As an avid lover of travel, I regularly check airfares on unusual routes for planning the next as well as wishful day-dreaming. My default travel screen is yatra.com and a sincere follow-up call within five minutes is unerringly common, offering solutions or even deals for a flight to Tashkent or Ulan Bator. It used to irritate me initially but interests me now as a professional learning, so I play this game at least once a day.
The larger debate rests with the increasing influence of AI, many online users often astonished by instant customised responses to casual queries or searches. It is delightful when the desire for a real transaction is matched by a genuine deal but when the buying process is lengthier an instant follow-up can be damaging. Conservative buyers get confused and then increasingly suspicious, brands stalking them further proof of the perceived Aadhar conspiracy, leading to a telling lack of trust. Instead of simply following global practices or succumbing to the potential of technology brands must develop human strategies for applying AI, especially in the sensitive Indian environment.
Which must begin with a scalable culture of consent, where the digitised customer must willingly allow brands to offer technologically-intuitive responses. This can begin happen logically through individual brands, yatra.com or uber.com educating customers about what this acceptance actually entails. It can also take place through the Digital Data provider or the preferred browser, the Airtel or Google Chrome conduit seeking a broader consent for all brands accessed through the network. Equally holistically, the screening can be at an industry level, IATA airlines or modern trade associations or FHRAI finding their unique ways to ensure customer complicity. All this may sound very archaic but for AI to become the powerful force in daily living, sensitivity must be demonstrated.
Then comes the challenge for brands to apply the new ammunition in their disposal with intelligence and vision, converting information to action in a smart and sustainable manner. For which this exceptional influence must be exercised in a logical and not a mechanical fashion, as is the case right now. If searching for a flight to Rio De Janeiro in summer the transaction will certainly not be completed immediately, so a more structured message or call after a day or two offering a deal upfront with a hotel and visa combination will be exciting. Unlike a flight to Mumbai this evening for which a call would be most welcome or at least a message offering deals upfront along with a special Uber tie-up price. For visitors shopping at H&M in Ambience Mall a Starbucks brunch offer needs to be communicated instantly while for a Bariatric Surgery search the conversation must be staggered, a message seeking an appointment just the first move.
A logical next frontier must be the horizontal or lateral application of such intelligence not just in the linear transactional routings which mark the first phase of such weaponry. When international travel is the query then Forex and Insurance must respond at the right time or if a shopper is at Hamleyâ€™s then a Kids Meal Combo at KFC should be what the doctor ordered. Chaayos, the 24-hour coffee shop in Galleria Market Gurgaon can be a valuable input for all heading from a late-night flight while a whole host of similar services can be exciting for a child or parent returning from school. Smart thinking can complete the Experience Value Chain, connecting seemingly unrelated categories for providing genuine customer solutions, not just short-term but of a longer tenure as well. Â Â
The biggest learning from the game I play with yatra.com is the art of timing, in terms of quality and the nature of response. If the response mechanism is premature and excessive, it will work against the brand but when managed with human sensitivity and intelligence, AI can become the greatest asset for conversion. As it has the unique ability to accurately assess the immediacy of demand, converting it swiftly to genuine consumption. Â Â
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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