Does hearing “Do you want fries with that?” change if a robot says it?
Today, companies are trying to answer the question of how artificial intelligence (AI) will transform the face of their user experience. They’d better hurry: 78 percent of businesses plan to implement AI or virtual-reality solutions by next year—or have already implemented them.
Their hope? That this paves the way toward better user experiences.
What will top-tier interactions look like in a few years? Current research in this area might provide some idea: an MIT Technology Review report found that automated systems already resolve between 25 and 50 percent of today’s customer inquiries, and this number will only grow.
As AI continues to advance into more and more aspects of the user experience, people will come to expect this as a standard. Keep in mind that chatbots can work 24/7—including holidays—and they never get the flu. Such a high degree of reliability and uptime is impossible to achieve with regular staffers. Plus, the use of chatbots allows their human counterparts to shift their focus toward solving more pressing problems.
The most satisfying user experiences of tomorrow will revolve around one of two scenarios:
Sacrificing the human touch and sharing personal data for speediness or
Forfeiting lightning-fast responses in exchange for an emotional, distinctly human element
Where Speed and Personalization Win
AI’s increasing role in the user experience is certain to spark a transformation. What people consider to be a good experience will shift. Plus, greater efficiency might convince users to accept technology-fueled solutions more readily. An example of a popular tool that is powered by emerging technology is the automated chatbot.
According to data from Usabilla, a little more than half of people would rather save ten minutes by talking to a chatbot rather than a human representative. This represents a major shift in how people view a good user experience. HubSpot found that the vast majority of people rate an immediate response to their inquiries as important or very important. People want quick, accurate information—even if it’s from a robot.
But remember that the type of interaction should still determine how the user experience plays out. AI tends to be more consistent and efficient than human staffers. So, for needs that are merely transactional, people should have high expectations regarding ease, responsiveness, and success when interacting with a business. Transactional experiences include performing tasks such as buying, selling, tracking, returning, asking, and queuing.
For these tasks, speed—not friendliness—is the priority, so AI systems have a natural edge over human representatives. In fact, HubSpot found that nearly two out of three buyers expect to have their inquiries resolved within ten minutes. This means assistance from an AI is a must in such cases. AI can also reduce the wild-card aspect of customer service reps. (Read through this thread, and you’ll get an idea of what this means.) Such enhanced capabilities enable brands to move highly transactional tasks to the robots’ domains.
But speed is just one part of the AI equation. An AI-based user experience also has a leg up because it can quickly deliver highly personalized content. Providers such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and Spotify are leading the way in personalization. AI can readily anticipate the user’s wants in entertainment, news, shopping, and other types of information—and be spot-on with its recommendations. If people are readily willing to share their personal preferences—their data—with companies, they can get more personalized experiences in return.
It goes without saying that AI can predict what people want far better and faster than a human being ever could. People’s viewing and browsing histories never lie, and AI happens to be great at gathering and analyzing this kind of data. Consider how, once you Google something, you must constantly scroll past targeted advertisements thereafter. While these ads might seem somewhat intrusive, they’re usually in line with your preferences.
Again, achieving this level of personalization means giving up some privacy and rights to personal data—but what people are willing to do for a relatable experience is evolving. Still, it’s worth noting that, as more and more breaches and inappropriate uses of data occur, security will become even more of a concern. People will prefer brand experiences that provide speed, personalization, and a degree of privacy.
Where Emotions Win
Speed and personalization aside, we must never forget about designing for emotion. Even though people might like to think ruthless logic drives most of their purchasing decisions, the vast majority of cognition—95 percent, to be exact—happens subconsciously. And one of the biggest subconscious drivers is emotion.
Therefore, for other less transactional tasks, people might prefer that AI feel more human—even if that means a little flawed. Of course, this phenomenon is under study as well. The way people communicate with an AI might turn out to communicate an essential part of their personality.
But even the most advanced AI can’t always accurately mimic having an actual human element—at least not yet. When I was recently ordering a bread subscription for my nieces and nephews, I had to keep in mind that one had a dairy and egg allergy. When I asked the company whether a chocolate-cherry sourdough loaf that they offered contained these allergens, the customer-service agent ran all the way to the baker to ask.
Although a chatbot could provide the same information, that extra human effort secured a loyal fan and brand advocate—even though I didn’t get an immediate answer from the human agent.
Of course, brands must understand when it’s appropriate to halt a chatbot’s automated answers and instead get a human on the line to solve more complex problems. Even if the resulting experience isn’t as efficient, this can make a huge difference and keep critical brand relationships from souring.
Brand loyalty ultimately happens at an emotional level, not a transactional one. This kind of loyalty ensures users who are dedicated to interacting with a brand regardless of shifts in the competitor landscape. To get an idea of this in action, just think about the brands you’ll happily give more money in exchange for better experiences.
In the future, companies might involve human agents later as AI’s capabilities grow, but their support of transactional interactions will still help free up time for more meaningful human exchanges. Until then, expect plenty of agents at the ready.
The future of great user experiences is here, but it’s also a work in progress. Positive interactions can certainly still happen in a world augmented by AI. But the more people ask of AI in this space, the more they’ll have to sacrifice.
Whether that means more giving up more personal data—or just more of the human-to-human conversations that are necessary to solve complex problems—traditional channels will gradually diminish in proportion to how much AI technologies develop and shift people’s perceptions. While AIs might seem clunky now, in the future, experiences without an AI boost could seem as distant as, say, life without smartphones.