How will brands differentiate themselves in a world of virtual assistants?

In .Data & applied AI, Blogfest-en by Baufest

With the acceleration of digital transformation and the advancement of new technologies, the world is heading towards a future where we will have AI-powered automated buyers or customers who will be attended to by AI virtual assistants, giving rise to AI-to-AI marketing and direct selling channels.

Wednesday 6 - March - 2024
Mujer realizando una compra a través de un asistente virtual

In fact, according to the consultancy Gartner, the era of machine customers has already begun and will have an impact that will double that of e-commerce.

Machine customers (or custobots) can be defined as AI-powered programs designed with the ability to automatically buy or sell products. These intelligent devices use AI and the Internet to make purchases on their own. They are typically machines programmed to buy on behalf of people and are poised as proactive decision-makers, with the potential capacity to predict needs, initiate product research, and analyze markets for the best prices.

Too futuristic to be real? It might seem so, and yet Gartner forecasts that by 2030, at least 25% of all consumer purchases and business replenishment requests will be substantially delegated to machines.

A new approach The ability of these tools to carry out quick, low-cost, high-volume transactions raises high expectations about the volume of business they could generate. In a survey, 61% of CEOs said that by 2030, the demand from machine customers will be significant in their industry, and they expect them to generate an average of 21% of revenue by then.

The potential applications are manifold: from smart appliances that request supplies to self-driving cars that pay tolls. In service and support, these automated customers can take the form of virtual assistants that perform service tasks on behalf of real human clients. And in manufacturing plants, they can take the form of IoT devices that detect worn-out parts and request replacements or schedule maintenance.

As Gartner analysts explain, there are already services capable of automatically performing limited functions as “co-customers” on behalf of the owner: people set the rules and the machine executes them within a specific and prescribed ecosystem. “These machines are therefore ‘tethered customers’ and represent the early developments of an evolution that will occur in three phases,” anticipate the analysts. From this perspective, the final phase (which would materialize from 2036 onwards) will give rise to autonomous customers with enough intelligence to act independently on behalf of humans, based on their ability to process large amounts of information to make a decision.

In the short term

In the immediate future, this process will already begin to be seen: for example, apps will be practically invisible when the Chat-GPT or similar solutions are integrated into cell phones as more powerful assistants. At the same time, it is already beginning to be noticed that apps are being used or consumed by virtual assistants or bots, and they are also prepared for it.

This means that the mobile app-based operating model will be left behind, and an approach based on natural language processing and conversational AI, both from the customer side and business support, with more intuitive interfaces, is already anticipated. In fact, there are increasingly more devices connected to the Internet, and more people are using intelligent virtual assistants. This implies that in the future, a significant part of customer service management could gradually fall into the hands of non-human processors.

Automated customers

Naturally, the technological scenario we describe will also influence the development of new products and services. Faced with this new landscape, companies will have to adapt their strategies to differentiate themselves. Among other things, as we said, they will have to guarantee the seamless and effective integration between applications and virtual assistants, assess the challenges in interaction, and see how it can affect the user experience or customer experience.

What will the experience be like in a world without apps and branches? And how will brands differentiate themselves in a world of virtual assistants?

Machine customers cannot be “seduced” in the way that humans were. As Gartner indicates, they are more likely to engage with a provider “if the sales and fulfillment process works smoothly and simply meets the requirements of the service level agreement.”

Therefore, companies will have to adapt to serve these non-human customers and, for example, provide application programming interfaces (APIs) for more efficient interactions.

Challenges and opportunities

So, how should companies prepare to provide personalized user experiences, with a focus on the efficiency and precision required by this new type of customer, and at the same time be compatible, accessible, and attractive both for virtual assistants and human users?

With regard to automated customers, it is recommended first to explore what types of bots could become buyers of the company’s products and services. It should also be evaluated if they will act as intermediaries between the company and its human buyers. In addition, sellers could study machine behavior to identify patterns that could inform their business tactics, as in the future they will have to convince algorithms instead of people. Therefore, sales experts will have to incorporate machine learning knowledge.

At the same time, the advanced analytics currently used to personalize sales to humans will also need to be used to “fine-tune the aim” with machines.

Gartner analysts also recommend that sellers partner with customer experience teams “to develop new customer journey maps focused on machines and based on different human-machine journeys.”

In other words: without neglecting the needs and behaviors of humans, sellers and marketers will have to assess how machines fit into the customer journey.

In this way, organizations will need to adjust the way they market and sell their products to connect with the way algorithms make decisions. In this transition, they will need to focus more on data usage and specific communication methods.

At the same time, since automated buyers will carry out transactions through digital platforms more quickly, in greater numbers, and with more specific information needs, it will be crucial for companies to create ultra-efficient digital commerce circuits and respond to all the data required by machines. For example, aspects such as inventory and warehouse automation could be crucial. And for example, the product information shared on the Web should not only be thought for a human audience but should also attract the attention of automated buyers.

In this way, programming will become a key tool for sales activity in the new context. And among other things, organizations will have to ensure that their apps are ready to be consumed by bots.

On the other hand, ensuring smooth communication and compatibility with various machine systems will become crucial.

This process of developing autonomous customers presents opportunities but also poses significant challenges, such as the need to act with transparency and informed consent regarding the use of AI in business, the requirement to guard against algorithm biases to ensure equal opportunities for all customers, and safeguarding data privacy and security.

Hybrid models

To navigate the new scenario, companies must think about implementing hybrid models, where they can meet the needs of this new type of customer and offer virtual assistant services, without neglecting users who still prefer the human factor when interacting with their companies.

It is known that an AI assistant can identify patterns and trends that companies can use to improve their products and services, as well as to adapt their marketing and communication strategies. Of course, this has an impact on sales. However, it is important to note that AI-based customer service apps do not replace human teams when interacting with human users, as although they can handle many queries and routine tasks, they cannot handle more complex issues that require human empathy, understanding, and judgment.

Clearly, machines cannot replace human customers, especially in the case of products that elicit strong emotional bonds. Therefore, companies must strike a balance between the two dynamics.

In the future, companies will likely interact with both human consumers and artificial intelligence ones. And in this context, hybrid models will be strengthened, where interfaces cater to both human sensitivity and AI efficiency. At Baufest, we closely follow these processes and offer cutting-edge technological tools and services so that companies can engage profitably and sustainably with both human decision-makers and the emerging automated tools.