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Lets Talk Tickets - How Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Change Ticketing?

For many years Artificial Intelligence or AI has captured our imagination with its commercial possibilities as well as apocalyptic dangers.

In recent days a very public disagreement about the future of AI has emerged between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. On one side 116 robotic experts including Elon Musk and Google Deepmind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman signed a letter to the United Nations calling for strict oversight over "autonomous weapons" to both prevent a new arms-race and ensure that there is no loss of human control in AI technologies. Mark Zuckerberg however sees things very differently and is apparently frustrated by the "fear-mongering". The Facebook chief has made AI a strategic priority for his company and will continue to invent and pioneer advances of a diverse range of projects from healthcare to self-driving cars.

As with many step changes in technology there will be obvious advantages, disadvantages and corporate motivations but such an open debate between these two tech giants will not prevent companies better competing with their rivals or slowing the progress for new AI applications to seize profits and investor value. What is now clear is that a spotlight of transparency will be placed upon those proposing to take a destructive direction.

Earlier in the year, Founder & CEO Jeff Bezos participated in a fireside chat with Michael Beckerman the President & CEO of the Internet Association at their 2017 Annual Charity Gala. Along with discussing Blue Origin, pitching Amazon in the early days of the internet, addressing success and failure in business, and his hopes for the future of humanity. Bezos explained that artificial intelligence is seeing an "amazing renaissance" and AI was solving problems that were once in the realm of science fiction (minute 21). His goal is to continue hiring the best talent to enable Amazon to benefit from AI as well as making AI services accessible through Amazon Web Services (AWS) as an enabling technology for businesses.

According to a recent report by Raconteur entitled, "Artificial Intelligence for Business" the cumulative worldwide spending on artificial intelligence (AI) will reach US$40.6 billion by 2024. AI is on the verge of becoming a critical part of every business infrastructure, making it vital for company decision-makers to understand how this technology can, and will, disrupt traditional business models. But its not a new subject.

There have been numerous science fiction and cyberpunk movies, TV series, novels and short stories by futurists such as Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Philip K Dick and Gene Roddenberry that have had AI at the core of their storyline.

So once you look beyond the hype and fiction that surrounds our common accepted knowledge of AI whether it’s one of HAL the 9000 series computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey; Skynets The Cyberdyne Systems T-800 Model 101 “Terminator” or Douglas Adams paranoid android “Marvin” in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. What is AI?, How will AI change the world for the better? How can we commercially benefit from AI in ticketing?

According to the Internet Society AI refers to an artificial creation of human-like intelligence that can learn, reason, plan, perceive or process natural language.

More recently AI technologies have included the reference of “machine learning” that allows the AI technology to use principally three types of learning algorithms or software code (reinforcement, structured or predictive learning) to make inferences from the data they receive to learn new tasks rather than being programmed at every step of the task.

The availability of software-as-service tools to commercially manage "big data" alongside the efficiency savings by businesses in advocating the value of pursuing an internet of things (IoT) strategy has created the perfect medium to develop new AI applications.

Big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate to deal with them. Big data challenges include capturing data, data storage, data analysis, search, sharing, transfer, visualization, querying, updating and information privacy.

Although artificial intelligence evokes thoughts of science fiction it is now deployed in a many day-to-day devices and applications including anything from email filtering of spam; personalisation of services to recommend relevant content from membership and subscriptions services; fraud detection; financial trading as well as speech recognition and the emergence of intelligent personal assistants including Amazon's "Alexa" and Apple's "Siri" that are always ready to help in providing answers to questions.

In terms of ticketing the opportunities for AI are enormous. The power of machine learning through AI can be used to predict the returns on each type of customer interaction during a customer journey.

Over the last few years there has been fundamental changes worldwide to the customer services sector brought about by the way that consumers use digital, social and mobile technologies to interact with businesses and brands across all industry's including the ticketing industry.

To understand the steps and emotional states during a customer journey over a period of time provides an insightful framework by which to engage with customers in a timely, personalised and meaningful manner. By machine learning purchasing behaviour of customers combined with broader profile and segmentation characteristics including interests, socio-demographic or geographic location or vicinity information whilst on the move. Both dynamic text and audible marketing messages can be pushed or triggered by the consumer regarding ticket availability according to price, offers, act, time of year or venue - the call to action would be to buy, explore or refer.

AI has a very real benefit providing effective first time resolution for customer services through the use of virtual assistants or ChatBots that are seamlessly linked to a registered customer view or a customer number.

Amazon Echo using Alexa Voice Service

“Bots are the new apps” according to Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella at a keynote given at a Microsoft developer conference in March 2016. Bots and specifically, “ChatBots”, have been around for a while and more recently technology has caught with expectations. These bots should not be confused with the current controversy surrounding bots deployed to automatically acquire large volume of tickets as they go on-sale for re-sale via secondary ticket agents.

The market for “ChatBots” has now moved beyond the early in carnations of Apple’s Siri or Microsoft Cortana to now being automated computer programs using artificial intelligence to simulate a human level of realism in a conversation (both text and audible) with people to perform more complex tasks or answer detailed questions.

ChatBots can be used by consumers asking standard questions and being provided with straightforward answers. For example, when will tickets arrive; making a refund or understanding where the nearest tube station is to a venue. If the ChatBot is unable to provide the desired outcome to the consumer the request can be escalated to an human operator to manage more complex resolutions.

AI has a number of consumer benefits in ticketing by both identifying and activating actionable marketing opportunities by processing, analysing and continuously learning from customer data. According to the Institute of Customer Service - (Customer of the Future report), by 2025 customers will have a much lower tolerance threshold for mistakes, errors or technology problems and consumer power will play a more prominent role in influencing an organisation’s reputation and success by continuing to expect more from brands. Customers expect to control the communication engagement and ensure they are being listened to, feel understood, feel cared about and are helped to make sense of an issue or query and feel genuinely connected.

Short for chat robot, a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. Typically, a chat bot will communicate with a real person, but applications are being developed in which two chat bots can communicate with each other. Chat bots are used in applications such as ecommerce customer service, call centers and Internet gaming. Chat bots used for these purposes are typically limited to conversations regarding a specialized purpose and not for the entire range of human communication. Source Webopedia.

Customers expect brands to deliver convenience, accessibility and choice in how and when they can communicate their queries, enquiries or raise issues. According to We Are Social over 3 billion people are active social media users along with 5 billion active mobile phone users and 3.8 billion internet users. Mobile phones are now the most important device for two-thirds of the world’s population and it is natural to expect that customer services should become more pervasive on mobile devices through social media for the foreseeable future. Customers expect transparency and truthfulness as critical components of customer service and finally, Customers expect a timely response with priority placed upon first contact resolution. ChatBots do tick many of the boxes in meeting consumer expectations.

AI plays a key role in customer services for the future especially in the ticketing industry and it should be viewed as a natural next step by customer centric brands to provide good service in a cost effective way in an increasingly crowded market. Research by Swedbank found that 89% of their consumers want to engage in conversation with virtual assistants to find information quickly, instead of searching through web pages or a mobile app on their own. This research is also backed up by Rurik Bradbury, the head of global communications and research at LivePerson who explains that up to 70% of all consumer inquiries can be responded to in an automated fashion "because you have 60-80 very common questions". The predictable nature of consumer inquiries, coupled with the relative simplicity of addressing many of them, lends itself to the use of Chatbots or virtual Assistants backed by human operators addressing and escalting more complex requests as an "effective team" and service proposition.

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