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AI is more than just doing things cheaper and faster

Choose the parts of AI to deploy to demonstrate return-on-investment and differentiate your brand, says Volkswagen Australia’s chief customer officer

Artificial intelligence (AI) stepped out of the research labs and into the limelight at the 17th Cebit exhibition and conference held in Sydney, Australia.

Demonstrations of bots and even smart golf trolleys attracted widespread attention, but it was in the conference sessions that delegates were able look under the hood at what businesses are already achieving with AI.

Jeremy Hubbard, head of digital for online-only bank UBank, outlined two AI projects now in production: a chatbot supporting home loan applicants and an AI service to help employees respond to customer enquiries based on insights from 1,000 documents.

Hubbard said the AI service was built by six people in 12 weeks, while the customer-facing chatbot entered production within eight weeks and had been able to answer 80% of questions at first attempt with a 15% increase in customer conversion rate.

Although UBank could build a chatbot in a matter of weeks with a small team, that was not the case for its parent bank NAB.

Craig Swinburne, general manager of business support for customer journey at NAB, said although the bank has rolled out chatbots this year, there will be more focus on other speech interfaces and greater use of data to personalise offers for customers in future.

“To try and build something that looks as simple as a chatbot is just difficult and labour intensive,” said Swinburne, adding that businesses should look to other areas where AI could deliver a step-change advantage instead.

Experimenting with AI

Despite the challenges, Swinburne called for organisations to start experimenting with AI as soon as possible because of the relative scarcity of skills in the area, and to gain a first-mover advantage.

Echoing Swinburne’s sentiments, Volkswagen Australia chief customer officer Jason Bradshaw said it was important to assess how AI could benefit an organisation. Chatbots, for example, offered little value for his firm, which only experiences occasional consumer interactions, he explained.

Instead, Volkswagen Australia is using Salesforce’s Einstein and Qualtrics to understand customer behaviour and deliver the right information to customers at the right time.

In the US, Volkswagen lets customers use Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant to book a vehicle service, but Bradshaw said this will not be available in Australia any time soon, noting the firm is still “dealing with the expectation that AI will fix every problem in our business”.

Instead, Bradshaw advised organisations to choose what parts of AI to deploy to prove the technology’s return-on-investment. “It has to be much more than ‘it’s cheaper or faster’ – it has to be about how to differentiate your brand,” he said.

Read more about AI in Australia

That brand differentiation, however, should not be at the expense of trust.

Kate Carruthers, chief data and analytics officer at the University of New South Wales, reminded conference delegates of the need to take an ethical approach to any technology deployment, and to assess the ethics of data, algorithms and practices.

She recommended people to refer to the UK’s House of Lords AI committee report that identified five important principles that should be applied to AI.

NAB’s Swinburne added: “If you know what you are doing is right for the customer, you are going to get your ethics right.

That may be a hard sell for Australia’s banks which are currently facing fierce scrutiny from the Banking Royal Commission on their past practices. Still, Swinburne noted that AI could also be harnessed to comply with regulations on know-your-customer (KYC) procedures and financial advisory services.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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