customer communicationIt should have become clear by now, that AI technology has the potential both to create opportunity and to drive significant disruption, since it is a foundational catalyst for advanced process automation and human augmentation and engagement.

For instance, an end user does not have to be clear about his communication strategy before using artificial intelligence to his advantage, rather just try out the new tools or features. For example, Google Duplex, a digital assistant for consumers is already in use in the USA, which makes appointments with the hairdresser or craftsman by phone or reserves a table in the restaurant. What I want to point out is that end users are already using artificial intelligence to communicate, and companies still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to AI. In other words, it is high time to change that.

Buying and selling behavior changed

Technologies such as text mining, possibly in conjunction with smart speakers, make it easier for consumers to research relevant information that interests them personally or professionally. If Google News is used, for example, the user no longer surfs on individual media or company pages. The target group is sometimes so spoiled that they do much less research themselves, making it difficult for companies to draw the target group's attention to their own messages. End users can even collect and use the data they leave on the Internet, e.g. selling it to advertisers via BitsaboutMe.

And it's not just the end users who take advantage of AI’s possibilities. If, in the past, purchasing departments have only looked at the balance sheet of a supplier, AI is now researching, structuring and evaluating the overall framework that is important to a company -  often pressured by customers - from the supplier's environmental awareness to its attitude to human rights, political issues and security aspects to management style at board level.

It wasn't that long ago that the buying behavior of purchasing departments and end users has changed fundamentally: through the Internet. Over the past 20 years, many companies have lost market share and sales as a result. Even today, quite a few of them are surprised that their previous strategies and content no longer work. They do not want to realize that the Internet offers more than the option of having a business card online - it is the basis for unprecedented market transparency. The formerly ‘loyal’ target group not only has completely different information and research options, but also many more choices. We are all aware of the fact that a tendency to switch has replaced old brand loyalty. It was too much work for companies that missed the connection here to keep an eye on forum posts, posts in social media and reviews - not to mention actively using these channels. They thought they could sit it out, but they have neither adequately observed and analyzed the Internet technology nor the behavior of their target group. And they did not react to the changed buying behavior in time: with a changed selling behavior. Given the next paradigm shift from AI, this must not happen a second time.

Challenges and opportunities of AI in communication

There are two challenges for communicators in sales, service, marketing and corporate communication: not only that they have to deal extensively with possible own AI communication scenarios, they should also research what information needs to exist and which applications their target group is already using or will use in the foreseeable future. Knowing what a product or service provider or the end-user AI is looking for and how it evaluates the results is the first step towards providing suitable answers to AI's questions.

Face the truth that AI is already changing the way companies work in their communication: digital, voice-controlled assistants help to get relevant information faster, order things, or even edit photos and graphics. There are features like speech-to-text, text-to-speech and even text-to-video. Translations of entire Word or PowerPoint files or conversations, automated image recognition and text creation are possible. Automating recurring processes simply saves a lot of time and improves the throughput and the outcome of the communication enormously.

Artificial intelligence can not only accelerate repetitive work processes, but also bring completely new insights. Various aspects can be analyzed: for example, behavior in social media, voice patterns, facial expressions or body signals such as heart and respiratory rate. Nowadays, algorithms can not only find out what a person wants at a certain moment, they can also recognize how they feel about it and how they tick in general. With this knowledge, not only the specific approach can be changed, but also the specific offer portfolio - right down to the individual price.

Look a little further into the future

It becomes clear that the use of AI on the supplier and buyer side does not only change the way we work in sales, service, marketing and communication; it will completely revolutionize communication. Why? Because in the future, artificial intelligence on the supplier side will increasingly communicate directly with artificial intelligence on the demand side. Unlike us, AIs don't let psychological effects influence their decision.

We need data, numbers and facts - in depth and speed - that we as humans could neither understand nor make available fast enough. The prerequisite for smooth communication between AIs is - much more than today - the availability and accessibility of correct, current and relevant data.

But anyone who hopes that this will make any channel superfluous will be disappointed. The past few decades have shown that channels and technologies can lose importance after time, but never disappear entirely. Communication channels are also subject to trends, which are currently called digitization, automation and artificial intelligence. But the complexity does not decrease, but increase, making AI more indispensable.

Fortunately, the fear that communication could completely lose its human touch is unfounded. It is not a contradiction: technology sometimes makes communication even more human. What we perceive as typical human communication is communication with an individual character, real one-to-one communication. Such communication is direct, fast, specific, relevant, understandable, trusting and personal. In fact, AI can meet all these criteria for one-on-one communication: the first chatbot in history has been Eliza, a virtual psychotherapist that computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum programmed back in 1966. In such an individual interaction, machines even have advantages: not only can they interpret our behavior, our facial expressions, voice and body signals, their own communication does not flow into their communication, since a chatbot doesn't have bad days.

Don’t just keeping up, stay one step ahead instead

Responsible entrepreneurs should now empower their marketing, sales, service and communications departments to work on the future of their communications, simply because it is crucial for the competitive situation of companies to adapt their own sales behavior to the changed shopping behavior of target groups - and ideally even to anticipate this change. It is important to make time and resources available for the observation and analysis of new technologies and behavior changes. Industry associations, as well as trade fairs and congress organizers, often offer lectures and workshops on the various trend topics. Of course, it is also possible to conduct in-house workshops or to hire external consultants. By experimenting with automation and AI in their communication, companies train their future viability. When researching suitable tools, it is advisable to hire an employee from the communications department who is tech-savvy and trained in linguistics. Many technology providers offer free trial accounts and support users in experimenting.

The change in corporate communication is omnipresent and digitalization is inevitable. In order to survive in the competition of the future, it is essential for companies to now consider the possibilities of artificial intelligence - both regarding their own communication scenarios and regarding the information needs and preferred applications of their target group. Of course, dealing with privacy, digital ethics and security challenges generated by AI and other evolving technologies will become critical to maintain trust and avoid legal entanglements, but let’s talk about this crucial topic another time.

By Daniela La Marca