The event boasted insights from speakers such as Max Amordeluso of Amazon, Alex Murray from Lidl UK, Marks & Spencer’s Ian Mahoney and Alex Dogariu from Mercedes-Benz to name a few, alongside a breadth of leading industry experts.
Our AI Specialist, Dan Whaley, joined the prestigious panel to discuss the future of brand relationships, as the capabilities of conversational commerce grows. Dan also co-hosted a practical workshop with Senior Interaction Designers, Stephen Mailey and Margaret Urban from Google. The design sprint introduced participants to a user-centred design process for creating voice and conversation experiences. The conference discussed many exciting innovations going on in the world of virtual assistants, but here we highlight what we think were the three main themes… agency, personalisation and context.
During the panel discussion on Bots and Brands, Dan’s talk opened with an exploration into the future of personal assistant bots such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. The clear direction is for assistants to take away the number of tasks from both the end user and the service provider, meaning that we grant the technology ‘agency’ to do something for us, without our direct involvement. Keynote speaker and Author, Doc Searls, highlighted this theme and it continued as a key discussion point.
For brands, the message is that many (if not all) purchasing decisions for commodity products and services will one day be made by a bot. This means the relationship between you and your customers is profoundly disrupted. As discussed at length in the Harvard Business Review, brands need to think carefully about how they target your products and services… will you advertise to the consumer or to their bot? While this may feel futuristic, those of you who saw the Google Duplex feature announced this week will understand this is definitively the direction of travel.
Something that was apparent at the conference was that if we’re to have a virtual assistant bot that is able to take true agency, i.e. act on our behalf, it needs to know a lot about us. This is a complex issue, not just technically, but also from a privacy and ethical perspective.
As Amazon and Google are the key providers of the current personal assistant platforms, this makes us ask questions such as ‘who owns the data?’, ‘what’s the value exchange between user and service provider?’, ‘is this fair and transparent?’. Although a number of possibilities to solve this problem were discussed, there are currently no clear answers and it’s to likely take a while for us to completely understand this.
Finally, this brings us to the third theme, ‘context’. This came up a number of times during the panel and case study presentations. As conversational relationships between a brand and the consumer expand and mature, its becoming increasingly clear that context - in terms of the environment, prior engagement and state of mind the user is in - is a clear determinant of the types of exchange they are wanting to have and the mediums they want to engage on. For example, someone might be perfectly happy using voice to pay a bill at home on Saturday morning but, if they’re in the office, they may neither want to pay the bill or use voice as the medium to do so. It’s up to brands to become aware of this and develop their relationships with customers to be empathetic to their current circumstance. Chris Messina refers to this as ‘relationship design’ and sees this as a key part of the next generation of user experience design.
It’s clear that conversational computing is going to have a profound impact on the relationship between brands and consumers. This is just the beginning of a fascinating journey. Make sure that your brand gets on board early and learns how to engage with customers in this disruptive new paradigm.