Using AI as a shortcut to profits

Given the excitement and innovation around AI, partners are eager to start building their own IP into customer solutions. We’ve always stressed the value of experimentation in building transformative services, and with all that creative activity, it’s fantastic to see how partners have added profitability to their AI strategy.

A great example is our partner PopcornApps, which used its expertise in building enterprise mobile apps and built similar functionality into powerful AI-driven bot solutions. Since its founding seven years ago, the company has built mobile enterprise solutions for the retail, telecom, and travel industries.

PopcornApps learned that consumers were getting very selective about the apps on their devices. At the same time, consumers were using more messaging channels. The company saw a way to transform customer engagement while increasing margin and decreasing time-to-market by using conversational AI in popular messaging platforms.

Applying existing functionality in new channels

According to PopcornApps CEO and Founder Samvit Raina, instead of replacing mobile apps, his company would target those who don’t want to download and set up a mobile app. “The apps we build are pretty good in terms of functionality, but they didn’t appeal to a consumer base as broad as Facebook Messenger or Skype, which don’t require the friction of downloading an app and setting up a user account,” said Raina.

The team envisioned its first bot solutions for the transportation industry and built its packaged solution for Indian Railways to improve the passenger experience and increase customer service efficiency.

The second version of its bot solution was built for the UK National Rail system, which runs about 9,000 trains and serves 2.5 million passengers per day across 2,500 locations.

UK Rail’s network previously gave access to journey planning, fares, train status, and platform information via their contact center help desk, platform staff, and electronic departure screens. However, frustrated passengers couldn’t get the information quickly and easily.

PopcornApps’ answer was a bot through Facebook Messenger and Skype that helps passengers plan their trips and receive proactive alerts before their scheduled departure times. Using the Microsoft Bot Framework, the solution uses Azure Machine Learning and Bing Cognitive Services to deliver an efficient, engaging experience. Using principles of machine learning, the UK Rail bot provides contextually relevant information to commuters.

Savings and pricing options

The bot is already demonstrating customer service efficiencies. “Now I can just cut to the chase and access the UK Rail bot and get alerts and more intelligent things like asking when I should leave the station to make my meeting,” said Raina. “Think of the savings if you are able to circumvent 10 percent of the requests over to a bot.”

With the bot solutions exposing unique paths to value, PopcornApps can now consider alternative pricing models. “Maybe a customer wants to look at a transaction-based pricing model, or if it’s customer service, [we can] look at call-avoidance for mundane requests,” explained Raina. “So, our payment could be based on efficiency gains in the call center, or successful transactions completed without calling an agent.”

Time-to-market advantage

The bot is now serving 75,000 commuter alerts daily with a 100 percent immediate response rate, and having a fully tested bot will allow PopcornApps to quickly enter other markets. The company has already built an airline template for a consumer-facing bot that allows users to manage their reservations, check in, and get boarding passes and seat assignments. If an airline came to PopcornApps for such a bot solution, it could have one ready in three to six weeks, according to Raina.

“We are both a solution provider and a services company,” explained Raina. “Our bots are for travel and transportation, and enterprise customer service and sales enablement. So, we’ve already invested the money, and now if I sell this to a new airline or rail operator my profitability goes up and my margin goes upwards of 60-65 percent.”

Read more about the UK Rail bot solution here. It’s a great example of how partners can apply their digital transformation experience from one industry to another, using conversational agents as easy entry points to meaningful business results.