Robots raise the stakes when it comes to sales
My old mate Pete just got back from Las Vegas. And he’s in love with a local named Rose. Pete’s a poker player. He’s quick to point out he’s a game fan, not a gambler. He gets together every week with a group of men and women enthusiasts, plays for chips and tries to hone his skills.
Poker has really taken off over the past decade. Predominantly it’s no-limit Texas hold ’em, a game highlighted in the movie Rounders and also now featuring on the American Travel channel.
Together with a diverse group of Kiwis, Pete flew to Vegas to play Texas hold ’em last month at the Venetian Poker Tournament. In Vegas he met Rose.
Rose works for the iconic Metropolitan Hotel in Vegas. She’s an insider who can give you all the tips on what to drink, where to go and even deliver you a burger to your room at 3:47 in the morning.
The self-confessed mischiefmaker is a bit of a flirt and warns you ‘‘watch out, we’re in for a wild ride’’.
Rose is a chatbot. When you check into the hotel you get her text number. You can then ask her anything – from the best free breakfasts on the strip, through to the hippest drinks or the best hangover cure. She also provides room service, taxis or a human-less check out.
Flip across to the commercial side of the equation and Rose averages 7.7 conversations with 3000 guests every three days. That’s more than 22,000 customer requests dealt with in a personal manner, with 90 per cent customer satisfaction. And she could do twice that number without breaking a cyber sweat.
Two years ago I opined on the likely impact of artificial intelligence-driven chatbots – computer programmes that simulate conversations with people and can initiate digital actions as a result, be that booking a table at a restaurant or signing you up to a loan.
Since then, the uptake of chatbots has been exponential. In September 2016, there were 33,000 bots on Facebook Messenger. Last year that passed 100,000 and it’s picked to pass 200,000 this year. The frictionless distribution and customisation ability of bots is disrupting the heck out of a lot of industries, including home loans, real estate and travel.
Digital home-loan brokers with bot front ends now act as fee-free mortgage brokers in Europe and the US. Strike up a conversation with the bot front end of companies like Trussle or Habito and they will analyse every mortgage in the market and find the best one for your circumstances and property.
Some can even drive conveyancing, pushing the disruption into the legal industry as well as mortgages.
Opendoor is a platform in the US which offers AI-driven house buying. Homeowners wanting a firm and fast exit from their homes simply provide their address and complete a few short questions to then get a firm offer on their property.
For sellers, this means trading time and uncertainty with a bank cheque and certainty, subject only to a property inspection.
For this certainty they get charged 6 per cent of the purchase price. When you consider the average final commission for a house sale through a real estate agent is around 3.4 per cent, that means you are paying 2.6 per cent additional margin along with any additional premium a good agent can deliver.
HiJiffy is a little like Rose, it’s a virtual concierge for the traveller. But rather than being bespoke and text-driven, it’s a common platform that provide scale across hotel chains. HiJiffy sits in Facebook Messenger and acts as personal butler, receptionist, room service and distribution service.
It allows travellers and tourists to check into hotels and their rooms via their phones, and includes integrated payment and booking. While not as sultry as Rose, it’s a scalable platform and is currently being trialled across the Marriott chain.
Back here in Aotearoa we’re still playing catch-up. Air New Zealand was one of the first out of the blocks with Oscar chatbot. First introduced 18 months ago to handle flight, baggage and Koru inquiries, Oscar is now having more than 1000 conversations a day in 380 subject areas.
Most banks have got beta versions of chatbots in play including ANZ’s Jamie, a digital avatar of a young brown-haired, bespectacled woman who has 30 subject areas of knowledge. She’s slightly creepy but still impressive for first-generation videoresponsive technology.
Meanwhile, the regulators are catching up fast. Back in May, Kiwi Wealth became the first financial services provider to be approved by the Financial Markets Authority to deliver personalised robo financial advice. They won’t be the last.
But the interesting part to me is the sales potential of chatbots. The biggest drop-off rate in digitally driven sales funnels is the final stage of signup. Typically companies can’t afford personalised service at the point of conversion, at least not for narrow margin products.
Chatbots change that equation. My mate Pete found himself wanting to please Rose, the Vegas bot. If you could make a sales conversation bot that invoked the same response and could comfortably carry on the process with 3000 prospects a day, you would fundamentally change the sales environment.
Combine that with Google Duplex, their outbound voice interface for phones, and you know Rose is right. We’re all in for a wild ride. Better buckle up.
Mike ‘‘MOD’’ O’Donnell is a professional director, advisor and writer. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he’s got the bot. While this column is his personal opinion, for full disclosure it’s noted MOD is a director of Kiwi Wealth.
Grant Hamel, customer services manager at the Timaru District Council introduces Tim the chatbot.
Chatbots let businesses offer personalised service at the point of conversion.