The future of customer conversation

July 13, 2021 •5 min read
Grace Hughes
Manager – Interactive, Conversational Design Lead
Sharad Sachdev
Managing Director – Applied Intelligence, Solutions.AI for Customer Engagement Lead
Mark Curtis
Head of Innovation and Thought Leadership – Accenture Song
John Bolze
Senior Managing Director – Global Activation Lead, Applied Intelligence

Conversation is fundamentally human

How can you combine people and technology to enable conversations that deliver real business value?
Talk is cheap, or so the old saying would have us believe. In reality, conversations can have tremendous value. It’s true in your personal life. It’s also true for your business.

But while conversation is natural and intuitive, it’s also a complex construct. Even the simplest interaction has layers of richness and nuance—it takes effort and understanding to get conversation right.

For your business, there is an added challenge: increased demand for communication from today’s “always on” generation. We’re moving to a world where customers expect to engage with brands at any time, across multiple devices, channels and touchpoints. Customers also expect interactions to be in tune with their personal preferences and schedules.

These expectations are reflected across product and service categories. A bar set by a brand in another industry will soon become the standard for yours. According to recent Accenture research, 61% of leading companies say their customers’ expectations are shaped by the most relevant, real-time and dynamic experiences they encounter across all industries. Those experiences impact how and why these leading companies innovate.

Rethink the business of conversation

Companies are rethinking how they communicate with people and organize the entire business around the delivery of exceptional experiences.
Every time customers interact with your brand, they bring a purpose, problem, need or question. They also come with expectations for how quickly or easily that outcome will be realized. How will you deliver experiences that respond to customers’ new, often unmet and frequently changing needs—and enable them to achieve their desired outcomes?

Tectonic shifts in customer engagement

~$5 billion

Size of global conversational AI market in 2020
$13.9 billion

Expected size of global conversational AI market by 2025 at a CAGR of 21.9%
70% by 2022

Percentage of customer interactions involving emerging technologies vs. 15% in 2018

Conversational AI: Value interrupted

What’s causing conversational AI to fall short of the intended customer and business benefits?
It happens if you design experiences around the needs of your organization, rather than the needs and preferences of your customers. It happens if you design experiences to get customers to do things how your organization wants, rather than helping customers do things how they want. And it happens if you focus on replicating human interaction in a limiting, narrow way.

Consider a 2019 study that found one-third of customers who started in chat (whether live or AI-based virtual agents) needed or wanted to go elsewhere to complete their inquiry or transaction. Chat had the lowest rate of first-contact resolution among the channels we studied. Among customers who exclusively used online chat, less than half (48%) said they would want to use it again next time.

These approaches have left many people distrustful of chatbots for anything but the most basic tasks.
How will you deliver experiences that respond to customers’ new, often unmet and frequently changing needs so they can achieve their desired outcomes?

Create better AI-powered conversations

How can conversational AI deliver truly human-centered conversation?
To start, we should distinguish between AI that mimics human conversation and AI that enhances and augments it.

While there’s a time, place and use case for basic conversational interfaces, there are less obvious and perhaps more powerful ways to leverage technology in the service of conversation.

Identifying them means understanding the distinct characteristics of different types of AI, and how each can be harnessed to augment communication, overcome human limitations, and meet customer needs head on.

View the potential through a three-part lens

Augment the human

Deploy AI to enrich human-to-human with greater meaning and better outcomes.
Magnify the machine

AI systems offer some capabilities humans simply don’t have. Lean into those unique strengths to go beyond what’s possible with people alone.
Embrace ethical AI

Advanced AI presents ethical tension points. Ensure that you manage these tensions in a way that aligns with your brand and purpose.
The 5-step framework is a guide to developing Conversational AI and includes discovery, design, experimentation, scaling and immersion.
Conversational AI development framework
Consider developing a five-step framework to guide Conversational AI development—from understanding the context of your conversations to identifying opportunities to use affordances to make them more effective for your customers and your business.

Working through this framework is a solid first step in the journey to conversational AI that benefits your customers and your business.


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