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Google’s Meena Chatbot Could Humanize Conversational AI, But Are Enterprises Ready to Invest in More Intuitive Digital Customer Experiences

Illustration: © IoT For All

TechTarget’s Don Fluckinger is a friend and a highly regarded tech journalist. He recently rounded up dome of the industry’s leading CX and AI experts to explore Google Meena’s next-generation conversational AI. He always brings together a great group for a productive and thoughtful conversation!

For context, chatbots today are largely used in rule-based engagements, sitting on top of structured data to perform a set of focused operations. They connect customers to common information or facilitate everyday transactions. In the more effective cases, AI is used to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of chatbot responses while also aiming to improve the humanness of engagement.

Google’s conversational AI seeks to introduce a new layer of intelligence and range into the mix, by expanding how systems more intuitively interact with people and connect them to desired outcomes.

Following is our conversation about Google’s Meena, conversational AI, chatbots and CX…

Google’s Meena AI chatbot to eventually find its way into CX

Experts say Google’s Meena chatbot is a leap forward in conversational AI. But using it for websites and customer service will require all-new deployments and training methods.

Is Meena a huge step forward, or not, and why is it/isn’t it?

Chatbots have aimed to humanize customer experiences at a time when customer service, ironically the most critical and emotional stage of the customer journey, is largely automated and inhuman. IVRs frustrate people into hitting “0” or asking for a “representative” or “agent” repeatedly. The challenge though is that businesses have decades of investing in technology to automate engagement as a matter of scale and cost control. Real human beings are too expensive to scale 1:1.

The challenge with existing chatbots is that they were designed to scale automated experiences with the semblance of human engagement. But, I’d argue they were not trained based on real 1:1 conversations, they were developed upon existing platforms, i.e. knowledge bases and touchpoints with “if this, then that” repartee.

Google’s Meena was developed to respond sensibly to any given conversational context. Build upon that and you have a platform for delivering intelligence, accuracy and humanity over time.

Who is going to jump on it for early adoption in customer experience? I’m thinking call centers already have chatbots as do websites who use them for self-service….who’s going to rip and replace?

This is a very legitimate concern.

Service and support technologies are largely seen as cost centers. The idea of having to rip and replace has historical roots that encourage executives to prioritize cost over experience and scale over engagement. But if you think about customer experience as the “customer’s experience,” it’s then clear that it’s not only the right move, but also a wise one. Savvy organizations are competing on CX, because if any investment improves the customer’s experience, it fosters positive sentiment, which can affect loyalty and lifetime value. CX is then tied to ROI and growth.

Google has call center tech. This would make a lot of sense that their customers would be early adopters. What do you think?

Google’s AI is industry-leading and contact centers are a natural place to augment and automate existing processes. Every enterprise vendor is going after this space. While some executives focus on cost, others will focus on experience. Google is hyper-focused on what I call a human algorithm, using conversational platforms to deliver human-like experiences.

What is it going to take for chatbots to actually do effective work? Even meena spins off into incomprehensibility soon (seven turns, one article I read said).

For chatbots to do effective work and deliver satisfying customer experiences will take time and engagement cycles for AI and human conductors to improve the algorithm. What’s important to remember is that not all AI is the same.

In my last book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, I laid out a model for designing human experiences as a technology and journey blueprint. With AI, we now have to factor in “cognitive experience design.” This concept was introduced by Joanna Peña-Bickley, Head of Research & Design, Alexa Devices at Amazon.

Remember, this is artificial intelligence, it’s learning. But to improve in capabilities and the experiences AI delivers, algorithms must be programmed intentionally.

Experience design is an art and science. I think Meena is on a more promising path because it was developed with a intelligent and human experience beyond facilitating conversations. Google’s metric, Sensibleness and Specificity Average (SSA), is measuring to what degree the chatbot displays wisdom or prudence and also accuracy to given context. Other chatbots measure connectivity to information, time, number of responses to answer the question, etc.

What you measure is what you design for.

This is all to say Meena will only get better and its design intention is what most intrigues me.

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