camera lens used to turn an image upside down
PHOTO: Jacob Mejicanos

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here. The technology is already making an impact across many industries. According to IDC, worldwide spending on AI systems is forecast to reach $35.8 billion in 2019 — a 44% increase over 2018.

For any company that hasn't started its AI journey — it’s time to get started. That’s because AI is shaking up the customer experience, bringing users and brands closer together than ever before. But many people aren’t yet aware of the effect of AI, or don’t understand the scope of its applications. Here are three ways artificial intelligence is already impacting CX for millions of consumers.

Personalized Recommendations at Face Value

When thinking of personalization, one of the first things to come to mind for many is Amazon and its massive inventory of items available for purchase. Customers are provided with personalized recommendations based upon their known preferences and purchase history. That bit of AI assistance helps shoppers find the needle in the haystack: the item(s) they are seeking among the millions of products available. It also helps the retailer, Amazon, in securing a sale.

Personalized recommendations like this is one application for AI (and a worthy one at that), but AI can go even further in recommending items to retail shoppers. Walgreens is a great example. The company partnered with Cooler Screens to target shoppers with specific beverage options. Digital screens, cameras and sensors embedded in the doors of refrigerator and freezer cases turn the displays into high-tech in-store billboards, with messages tailored specifically to customers based on their age, gender and the day’s weather. The products within the display cases are promoted in the best possible light, and consumers are provided with more detail to inform their purchase decision.

Walgreen’s application of AI shows how personalized recommendations can become more targeted in real time, and can help make customers’ decisions easier and more efficient. And, again, both retailer and customer benefit.

Related Article: 3 Ways AI and Automation Aid Personalization

The Power of a Bank at Your Fingerprints

The science of biometrics identification is already used in popular smartphones and many FinTech apps. Fingerprint readers are built into smartphones and laptops, and Apple’s Face ID allows users to unlock their phone simply by looking at it. But some companies are going beyond smartphones and laptops to impact the customer experience in new ways.

Mastercard, for example, is giving customers a way to register their own fingerprint on a biometric card at home. A fingerprint sensor, embedded in the card, captures and compares the print of the person currently holding the card with the stored digital image of the card owner’s print. A successful print match enables the cardholder to conduct transactions without supplying a PIN or providing a signature. An unsuccessful print match, on the other hand, prompts a request for a PIN or signature.

The customer benefits from enhanced ease-of-use and increased security. Merchants decrease the risk of purchase fraud and can reduce in-store credit card support requirements. Mastercard’s tactic of taking biometrics beyond smartphones may push other financial services companies to deploy similar AI technologies.

Related Article: Goodbye, Passwords ... Hello, Biometrics

A Virtual Assistant That Acts (and Sounds) Like a Personal Assistant

Smart speakers and virtual assistants are becoming ubiquitous. According to a Business Insider Intelligence study, smart speakers have achieved 50% penetration in the US, becoming one of the fastest-adopted consumer technologies.

tech adoption

Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are already changing customer experiences for the better, but they soon could be used for even more. Google announced Google Duplex in May 2018 with an incredible lifelike demonstration of its AI making reservations for a user. Google Duplex, quite literally, can speak for its human. It can make a phone call and speak with the representative on the other end of the line to schedule appointments or make reservations. Duplex can even understand and respond to inquiries and questions posed from the human representative on the other end of the line.

If you’re thinking of a robotic, monotone voice that’s likely to freak out the people on the other end of the line (or make them think it’s some kind of prank call), that’s not Duplex. The AI technology powering Duplex is so sophisticated it even inserts common foibles of human conversation, like “um” and pause breaks. Duplex is now available in all but two states in the US.

Related Article: Can Marketers Use AI-Generated Synthetic Media for Good?

AI Is Just Software — and Software MUST Be Tested

AI technology is rapidly becoming startlingly advanced. The fiction of AI, long the stuff of movies and sci-fi novels, is morphing into everyday reality. At its root, however, AI is just software. And, as with any other form of software, testing is crucial. So the key for brands looking to make AI part of their CX strategy is to test the AI outputs before they are released to customers.

AI, even though it is already interacting with the public in many ways, is still an unfamiliar concept to many end users. Any AI functionality that is not up to the high standards of consumers risks turning them off from the concept entirely. That’s why you must get the experience right when working with AI, and get it right from the beginning. Testing early and testing often will help to ensure the output of the AI is what your users expected. Getting input from real-world sources will also ensure that you’re not missing any potential outputs that would be useful to your target customers.

That’s the only way to guarantee your attempts at AI don’t turn out more nightmarish than fantastical.

Editor's Note: The article has been revised to reflect that Cooler Screens does not use facial recognition technology, as originally reported.