Clint OramClint OramNovember 1, 2017


Anticipation, scepticism, and fear are holding more Brits than Americans back from embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace, according to a new study by CITE Research for SugarCRM.

The research on business executives in the US and UK reveals that the British are lagging behind when it comes to adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in their work and personal lives.

The survey reveals 47 percent of Brits are currently using technology powered by AI in the workplace, compared with 55 percent of Americans. This trend transcends into people’s personal lives, with 62 percent of Brits and 64 percent of American’s using AI for non-work-related tasks, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

The research also highlighted that when looking ahead, Brits are less open to embracing AI in the future – 69 percent of American respondents plan to deploy AI in the next two years, compared to 57 percent in the UK. Brits were twice as likely not to ever want to use AI, with one-in-five respondents (20 percent) opposing the technology, compared with one in ten Americans.

Top concerns about AI on both sides of the Atlantic revolve around trusting the technology. More than half of respondents (52 percent) worry about data security, with 30 percent saying it is their top concern. Another 40 percent said they fear AI technology will make errors, and 41 percent fear losing control over the data. While 30 percent said they fear job loss because of AI, only 12 percent list it as their top concern.

When it came to the applications for AI in the world of work, US participants were more likely than Brits to say they would want AI to help with communication with customers (54 percent vs 42 percent of Brits) or planning their day (46 percent vs 35 percent).

Automating data entry was the most popular task across the board for AI, with more than half (53 percent) believing it would help in their organisation, followed by gathering information on the internet (51 percent).

“The results of CITE Research’s survey reflect the industry’s view on ‘the cloud’,” ‘big data’ and other disruptive technologies over the years,” said Clint Oram, CMO and co-founder at SugarCRM.

“You have a group that is ready to jump in with both feet and a group of naysayers who are absolutely against the technology. The rest of us are in the middle. Many have heard all the hype and are intrigued, but they would like some assurances that the positives will outweigh the negatives before they are ready to start spending money on AI tools.

It’s interesting to see how attitudes differ across the Atlantic and that there is more reluctance from Brits in how AI can be used in their work. The technology offers the potential to reduce monotonous aspects of our working lives but there is a need to be realistic on its capabilities. It won’t replace people entirely and there is still a need for human interaction.”

In general, the survey showed that younger participants – those 34 or younger – were more excited and less fearful of AI. Younger participants were more likely to say their organisation will utilise it in the future (70 percent). Those 55 or older were more likely to worry about being overwhelmed with features they do not need (55 percent list this as a concern compared to 24 percent of those aged 18-54).

See the complete survey report here.

Clint OramClint OramJuly 21, 2017


Customer churn is a constant challenge for businesses. That’s an issue because it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than retain one. Although attracting new customers is vital, it’s clear that businesses must not neglect their existing customer bases. This is particularly critical when you consider that meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations can really pay off; according to research by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company (the inventor of the net promoter score) increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. But even in the most well-run of businesses, sometimes things can go wrong, and customers become unhappy with the service they’ve received. If this happens, how can a business rescue its reputation and re-build the relationship?

The Faster the Better

It goes without saying that the faster a business can respond to a customer issue, the better. In our multi-connected digital world, consumers expect a near instant response to their complaint. This is especially vital when it comes to an issue which affects a business’ whole customer base. Take British Airways (BA) as a recent example of how not to do things>  When its entire flight service was brought to its knees due to a technical issue, it wasn’t until nearly a week after the breakdown that Willie Walsh, Chief Executive, claimed it was down to “human error”.

Even now, BA’s ongoing reticence is causing confusion and unrest, as they have failed to explain why the back-up system didn’t kick into action at the first sign of trouble. In the face of criticism over the airline’s handling of the issue, Walsh has conceded, “I wouldn’t suggest for one minute we got communications right at BA, we didn’t.” This is surprising, when like most airlines, BA’s Twitter support team usually responds to customer complaints within a matter of minutes.

Let’s be realistic here: mistakes happen. Oversights are made. Crises flare. Although it is in nobody’s interest to dwell on these, there are often lessons to be learnt from the manner by which a company tries to limit the damage caused by a crisis in their brand. Experts in crisis management will tell you that there’s a ‘golden hour’ during which a business has the opportunity to seize control of an emerging problem and dictate its narrative.

However, in the era of instant communication, I’d suggest that this hour has been reduced to just a handful of ‘golden minutes’ and even then there’s little to stop a storm of customer outrage being whipped up across all networks.

Meet the Needs of Multi-Channel Customers

Today’s consumers move across multiple channels, so it’s crucial that businesses deliver a seamless experience across each and every one. Social media has become something of an obsession for many consumers, especially the coveted millennial demographic; so much so that new research from Qualtrics found this demographic can’t go more than five hours without checking social media, and check their phone up to 150 times a day.

Away from smartphones, consumers still value face-to-face customer service, particularly in industries such as banking where people  still want tailored advice and support. Research from Lexis Nexus found that, when it comes to opening an account 61% of UK millennials prefer to do it in person – rather than online.

Regardless of how customers choose to interact with a business, they need to keep sight of the entire customer journey, and understand what is expected from each channel. For example, a customer complaining about their bank on Twitter should receive a placatory message within minutes. But what people want from face-to-face meetings with customer service reps is to feel valued, unrushed and listened to – especially if they are unhappy about an experience – so they need to be given the time they deserve.

It sounds simple, but companies need to have the skill to adapt the service they offer according to the channel and customer, to ensure they are meeting the needs of their customers in the most appropriate and efficient way possible. Crucial to this is employees having a full record of the person’s details and previous interactions easily accessible, so they can deliver a seamless experience and begin to re-build bridges.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Of course, the best way to avoid a customer crisis is by providing the right service in the first place.  Effective management of customer relationships needs to begin long before any potential crisis emerges. Simple pieces of information can lead to appropriate, damage-limiting decisions when and if something begins to go wrong. Technology exists today that can help customer service teams offer a personalised response, giving them the context when they need it.

For example, knowing how a customer likes to be contacted gives a company a massive advantage. If a customer has a poor record of reading your emails, then a text or even a phone call may be much more effective.

The length of a particular customer relationship is also a critical factor during the response. If a company has typically had a strong, positive relationship with a customer, it’s more likely they will be able to trade on the good will of the established relationship, rectify the error and rebuild trust. That’s why it’s imperative that brands develop true partnerships with their customer base.

It’s clear that continual investment in the multi-channel customer experience is vital. But, if a crisis does arise, a speedy, clear explanation of what has happened (or at least a reassuring placeholder) should be communicated instantly. Acquiring new customers is a costly exercise – so keeping your existing ones happy will help take care of the bottom line.

Interesting Links:

Clint OramClint OramMay 30, 2017


The way that customers engage with businesses is changing every day, thanks to incredible technology that’s constantly thinking of new ways to make interactions more efficient and personalised. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in particular is leading the way for transforming customer-facing industries such as banking and retail.

Take the Swedish bank, Swedbank, for example, whose web assistant Nina now has an average of 30,000 conversations per month and can handle more than 350 different customer questions. This technology is set to gain pace in the coming years; according to Narrative Science, 62 per cent of organisations will be using Artificial Intelligence (AI) by 2018. But what does all this mean for the personal service that humans provide? Will the rise of chatbots mean the decline of the customer experience?

Customers Becoming Used to AI Interactions

First, let’s look at the positive ways technology AI-related technologies such as chatbots and NLP (natural language processing) are transforming the way customers and businesses interact with each other.   It’s clear that consumers have embraced the convenience technology can offer; Siri and Alexa are now consumers’ everyday companions, helping them to write emails, order shopping online and play music all through voice command.  In fact, it’s estimated Siri handles over 2bn commands a week, and 20% of Google searches on Android-powered handsets in America are inputted by voice.

For businesses, the beauty of chatbot technology is that it’s cheaper than training and hiring human customer-facing employees. In today’s digital world, customers want efficiency, ease, and authenticity when they communicate with a company.

They don’t want to wait on hold for hours to a call centre employee; which is why technology that enables them to ask quick questions that don’t need human input is great (“how much data do I have left this month?”) And technology is becoming impressively accurate at understanding human language; IBM recently set a new industry record of 5.5% for conversational speech recognition.

SugarCRM’s research with Flamingo found that customers are already engaging with AI as part of their experience interacting with businesses. Just over three quarters of people surveyed said they’re comfortable using chatbots and think they would improve the online experience. It follows on the business side, 73% said chatbots are relevant and almost 60% are seriously considering using chatbots within the next five years.

The Future for Chatbots

But, chatbot interaction has to be meaningful if it’s to bring real benefits to the customer experience. The Flamingo research found one fifth of consumers are not happy or comfortable using chatbots because they can’t always answer everything. When you consider the customer experience is now the benchmark by which companies are judged – Gartner reveals that 89% of organisations now expect to compete solely on this – it’s crucial businesses deliver this in the best way possible.

This is what the next generation of chatbots will tackle. They won’t just spit out pre-determined answers to customer questions; they’ll also examine customer and employee interactions over time to offer increasingly meaningful guidance.

There’s also going to be a practical approach where a human can be called in immediately if a consumer poses a difficult question or the technology registers irritation in the consumers’ voice. This highlights how important human-to-human interaction will continue to be. Although chatbots are certainly becoming more sophisticated, building technology that has the ability to recognise – and respond to – the nuances of human emotions will be a long-term goal for businesses.

The question of just how “human” chatbots should be is also still on the table: Male or female? Young or old? Friendly and polite or just knowledgeable? There are some hints at general preferences but perhaps each brand should decide for itself, based on what’s best for their audience.

How Chatbots and Humans Can Work Together

In my opinion, the future of the customer experience isn’t “chatbots or humans” – it’s both. The role of AI and its brethren – chatbots, virtual reality, NLP – should be to bring efficiencies to business operations, particularly when it comes to automating tasks and processes where humans don’t add value.

Technology should also work in tandem to empower employees in their interactions with customers; giving them all the information they need to deliver the best experience possible. For example, providing clear information on the customers’ previous interactions (when did they last contact us? What other products do they hold with us?) – to enable a holistic, seamless experience which proves to the customer they are valued and understood.

In fact, a report by Accenture found 79% of banking professionals agree that AI will revolutionise the way they gain information from and interact with customers. At a time when the quality of the customer experience can be the difference between keeping or losing a consumer, this is where I believe businesses will most benefit from implementing AI in to their strategies. The pace of technology shows no sign of waning, but the ‘human touch’ and the role it plays will remain vital to the overall customer experience.

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