Speaking on day one of the global omega-3 industry event taking place Jan. 23-25 in Athens, Greece, Steven Van Belleghem, author and expert on technology and its transformation of the customer experience discussed the changes accompanying the advent of AI.
"It’s been like a time machine the last 15 years," he said. "Since we got our smart phones our lives changed…and now things are getting out of hand."
He noted a number of societal shifts and inventions to demonstrate the "scary" rate of change, such as the invention of built-in pavement pedestrian lights in China to stop people walking into traffic to compensate for the fact they are all constantly looking down at their phones.
"Whenever new technology comes up, you see a S-curve where we first overestimate the technology, and then underestimate it, and the most interesting things happen in the second half of that curve," Van Belleghem told the room.
Exemplifying our tendency to initially underestimate technologies, he reminded delegates of how Steve Jobs described the iPhone during its launch in 2007: "Jobs said 'the iPhone will be your life in your pocket', which everyone thought sounded over the top, but now we realise it is a very accurate description."
With regards to AI, he added: "In my opinion, we are in the beginning of the second half of that curve, underestimating what it will bring."
Trust in ChatGPT
ChatGPT arrived in Nov. 2022, and since then most companies have been focusing on how to use this to increase productivity, Van Belleghem said but suggested that we may be underestimating how it can be used.
"My hypothesis is that we are moving towards a new trusted gatekeeper," he explained. "Before we had the internet as a trusted gatekeeper to make decisions—we would use the internet and screens to make up our minds about what we want to buy.
"I think we are moving towards a world where we will have advanced ChatGPT to help us to get advice on what to buy and what not to buy, who to vote for and not vote for."
He used the example of Toutiao, an AI news platform developed by the makers of TikTok, using the TikTok algorithm to quickly figure out the user’s interests and generate content that will appeal to them.
Whilst there is much debate over the ethics of providing people with only the news that fits their interests, he said it has certainly proven itself an extremely effective business, as one of the fastest growing and fastest monetised platforms in the world today.
As another example of gatekeeper AI, Van Belleghem pointed to Instacart, a grocery shopping and delivery platform in the U.S. and Canada that allows customers to use smart searches to generate hyper-personalised suggestions.
“You might tell it 'I’m having a party where two people don’t eat this and one is gluten free and three people want this', and it will tell you what’s the best option,” he said.
Keys to success: Brand and customer experience
Discussing how ChatGPT will provide omega-3 advice to consumers, Van Belleghem said that it is unclear how the software chooses which brands to highlight when asked a general question about omega-3, and this could be a game changer for brands.
"One thing no one is discussing is that this will make branding more important than ever," he noted. "When you say ‘I want to buy fish oil’ or ‘I want to buy omega-3’, which one of your brands will get through that filter?"
He argued that a company with a truly strong brand will circumvent this challenge as the consumer will simply ask the system about that specific brand of omega-3.
Saving the customer's time and energy
The most successful AI services, he noted, work to help customers save on their three scarcest resources—time, money or energy.
"A lot of our day-to-day purchases can be outsourced to an algorithm," he said. "The weekly grocery shop can be automated to save us an hour a week, and if it saves us time we are probably going to use that. And when you outsource that to an algorithm, that actually takes the customer out of the customer journey."
He added that Walmart has completely removed the customer from the journey by introducing its InHome service that delivers groceries directly to the fridge so there is no action required of the customer whatsoever.
But customer experience will also be more important to the consumer than ever before as AI continuously increases expectations.
Van Belleghem noted that AI can be used in many ways to improve customer experience, whether by simply using customer history data to better personalise service or by removing mundane and time consuming tasks for staff to free them up to provide better, more meaningful face-to-face interactions.
"If you want to get ready today for tomorrow, then focus on the customer and how to give them more time, more energy and better service," he concluded.