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AI-powered digital assistants from Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Baidu, and Samsung are becoming smarter and more widely used, a trend that will accelerate going forward. Many of these powerful players are also at the forefront of driving AI-infused chatbots. The new generation of digital assistants are leveraging AI capabilities such as machine learning and natural language processing to return far more accurate, relevant results than ever before, ushering in a new era of interactive and personalized consumer engagement.

The benefit of digital assistants to the likes of Amazon and Google is clear. They have the potential to pull consumers more deeply into their service ecosystems, which in turn holds out the possibility of increased revenues. The ultimate goal is to increase user engagement and time spent with their services – and those of third parties that join these ecosystems. But before brands, service providers, and others commit to a digital assistant ecosystem, there are several complex issues they need to consider:

  • Marketing messages and advertising in the intelligent agent context must be 100% relevant and well targeted if they are to become a legitimate part of the conversation and not appear intrusive.

  • A brand, service provider, or enterprise's relationship with its target market might weaken because a consumer's primary link is with the digital assistant, rather than the party it calls into a conversation. This carries the risk of disintermediation.

  • The AI capabilities of digital assistants will improve with use and exposure, making them more autonomous over time. The ultimate scenario will see digital assistants from Google, Apple, and others making decisions for your customers.

  • Service providers and other parties could lose valuable insights into consumer behavior and preferences if consumers move away from a brand-owned mobile app or website to a digital assistant.

  • Data sharing will be a complex balancing act. Multiple third parties will integrate with digital assistants and chatbots, and it is not yet clear how the massive amount of data generated will be shared and controlled – or which party ultimately retains ownership.

  • As AI capabilities become more embedded in digital assistants, they will be able to surface unprecedented levels of consumer, product, and service data, which in turn will ratchet up privacy concerns.

There is no question that AI-powered digital assistants and chatbots have huge potential, but as the points above underline, they are not without challenges. Third parties that become part of a digital assistant ecosystem must do so with open eyes. Service providers, enterprises, and brands must proceed with caution and be sure the terms of engagement work in their favor.

Straight Talk is a weekly briefing from the desk of the Chief Research Officer. To receive this newsletter by email, please contact us.

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