Earlier this month Zanzi’s Jayne Reddyhoff spoke at the world’s first global Social Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) conference at Oxford Brookes University, and it got us thinking… How can online businesses embrace AI and use it to their advantage?

It’s easy to feel threatened by the impending invasion of “robots” in the workplace, hijacking our jobs, and upending “traditional” human interactions expected at work. But guess what folks… robots are already here, and it’s not all that bad.

Embracing robotics in the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean putting R2-D2 on the payroll. Instead social robotics, by which we mean incorporating “big data” or machine learning into business-as-usual, can begin to help us with the tasks mere mortals just aren’t good at, thus freeing us up to do the more creative and challenging tasks.

[tweetthis]Big Data: “extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions” (Oxford Dictionary)[/tweetthis]

In fact, when done intelligently, robotics and humans can work together to get a competitive edge in business. Here’s how:

1. Increase online sales enquiries by giving more to your customers

Whether your business has a lead generation or an Ecommerce focus, harnessing big data is a great way to get to know your customers better.

Use big data to understand your customer needs and behaviours

There’s an abundance of analytical tools out there to help you get a grip of your customers’ behaviours around browsing, questioning, deciding and buying on your website. Google Analytics is the most common tool and it’s free. It gives you insight into how your website visitors found you, as well as their journey through your site.

If you work in an Ecommerce business, you’ll be able to see where your website visitors came from and what happened to them as they progressed through their browsing and deciding process, then through the checkout to a successful purchase. If you’ve set up Analytics properly, you’ll be able to see where people drop out early, and iron out your customer experience accordingly.

If your website is lead-generation focused then you can do the same thing. But in this case you’ll track people’s journeys through to your key conversion goals. You can then make assumptions on why people converted, and what changes would encourage more conversions.

More sophisticated Ecommerce businesses are using big data to advance into predictive sales. Take for example, Amazon, who are the masters of customer experience, knowing what people want before they even know it themselves. Amazon uses indicators such as time spent on the site, number of views, which links were clicked or hovered on, shopping cart activity and wish lists.

Adding in a bit of extra market trend information, it then uses this data to predict what you’re likely to want to browse and purchase, or as their patent puts it “decision support for speculative shipping of items.”

Refine the customer relationship

Building on this, businesses are making headway into using AI to speak to their customers in an increasingly “human” way, thereby streamlining the purchasing/conversion process.

One example of this is Creative Virtual‘s virtual assistant called “Ask Lisa” used by National Rail Enquiries. Such tools are learning human traits and interacting with customers using sympathy, humour, politeness and so on. This helps to mimic inter-human relationships and improve the customer service.

However, whilst we’re moving further away from the “Computer Says No” phenomenon – and surely that’s a good thing – people are still greatly divided about how they really want their artificial assistant to interact with them! Are you a Siri lover or hater?

2. Hire the right workforce by removing prejudice from recruitment

According to Forbes magazine, corporate recruiting is currently on its knees, with 85% of applicants not hearing back after submitting an application, and 71% of employers not finding the candidate with the right skill set. Needs from both sides are not being matched because recruitment processes are old-fashioned, stressful and rife with human bias, albeit subconscious.

Online recruitment websites are far from new, with companies and job-hunters advertising online for years. However, it’s now full of pitfalls, with accounts remaining dormant and clogging up the networks with redundant profiles and job ads. And all the traditional biases, around gender, ethnicity and disability, still come into play online, especially when it’s left to an HR department to stack many candidates against each other, falling back on instinct to fill the post.

Increasingly, big data is being used to match the required skill set with the person who most possesses it, by creating collaborative profiles from a person’s entire internet footprint. Connectifier are a good example of this. They pull together all an employee’s activity across the internet (social media, blogging, memberships etc) into one central location and ensure that each profile is kept up-to-date and therefore a trustworthy resource for recruiters.

Companies are also using “natural language processing” (NLP) to whittle out corporate jargon and clichés that put certain candidates off even applying for a job. This article by Fast Company delves into the kinds of gender prejudices found in traditional hiring communications, which could be solved by NLP.

3. Nail your marketing through automation and integration

Whilst key to business growth, marketing is becoming more and more complicated. However, there are ways in which AI can help you to predict, automate and integrate to relieve your burden…. thereby reaching your target customer and selling to them more efficiently.

One example of this is ‘Ad serving’ technology (more here, on Wikipedia). This is software that choose the ads that will make the website or advertiser most money, places them on a website, monitors which one is doing best and then pushes the better ones.

Content marketing activities can be managed by integrated and automated tools such as Buffer, IFTTT and Feedly integrations. But from AdWords, to audience segmentation, to voice recognition, to forecasting, check out this article on Econsultancy to read more about the many and varied ways you can AI your marketing!

4. Re-imagine the workplace and see the bigger picture

All the above points to the need to adopt a new kind of workplace. A workplace where humans and AI work collaboratively in the interests of efficiency and creativity, particularly among the more entrepreneurial of us.

The traditional office, where we’d expect to see a secretary answering the phones and greeting customers, the CEO in his office with his personal assistant overseeing his diary and photocopying his documents, is long gone.

Now we should expect to see machines taking calls; integrated online calendars organising staff appointments; and low-level processes, such as social media posting or market research, taken on by AI. This doesn’t necessarily mean that robots are stealing our jobs. Quite the opposite, argue the experts. Robots should be encouraged to take on some of our “tasks”, allowing us to do our “jobs” better. There’s a big difference.

Indeed, all those terrible strains of business – anxiety around risk, boredom of monotony, restrictiveness of working hours – can be made less painful by AI. While computers are getting on with what they do best, people can get on with their work unfettered.

Take, for example, Zanzi Digital. As digital consultants, it’s crucial for us to analyse data so that we can refine what we do for our clients. The more we automate SEO, AdWords, social media, and content production, the more we can take a step back and spend more time on the valuable work of really understanding what’s happening with our clients’ businesses and how we can improve their marketing.

In short, the human workforce will be augmented by robots and freed up to do the more high-level tasks – meeting with clients, thinking creatively, making the big decisions.

Extra tips:

  • Start small – AI doesn’t have to be huge and revolutionary; make incremental changes.
  • Think human – it’s not a question about “us” vs “them”, rather how we complement each other.
  • Build AI into your business strategy and ethos, making the business case before investing in (expensive) solutions.


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