Whether it’s deploying machine learning to write a new Friends script, applying the power of IBM’s Watson supercomputer to create an entire trailer for a movie, or Sony putting it’s software to work to generate a new song in the style of The Beatles, 2016 has certainly been the year when Artificial Intelligence placed itself firmly on the agenda.

Many analysts predict that AI – and specifically its use in supporting virtual assistants – represents the future of customer service. Indeed Gartner predicts that by 2020 some 85% of customer touch points will be offered without human assistance. Others suggest that by 2018 a new generation of cross-channel bots will also be deployed that will be able to recognise not only customer voices but also their faces.

While we know that analyst projections can sometimes be a little over-optimistic, the reality is that AI and machine learning are here to stay. And that’s why at Sabio we were in no doubt that AI should be one of our key technology trends for 2017. We expect that next year AI and machine learning will start to have a bigger impact in terms of intelligent customer contact.

AI is clearly a very broad subject, and from a Sabio perspective we’re very much focused on its implications for virtual assistance and specifically how chatbot technology can help engage customers in conversations on websites and mobile apps as well as messaging services such as SMS, Facebook Messenger etc. Whereas previous generation virtual assistants were often little more than simple front-ends to a knowledge base, today’s AI-enabled assistants are taking things to the next level with full conversational interactions throughout the customer journey.

Looking forward to 2017 we see an organisation’s Digital Front Door – all of its websites, mobile apps and other digital interfaces – quickly evolving to become more conversational. For example, instead of trying to navigate my way around a complicated website I will simply ask a question though speech or text, allowing me to either resolve my problem or connect to an additional level of human assistance.

Bringing together AI support and a high quality conversational interface will become increasingly commonplace. However, for those organisations that want to differentiate themselves they will be able to add further value by leveraging back-end data to provide chatbots and virtual assistants with the intelligence to deliver brilliant customer experiences. This would include an ability to reach out for live support as and when necessary.

The momentum behind AI and machine learning is set to continue in 2017. You’ll be able to find out more about its impact on customer engagement at Sabio’s Disrupted Customer Contact event, that’s being held at The Brewery in London on February 23, 2017. Register for free here.