration tools. This helps employees to engage with AI on a regular basis and furthers the business’ transition towards new digital tech. Gradually incorporating AI allows firms to start benefitting from efficiency improvements immediately, while ensuring employees and customers don’t feel alienated or disillusioned.
Morgan Stanley launches robo-advisor to attract young investors
Morgan Stanley has announced a new “robo-advisor” service to help young investors get started with small portfolios.
As Computer Business Review reports, the robo-advisor is tailored specifically towards younger investors who have “less complex needs.” It comes with a 0.35% advisory fee that’s designed to reflect its aims of helping new investors manage their first portfolios.
Built entirely inhouse by Morgan Stanley, the fully automated system is available online and comes with several customization options.
Robo-advising is set to become much more common over the next few years, making it easier for new investors to get started. Increasing amounts of wealth will be overseen by digital agents, with Business Insider predicting the figure will reach $4.6 trillion by 2022.
By launching its own service with a specific target audience, Morgan Stanley also positions itself to remain relevant as robo-advising becomes more prolific.
In the near-term, technological and human advisers are likely to coalesce to deliver more timely information to investors. An investor might retain traditional advice options for when they need to make major financial decisions or engage with large portfolios. Robo-advisers will allow investors to get real-time details using a smartphone, enabling more rapid responses to changes in their portfolio.
The introduction of digital assistance services could make investment more efficient and allow participants to create higher returns. This will eventually lead investors back to companies like Morgan Stanley, seeking advice on how to manage increasingly complex portfolios. Morgan Stanley’s new robo-advisor is designed to step towards this scenario, where the use of digital tech brings about new opportunities for investors and financial providers.
The service requires a $5,000 starting investment, which Morgan Stanley believes will be accessible to young people interested in seriously investing. Users can follow the service’s advice to invest in specially-designed portfolios, including options built around sustainability and emerging technology. The company hopes the seven themed portfolios will have enough appeal to attract investors by matching their interests.
Morgan Stanley intends the service to diversify its client base by allowing it to reach young customers sooner. People who start to accumulate wealth through the robo-advisor will be able to transfer to the company’s main advisory services.
The program will allow investors to start small, learning how to make decisions by engaging with socially responsible portfolios. As their needs become more complex, Morgan Stanley will be prepared to sell its more lucrative advice services. The strategy lets the company access a new demographic by using digital technology to upsell young clients to more expensive services.
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