Post the Brexit vote, this has become a hot topic for Britain. At a national level no doubt a complex and technical subject truly mastered by few. But thinking more locally, you could think of selling as akin to negotiating a trade deal – what are we agreeing to exchange and on what terms.
As with international trade negotiators, skilled sales people are often in short supply. But unlike the former, reinforcements are unlikely to be offered by another national government! However, there are other sources of help available.
For many product purchases, it is now customer preference to order online. In this channel, new opportunities and challenges exist when it comes to sales.
Implied in the word ‘negotiate’ is an exchange of information, an understanding of what is important to each side, and hopefully reaching a collaborative win:win position. To achieve this exchange it is critical to have a dialogue, something which hitherto has not been the norm in digital exchanges, but through a variety of chat options is now becoming much more common.
In order to ‘chat’ online there are two methods:
- Take human dialogue and digitise the exchange. This is the essence of livechat where a remote operator will respond to questions posed; or
- Take a digital agent and humanise the dialogue. This is where natural language processing comes in.
There are elements in common with both methods, and there are points of difference. In both cases, the agent needs to be trained in product and procedure plus ideally have access to the customer’s history. Points of difference include human empathy, precision in following an agreed process, ability to respond instantaneously and therefore keep the dialogue flowing.
As is the history of industrialisation, machines are first perfected to handle large scale repetitive tasks – recognised in this context as a dumb agent able to repeat the answers to FAQ based on a pattern match applied to an enquiry. Then they evolve to handling finer and finer detail. This is where artificial intelligence and machine learning really come into their own. And once the tipping point is reached the dialogue appears to become intelligent.
In truth we are still some way off human intelligence in machines, but the appearance is now of such. Plus there are benefits of machine behaviour: predictability, volume, and consistent availability.
So whilst it may not yet be the case that Britain can set a team of intelligent virtual agents on the eurocrats to hammer out a new trade deal for Britain, that capability certainly exists for companies wishing to sell products through digital channels, and many are making good use to take their businesses forward.