People have been dreaming of intelligent machines since the advent of the industrial age. Once the province of fiction, thinking machines became a serious goal after the first computers were developed. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been posited as the solution to infinite problems ever since, and in recent years AI has defeated chess grand masters and made speech recognition software common. For its latest trick, AI is poised to transform the customer care experience — with a little help from Microsoft.

What is A.I.?

The first codified approach to building intelligent machines and a way to test for true AI was established in Alan Turing’s seminal paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950. Artificial intelligence seeks to model the human brain, to produce machines that can sense, process and act on information — as well as remember and learn.

Decades of innovation have led to this emerging age of AI. However, no two developments have contributed more significantly to this era than the exponential growth of data volume and advancements in the data processing capabilities of cloud infrastructures. Companies big and small are seeking ways to enhance and support their existing staff — and are finding an eager partner in Microsoft.

Customers seeking the benefits of AI want more than just a platform...

The intelligent platform

Customers are in control more than ever before. They have more channels of communication, more access to information and more global alternatives than ever. As a result, customer care has become a top priority, and old-school models have struggled to keep up.

That’s where Microsoft’s advanced AI platform comes in. This comprehensive platform provides cognitive services, a bot framework and deep learning to bear on the challenges of customer service. It offers language recognition capabilities, emotion and image recognition tools and intelligent agents that can assist people via natural-sounding conversations across a broad range of topics. These agents aren’t designed to replace existing staff — they let staff focus on higher-level tasks. Virtual agents can handle many customer questions and requests independently and transfer them to a live agent if needed — seamlessly. Customers may never be aware they’re dealing with a virtual agent — and the platform learns and evolves, customizing recommendations to support staff and resolving customer needs effectively and quickly.

Macy’s in the digital era

Customers seeking the benefits of AI want more than just a platform, however; they want end-to-end solutions. Customer care is a major focus in the retail arena, and Microsoft’s AI platform is an ideal solution. Large competitors like Macy’s, which currently operates approximately 670 stores in the United States and generates annual revenues of more than $25 billion, and HP, which did more than $48 billion in sales in 2016, have partnered with Microsoft to adopt next-generation customer care systems. In fact, Microsoft created a new AI-based system (including customer-facing virtual agents and an intelligent assistant with conversation management tools) that is already handling more than 25 percent of Macy’s customer contacts, prompting plans for expansion to other retail channels.

This system makes data collection and analytics more efficient. “We can see, in real time, what our customers are asking and how our answers are performing,” says Robert Michaels, director of information technology at Macy’s. “And we can make adjustments on the fly to give our customers a better experience.”

Virtual agents and other AI-fueled services will undoubtedly be the norm instead of the exception very soon. If you’re curious about the coming AI revolution in customer care, you can find out more about Microsoft’s artificial intelligence platforms here.