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Q&A: Making AI work for your business

Q. Why do businesses need conversational, artificially intelligent technologies?

A. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is fast becoming a business-critical factor for enterprises. It strengthens faltering customer relationships through closer engagement and realises revenue opportunities that might otherwise have been missed.

A key capability in any AI application is the ability to exhibit humanlike intelligence by holding a natural conversation, one in which the application can understand, predict and respond appropriately to the user.

By 2020 conversational applications will usurp even web technology’s meteoric rise to business-critical status

The launch of Siri was the first step in this revolution and the near-constant stream of intelligent conversational devices launched since then has only heightened the consumer desire for more. Customers are already demanding an enhanced, more intelligent experience from their utility providers, telcos, banks and retailers.

This trend will become so compelling that by 2020 conversational applications will usurp even web technology’s meteoric rise to business-critical status.

Q. What is Teneo and why did you build it?

A. Teneo is a platform that allows companies to create artificially intelligent applications that interact with users in a natural and realistic way.

Importantly for businesses, it delivers sophisticated capability without the need for extensive development effort and time because Teneo automates many of the processes that make developing these applications so resource intensive.

With Teneo, customers can talk to their technology just as if it was another human and receive an intelligent response. Teneo remembers past conversations and is able to veer off to discuss a different issue, then use its memory to return to the original topic. Unlike many humans, it also remembers a user’s preferences from one interaction to the next.

Think of how many different ways there are to ask to book a train ticket to Edinburgh. Teneo’s natural language interaction technology allows it to understand all possible phrasing of the same basic question and then act accordingly, even predicting the next move. Customer: “I fancy going to Scotland for Hogmanay.” Teneo: “I’ll check the train times to Edinburgh this New Year.”

Q. How is Teneo being used?

A. Teneo is already used in millions of natural language conversations annually. It is deployed by our customers, partners and developer community across 26 countries and in 35 languages. Enterprises such as Vodafone, Shell, Telenor and DHL are using Teneo to enhance their customer experience.

Q.Why build a platform rather than an off-the-shelf solution?

A. We wanted to put the power of AI-based systems in the hands of businesses. There are thousands of use-cases for Teneo; by a bank to discuss account transactions, by a utility company to pay bills and change personal information, or by a manufacturer to interact with an internet of things device. Each company has a unique culture and a different way of doing things. Teneo makes it possible to build AI experiences tailored to each of them.

But this is only part of the story. Once companies start using Teneo, they see the difference it can make in other areas of the business. Teneo’s flexibility means they can define their own use-cases and develop as many additional applications as they want to, reusing much of an original build and delivering an even greater return on investment.

Historically, creating these sophisticated interfaces has required specialist skills, significant resources and a great deal of time. Teneo changes this by eliminating the need for specialist linguistic skill sets. For example, its advanced machine-learning capabilities automatically write the complex underlying language code and algorithms that simulate the way a human thinks.

Q. How can companies use the data Teneo-based applications create?

A. It is a virtuous circle. Every single conversation a customer has with a Teneo-based application is automatically logged. Teneo then uses other AI techniques to train itself automatically to improve its performance, use the information in real time to personalise the conversation and understand the mindset of the customer as never before.

Secondly, we offer a unique proposition to our clients. We don’t try to compete with them for their conversational data. Many of the tech giants that offer alternatives harvest the data in order to use the information for their own benefit. But we believe it’s vital companies own their data themselves.

To help maximise its hidden potential, we provide the tools to mine what is a huge treasure trove of unstructured, first-person, “voice of the customer” data. It’s like being able to listen in to every sales assistant conversation and every customer support agent interaction with customers, understanding their intentions, actions and behaviours. Imagine knowing exactly what was the last thing your customer said before they purchased?

This information can then be used to optimise, not just the conversation, but business processes, product trends and hidden growth opportunities.

Q. What is the future for AI?

A. We predict that in the next 18 months, those customer-facing businesses that want to survive the digital transformation into AI will rush to have user-friendly, effective natural language interfaces.

In the longer term, this will develop into a more complex ecosystem where different interfaces are able to interact with each other to provide a seamless experience for the customer. To do that enterprises will need a technology that’s fast and easy to use, and simultaneously works across devices and operating systems, in any language.

And this is exactly the vision that Teneo is delivering now.

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Shell created digital assistants Emma and Ethan to advise customers on the technical aspects of its lubricants business. The assistants know the details of tens of thousands of unique Shell products and specifications, and can answer a wide range of queries and technical information requests, from suitability for a particular vehicle, engine and use, to performance benefits.

Initially launched in the UK and US, the application is now available in several languages, including complex ones such as Russian and Chinese.

Shell say the technology has already reduced the activity to its call centre by 40 per cent. It also enables them to supply consistent and legally accurate answers across the many different markets and regulatory environments. The feedback to Shell’s Teneo-based applications has been impressive, with 99 per cent of user expectations met.

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