On the first day of CES 2024 in Las Vegas, AI was by far the hottest topic of discussion in the conference rooms and on the show floors.
Several panel and keynote sessions were touting the advantages of AI and machine learning in improving the way they work and how it’s transforming the customer experience in retail, as well as the device user experience.
At a panel event titled “AI and Mobile Technology — Smarter Tech” in the North Hall, Brian Higgins, Verizon’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, explained, “When the wireless store customer or even the associate don’t realize that AI is running in the background, that’s when it is most helpful.”
He gave the example of an associate in a store having to juggle knowledge of all kinds of rate plans, various promotions available, different device options, and much more besides — all of which have vast amounts of documentation that needs to be explained to the customer. This can be dramatically eased by AI tools ingesting all the necessary information and turning it into a search model, whereby the rep asks what the customer wants and inputs it, and the AI tool offers the optimal package for that customer.
“Those are the friction points in stores that make it really challenging, so that’s the area where we see a lot of benefit,” added Higgins. “Not just for the customers — if the store associates’ lives are easier, then the customers’ lives are easier.”
Higgins also discussed the concept of the “segment of one” — meaning that each individual customer is their own consumer segment with specific, personal wants and needs. With AI, true customer personalization can be achieved.
“We’ve previously had offers that go out to hundreds of thousands of people, and that’s been fine, but where we are moving to is the segment of one,” Higgins said. “As a retailer, you know about this customer through data and purchasing behavior, and you’re going to offer them promotions that are relevant to them. That’s happening now, but customers don’t realize that’s all AI in the background.”
AI is also helping device users optimize their phones — and their lives.
On the same panel, Drew Blackard, Vice President of Mobile Product Management at Samsung Electronics America, talked about how AI is helping with device power use management in a world where consumers expect longer battery times but slimmer and lighter devices. “AI can help manage the system and optimize use, as well as provide usage data to the user. They don’t need to know it’s AI offering this information — it just helps them with their usage.”
He added that phone cameras are another way Samsung is helping users optimize their devices via AI tools. “You can’t add bigger and better lenses to phone cameras, but you can use AI on the software side to understand what a photo is supposed to look like, with scene recognition and object recognition, which can help the user improve their photography.”
Fellow panelist Zaid Asghar, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Qualcomm, also predicted that AI will be used a lot more in future as a virtual personal assistant on user’s devices — such as finding out movie times near the customer, or where there is an available restaurant table in the area in a certain cuisine category.
Retail in general is also being transformed by generative AI.
In the wider retail space, AI is being heavily used by America’s biggest retailer — Walmart. At the Walmart keynote on Tuesday afternoon, Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, explained how generative AI is being used in their online shopping function, in partnership with Microsoft. Instead of searching for multiple items to order online or via the app, users can now search for one thing, such as a particular recipe, or everything you might need for a Superbowl party, and “the results bring up a curated list of the best items,” said McMillon. “We use large language models and our own Walmart models and data to improve the experience. This fundamentally changes the way customers interact with us. We become a partner in accomplishing a broader goal, like creating a great Superbowl party.”
To the delight of the CES audience, McMillon brought Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as a surprise guest onto the keynote stage. Nadella discussed how generative AI can empower store associates with the information they need to create a better customer experience.
“Starting with the associates and then scaling that to the customers is where a lot of this AI technology has so much potential,” Nadella said.
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