Conversational commerce–the intersection of messaging apps with brands and services–became the “dominant trend” of consumer computing in 2016, according to product and UX developer Chris Messina, formerly of Google and Uber, who coined the term. Chatbots have provided the foundation for this rapidly emerging sector, providing consumers with an open, on-demand dialogue with brands.
However, chatbots are an “incremental innovation,” according to Kiyoto Tamura, vice president of marketing for data management firm Treasure Data, whose clients make 7 million data queries a month.
“They implement a much better UX for APIs but can’t replace humans for now,” Tamura said. “All the customer support use cases I see should have been automated years ago. For example, you shouldn’t need to go through five questions before you can check your bank balance. There are many customer-support scenarios that require human ingenuity and empathy, like bad product or service experience or creative problem-solving.”
This is exactly where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.
The adoption of AI in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to grow by 46.9% between 2016 and 2022, according to the “Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Market 2016-2022” report. “The artificial intelligence market is segmented into machine learning, natural language processing, image processing, and speech recognition,” the report, from Research and Markets, states. “Strong growth in these markets is expected to take place in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia.”
Indeed, APAC leads the West in AI adoption. This is mainly thanks to WeChat, the dominant messaging platform in China, which, with some 900 million monthly active users, has exploded in popularity across the region.
Last year, Tencent (WeChat’s parent company) opened its platform to developers to integrate online stores and services accessible through WeChat.
“China is behind in a lot of different areas, but one area where it’s ahead is in social content-driven commerce,” William Bao Bean, managing director at Chinese startup accelerator Chinaccelerator, told Tech in Asia magazine.
What makes AI successful in the region is its capacity to personalise experiences for customers. In the case of WeChat, users can order food, hail a taxi, book a doctor’s appointment, or buy a pair of shoes–all without friction.
In fact, personalisation is easily one of the biggest benefits marketers can derive from AI. While conversational commerce and chatbots have made it easier for customers and brands to communicate directly, personalisation holds the key to better customer engagement and service. This added value helps marketers eliminate their biggest frustration: spam.
According to the “Microsoft Asia Digital Future Survey,” which polled 1,400 young people in 14 markets across APAC and was released in February, Millennials are looking to AI to help them increase productivity, connect with people more effectively, and improve their health. Brands that can align with these needs are well-positioned to take advantage of AI technology.
Not The Norm–Yet
Meanwhile, according to Research and Markets’ report, the challenge of the hour for APAC marketers is to target the next billion mobile users in India and Indonesia, where services such as WeChat have yet to penetrate as deeply as they do in other parts of the region. Complicating the matter, what works as an integrated app in China might only work as a mobile website in India. Cultural norms, socio-economics, and the fact that nobody uses WeChat in India will be in play.
According to Ankur Dinesh Garg, co-founder of India’s Hotify, a machine-learning, personalisation-based news app, marketers are struggling with the deep divides between adtech and martech, mobile web and app usage, and mobile marketing and desktop marketing.
Garg pointed to four reasons these divides occur in countries such as India and Indonesia:
- Lack of management buy-in for AI-based personalization.
- Lack of marketers who understand the technology.
- Lack of quality, comprehensive data about end users and customers.
- Weak integration of cross-channel profile activity into a single customer view.
“Growth always follows consumer demand and AI is changing the way consumers do everything,” he said. “The new generation of consumers will take AI for granted and demand more from it. It is up to marketers to take innovation to the next level.”