AI in CRM: Will Salesforce Einstein make us smarter?
For outsiders it may seem like a bold statement, naming your latest product after the world's most recognisable genius. But then Salesforce don’t do things by halves.
And when you consider previous appropriations of the Einstein ‘brand’ yielded an energy bar with the strapline “it’s relatively delicious” and a 1980s computer that combined ‘word processing power for small businesses’ with an Eddie the Eagle ski jumping game, you realise the weight of expectation on Salesforce Einstein might be less about the associated moniker and more about the actual product.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming big business. So much so that Marc Benioff was quoted in August as saying, "if this is not the next big thing, I don't know what is". Salesforce’s charismatic CEO also stated that his company’s new AI technology, Einstein, will “democratise AI just as we democratised CRM” and that by introducing the technology to its current CRM platform they were effectively “changing the engines on a 747 in mid-flight”.
These are grand statements. And while some of the hyperbole can be attributed to Einstein’s launch coinciding with this week’s Dreamforce event, it’s also possible we’re about to experience a true proliferation of AI technology, with Einstein being the major announcement that acts as the straw breaking the camel’s back.
IDC research states the AI industry will grow to $70 billion by 2020 from a mere $8.2 billion in 2013. Just last week, Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft announced a partnership designed to create AI standards and accelerate research. Amazon itself now has a 1,000-strong team of employees solely working on Alexa, its smart assistant system that’s centred on AI.
AI technology, most commonly built around combing vast quantities of data to learn, predict outcomes and recognise patterns is already being used in everything from web search to financial trading and – whilst still work in progress – driverless cars.
However, Salesforce is offering AI for CRM. Why CRM, and why now?
“If you really want a fully engaged customer in modern business, you have to provide a personalised interaction, and you may at times need to do that for millions of people – that’s not something humans can deal with on their own anymore,” says Paul Greenberg, CRM expert, consultant and author of CRM at the Speed of Light.
“AI becomes an important component at this juncture, enabling the personalised engagement you need to provide in customer-facing fields. AI is still learned behaviour but now we’re talking about something that goes beyond traditional process automation.
“The technology is learning from the behaviour of the targeted individuals within your CRM, be it customers or employees, and telling itself how to behave and delivering insights and recommendations. Consequently this will provide a much more personalised action with whoever the target audience is, whether it be your service function or your sales and marketing.”
Greenberg says that as much as 90-98% of service queries can probably be automated in the future without the use of artificial intelligence, but AI’s possibilities extend not just in responding successfully to queries, but in being able to do this quickly and more personally.
IDC research states the AI industry will grow to $70 billion by 2020 from a mere $8.2 billion in 2013
And John Tasheck, Salesforce’s SVP for market strategy, believes that the front-office capabilities extend beyond what service teams might be able to achieve.
“First, AI, and in particular the aspect of deep learning that is focused on discovery, can augment what people may feel but not know, such as figuring out the trends that are impacting a deal closing, customer service requests, marketing effectiveness and more. The AI can be used to help people acquire the knowledge necessary to ask human-led questions, such as “why is customer retention impacted by partner readiness and enablement?”
“AI can augment the skeptics, giving them tools to question everything and arm them with facts, data, and actual decision — leading them to better answers more quickly.”
Data science for all?
Whilst Tasheck’s vision may have once been seen as something reserved for specialists and data scientists, Salesforce Einstein’s rhetoric already focuses on bringing artificial intelligence to the masses. Their manifesto hypophyses the following:
- Salespeople who can “anticipate next opportunities and exceed customer expectations by knowing what a customer needs before the customer does”.
- Service teams that “can deliver proactive service by anticipating cases and resolving issues before they become problems”.
- Marketing that “can create predictive journeys and personalise customer experiences like never before”.
- IT which can “embed intelligence everywhere and create smarter apps for employees and customers”.
If this is the case, is Salesforce Einstein set to make us all data scientists? According to this year’s annual State of Salesforce report by Bluewolf, we’re already forging this path before Einstein’s introduction.
“Over half of companies surveyed described their most essential applications as intelligent, able to anticipate and either take or suggest the next action,” the report states. “The best companies are focused on translating their overwhelming collections of data into intuitive, automated employee experiences that can power incredible customer moments.”
Given that the report also unearthed the fact that 77% of companies feel they could be doing more with their Salesforce investment, Einstein’s introduction may act as a timely boost to those looking to make their CRM data more insightful.
However, writing for Diginomica, cloud computing blogger, analyst and consultant Phil Wainewright stated that there were a number of aspects that still need to be ironed out:
“The advantage that Einstein has is that it can deliver value in small increments, and therefore I think the impact will be seen much faster.
“But there are a lot of unanswered questions. I feel that data privacy issues have not been fully thought through — Europeans in particular will want clearer answers on that score. And while Salesforce is eager to get Einstein in the hands of customers and developers, I got very unsatisfactory answers about how this is being rolled out to the vendors’ massive partner ecosystem — pricing and licensing decisions there apparently are still at an early stage.
“Despite those caveats, this is a significant move into AI by Salesforce and one that will increase its value to customers.”
Over the coming days, Dreamforce will undoubtedly reveal more about exactly how we can expect Einstein to work. But for now we can at least look forward to Salesforce’s promises of making CRM smarter, if not quite achieving the dream of turning us all into data scientists, just yet.
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.