Study explores the relationship between consumers, brands and AI

WordPress hosting company WP Engine has released the results of a study commissioned by the firm and carried out by researchers at the The University of London and the analyst Vanson Bourne into the impact of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven human digital experiences on the web, and the relationship between consumers, brands and AI. The study, which surveyed consumers and enterprise companies – 1,000 employees or more – in the UK, US and Australia, found that in an era of purpose-driven consumption, values such as transparency, trust and humanness are key drivers that can unlock value in AI.

According to IDC, worldwide spending on AI systems is forecast to reach $35.8bn (£27.8bn) this year, 44 per cent up on last year. Much of that growth will come from the application of AI online.

Despite the past year’s focus on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and privacy regulations designed to give consumers power over their data, 48 per cent of UK consumers still don’t know how brands are using their data, according to a Chartered Institute of Marketing study. They remain concerned about the privacy of their personal information and online behaviours. As consumers demand that enterprises prioritise their data protection and become transparent regarding its use, collection and value, most enterprises have started having these necessary conversations regarding the role of ethics, data protection and consumer rights.

In the UK, both consumers and enterprises said they attached a high degree of importance to issues such as the protection of data privacy and security; the expectation of organisations being able to explain transparently what they are using data for; the degree of personalisation; and a clear and direct value for the exchange of data.

An increasing number of digital users are now mindful and aware of the “value exchange” that occurs with a brand when they participate in a digital experience. Not surprisingly, the willingness to share personal information in exchange for a better service was highest among millennials, with older generations less willing to trade their personal information for a more personalised service.

Data sharing leads to personalised services and in this AI is extremely capable, such as being able to push an ice cream advertisement to you while walking past an ice cream shop on a hot day. Still, consumers worry that this might become intrusive. 87 per cent of UK consumers felt it was important that personalisation doesn’t feel ‘creepy’ and 77 per cent of UK enterprises agreed that avoiding creepiness was crucial.

WP Engine said there are some key take-outs from the study for brands and agencies. The first is to open their algorithms. Enterprises are increasingly using AI-driven platforms to make impactful decisions, such as the allocation of jobs, loans, or university admissions. Thus, there is a rising concern from users on how algorithms make these decisions, with 93 per cent of UK consumers feeling it is very important for organisations to be transparent about how their data is being used for creating personalised online experiences. Keeping this in mind, organisations have identified the need to incorporate the values of AI, primarily trust and transparency, in their strategies. 42 per cent of UK IT decision-makers say that it is very important to be transparent about how they use AI to personalise user experience.

The second take-out it to be wary of bias. 82 per cent of UK IT decision-makers agreed that it is important for organisations to interrogate bias in their organisations and the data sets they use. It is particularly relevant for supervised learning and machine learning data sets where the process of supervision allows brands to change the way they do things. This provides an opportunity to create diverse and inclusive teams to maintain various voices of change. 80 per cent of IT decision-makers agree that it is important that the teams building and maintaining AI systems are diverse.

The third take-out is to use only what you need. With GDPR, the world began to see governments putting structure around what and how data may be used. The report shows that 86 per cent of consumers do not want organisations tracking data that they don’t have any use for. And 93 per cent of UK consumers said that they expect organisations to explain what they are doing with their data.

Finally, be customer-inspired. Thanks to advancements in natural language processing and conversation AI, the capability now exists for chatbots and digital assistants to closely mimic their human counterparts. In fact, 56 per cent of consumers surveyed said it was important that websites have a chatbot or digital assistant to help with customer service, and 82 per cent of enterprises are using AI in this way. However, 85 per cent of consumers surveyed agreed that it should be made clear to them when AI is used in chatbots and similar customer-facing applications. 85 per cent of UK consumers strongly agreed that companies have a responsibility to disclose the use of AI in chatbots and similar customer service interactions. And 77 per cent of IT decision-makers also agreed that when it comes to deploying customer service chatbots, it should be made known to users that such a service is not facilitated by human agents.

“The degree of long-term benefits AI will bring to an enterprise’s digital initiatives is deeply linked with the importance of aligning brand values with a core set of ethical decision-making values,” said Fabio Torlini, EMEA MD at WP Engine. “The brands who successfully integrate the revenue-driving power of AI with the trust, safety, and values customers expect will be successful in creating winning, powerful digital experiences.”

Dr. Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, added: “Our research shows enterprises investing in AI are already seeing astounding return on investment and performance outcomes. Consumers are demanding that innovating with AI in digital experiences clearly prioritises and expresses values around privacy, trust, and transparency. Only by laying a solid foundation of ethics and values that guide the implementation of all facets of an AI solution, will companies truly be able to fully harness the value of AI.”
You can access the full report here.