Service businesses of nearly every stripe are embracing artificial intelligence to increase margins, but luxury goods and services have been something of a holdout. Affluent customers, it seems, want the human touch, and have demanded concierge-like service that can’t be duplicated by software.
That’s about to change, soon.
Recent improvements in AI are making it possible to enhance — and, soon, replace — those human interactions.
Now, AI helps service providers anticipate customer questions before they’re even asked and accommodate needs that the consumer didn’t even know they had … the very essence of excellent, high-touch service.
How does this work?
Picture this: A prospective buyer makes an inquiry to a luxury salesperson online or over the phone. An AI-driven dashboard sitting in front of the salesperson makes recommendations in real time based on the content of the conversation, prior interactions with the customer (if they exist), prior interactions with similar customers and everything in inventory (in this case, all the different, relevant travel options for this particular consumer).
Moreover, such an AI agent can pull in information about the customer from a variety of external data stores (for example, income, demographics, psychological makeup or cultural preferences) and “mash them up” in real time to provide an extremely well-tailored, highly personalized offering, all the way to the idioms and the phrases the human salesperson uses when speaking to the potential customer.
The effect is an interaction that is distinctly “human,” but one where the salesperson is able to make relevant, on-target recommendations about minute features of the product or service in just a few seconds, and present them all in a way that “just feels right” to the customer. This automates what would have originally been a several-minute conversation for the salesperson to extract consumer specifications and then conduct research.
In short, the salesperson can perform the miraculous feat of recommending things that the consumer will want before they even know they want them. AI is able to turn the service provider into an archetype of an excellent concierge who already has your regular drink in his hand when you enter the room and is putting it on the table before you even realize you’re thirsty.
Crystal decanter as crystal ball
When I was working my way through grad school, I was moonlighting as a sommelier at a fancy restaurant. This was when I learned that people valued my service not just for my exhaustive knowledge of wine regions, varietals, vintage and wineries. First and foremost, they valued my ability read them as they approached the table and were discussing dinner amongst themselves. Because of my experience, I could take one glance and pick the perfect wine for particular set of clients in a particular set of circumstances.
AI can now augment this type of service-oriented skillset tenfold and take it to new levels across the entire luxury industry.
Now, Sisense has a luxury travel client where interactions with salespeople are human-to-human, but the sales interaction is augmented by AI that provides suggestions and insights in real time. The immediate impact is that these insights give a talented but novice salesperson the ability to interact with prospects as if he has been in the industry for decades, raising the quality of service delivery and the ability to scale quickly. More significantly, this technology is drawing insights from all salespeople and all client interactions so that everybody’s experience is shared across the team in real time.
For the moment, the human element is a necessary one; the technological limitations of AI means that it’s not yet ready to infer small subtleties in the sales interaction — things like mood, tone and sarcasm, for example. Functionality aside, there’s also the negative association with automation in a luxury setting. For an affluent, frequent customer, a single call to a service line that reaches the automated phone tree might be enough to scotch the brand experience.
To be sure, as consumers become more comfortable with the technology, especially as more and more millennials reach a point of affluence, humans may no longer be a requisite part of the mix. For now we better augment humans rather than replace them.
Science fiction becomes science fact
Unless you have just come out of a coma, you know that Google Duplex recently wowed the tech community by making appointments by phone on behalf of users with human receptionists, none of whom were any the wiser that they were talking to a bot. This development is the first step on a journey that will soon have bots acting on behalf of customers in their commercial transactions and, in an inevitable escalation, sophisticated bots acting on behalf of brands.
In that future state — perhaps three to five years away — brands will differentiate on the quality not just of their product, but also on service that is delivered through an AI. AI offers scalability, but higher levels of service do entail higher costs. The highest-end AI service will require considerable computing power to anticipate the needs of the most discerning of customers — so it’s logical that luxury will take the lead on the AI service offering. For that wine-related AI designer, please take note: I always preferred Syrah from Côte-Rôtie in the Rhone valley.
To be sure, even then, there will be a premium on distinctly human innovation. AI will work hard to delight us in all the ways that it “knows” humans likes, even if we, personally, don’t know that we like it yet. For now, and for the immediate future, human beings are still necessary to discover the new, delightful experiences in the luxury sector.
All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.