When Machines Get Smarter, So Do CMOs

Five Industries Where Machine Learning Will Shape Customer Experience and Marketing Programs

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We are on the cusp of an exciting -- and unchartered -- new era in technology, where decisions and problem-solving will be aided by smart machines that will sense, learn, infer and even think on behalf of humans.

Although not yet mainstream, smart machines are increasingly making appearances in the form of autonomous cars, robots and other cognitive computing systems that are able to solve problems and make decisions without human intervention. Conversational user interfaces are also on the rise, relying on smart technologies and machine learning to facilitate dialogue between people and bots.

The proliferation of data and intelligent platforms has become increasingly prevalent and is beginning to shape the way businesses must transform their own organizations to become more agile and adaptive in how they go to market and engage with their customers. Smart machines can help marketers filter out mountains of noise to pinpoint that single piece of insight needed to make a more informed decision.

Whether it's knowing which segments are growing faster than the economy, where to invest next, or determining the precise offer that will generate the desired customer response, the laser-beam insights that can be garnered from complex behavioral analysis become increasingly valuable.

In this connected age where CMOs are bombarded with information, content and endless decision-making challenges, here are five industries in which CMOs can leverage smart machines to model smarter behaviors.

DBS Bank uses IBM's Watson in search of a next-generation customer experience.
DBS Bank uses IBM's Watson in search of a next-generation customer experience. Credit: IBM/DBS Bank

1. Banking. Several banks are using smart-machine-enabled virtual assistants in a broad range of functions. For example, DBS Bank in Singapore uses IBM's Watson to quality assure its advice to private banking customers. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in Japan offers virtual customer assistants, fluent in 19 languages, to help interpret a consumer's emotional state as he or she is greeted at the branch or online. At the commercial Bank of Dubai, a virtual customer assistant named Sara is available 24/7 to help website visitors fill out forms and get up-to-the-minute answers to questions about saving and investing.

2. Insurance. In the insurance sector, smart machines will perform everything from routine chores to solving complex problems, often in real time. For example, Genworth Financial automates the underwriting of life insurance applications with help from smart machines. Underwriter guidelines are encoded into the system and a self-evolving algorithm is used to optimize performance.

3. Hospitality. One hotel that is getting a lot of buzz for its smart machine deployment, specifically robots, is Japan's Henn-na Hotel.

The Henn-na Hotel robot concierge.
The Henn-na Hotel robot concierge. Credit: Huisten Bosch

"These robots will warm your heart," says a happy traveler upon his initial stay. Henn-na, which translates to "strange," certainly lives up to its name, but in ways that delight guests. Travelers who have experienced the hotel find the robots charming and fun to be around.

4. CMO advisory services. Unlike virtual personal assistants, smart advisors take in large amounts of relevant material -- manuals, textbooks or case law in a particular domain -- to make strategic recommendations. Smart advisors mimic an understanding of the material by extracting ideas, concepts and relationships between major points, drawing inferences from what they have processed.

5. Regulatory guidance. CMOs will use smart advisors to ingest all policy documents within an organization or reference materials from government agencies and industry associations. Smart advisors will enable the CMO to evaluate the information and understand the impact of proposed regulation changes in a particular country. In a sales capacity, smart advisors could be used to audit a business proposal against the external client's purchasing policies and external regulatory constraints.

So what's next?

One of the areas to watch in applying smart machines to marketing is the prescriptive analytics discipline, where the result of an analytical exercise is a recommended course of action. In fact, it's the decision output of prescriptive analytics that differentiates it from the descriptive, diagnostic nature of predictive analytics. Many use cases are evolving -- such as making more informed decisions in cross-selling, database marketing and churn management. But with smart machines, many new use cases will emerge.

Look beyond your home sector. New ideas are often rejected because they challenge culture, processes and decades-old attitudes about what it means to compete in one's chosen sector. For example, while the driverless car may seem irrelevant to your company, think about what it implies for your customers' daily lives. Thinking outside the box always helps you discover things you hadn't thought of, as well as dream big.

Focus on tasks versus occupations. In some cases, smart machines will supplant an entire role, but even then, it does not indicate the death of that role's associated occupation. In many of the industry examples mentioned, smart machines perform certain activities of an occupation, freeing the individual to deliver work of higher value.

Maintain perspective. American artist and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, "While one machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men, no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man." As extraordinary as smart machines are, like any technology, they offer business leaders an extra set of capabilities and tools to make better, more informed decisions.

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