This article is written by Lomit Patel, vice president of growth at IMVU and bestselling author of “Lean AI,” which is part of Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup” series.

At IMVU, where I’m the head of growth, we’ve seen the benefits of applied AI in action. I’m hopeful that AI will provide some much-needed resiliency businesses will need to manage their way through — and emerge stronger — from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn. 

When COVID-19 hit, many advertisers suspended their media buys. It’s an understandable, knee-jerk reaction to economic uncertainty. It’s also often the right call. 

But because we’ve entrusted intelligent machines (and software from Nectar9, one of the providers of AI-powered marketing automation technologies) we were able to let the system we tuned for our needs learn how best to cope with the massive changes impacting each of the individual ad-buying platforms. AI analyzes a complex array of consumer behavioral data and bidding environments in real-time — running calculations 24/7 with a level of accuracy and at a volume humans just can’t compete with.  

As a result, we saw our customer acquisition costs drop, allocations shift, and saw our revenue accelerate significantly without making a human decision to either pull back or press on the gas pedal. 

Of course, we’re not in the travel or hospitality industry; we make the world’s largest virtual social networking app.  That helped, but in downturns of the past, we would have trusted our own “gut” to pull back and retrench our customer acquisition efforts. That would have been a mistake, for sure. Instead, we’ve flourished through this challenging time and helped consumers find new ways to find connection in a socially isolated world. We now have a high degree of confidence in our AI-powered marketing algorithm to achieve our desired business goals in good and bad economies. 

Apply this to other sectors and the potential benefits of applied AI come into focus. The study and development of “artificial intelligence” as a software pursuit date back at least five decades. Make no mistake, the revolution is here.

We’ve witnessed more progress in the effectiveness and availability of AI in the last 12 months than we have over the last fifty years — when you look at the practical applications already in widespread use today by marketers in the pandemic. 

Take, for example with content curation and recommendations on streaming apps like Netflix and Disney+. The shelter-in-place orders across America, combined with the loss of live sports, has resulted in a massive surge in tens of millions of new users on these streaming services in the past month. Artificial intelligence has helped them sift through huge amounts of historical viewer content to figure out better personalized content curation and recommendations for new users without major disruption to the engagement metrics on the business. These insights can also fuel their new content development, content marketing, and advertising efforts from a creative perspective.

Customer service is another area where AI has changed the game by reducing the dependency on human agents, especially as offshore call centers were temporarily offline. According to IBM, chatbots can now answer about 80% of customer inquiries, that makes up the bulk of any company’s support volume during the pandemic. 

AI is now making the customer experience better for consumers, too. A study by Drift shows that nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) see the 24/7 availability of chatbots as their biggest benefit. Chatbots have been a natural choice for disseminating health information during the COVID-19 crisis. Advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) have enabled conversational AI technologies and widened their reach, leading to tools such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Home that are part of many consumers’ everyday lives. The intuitive interface of chatbots presents a low-friction approach to disseminate critical information to vast populations 24/7.

Chatbot use-cases are spread fairly equally among consumers. Their research showed 37 percent of consumers use chatbots to get answers in case of an emergency; 35 percent of respondents use chatbots to resolve problems, and a third use them to get detailed answers or explanations. More than half of the respondents who use chatbots expect them to provide instant responses and answers to simple questions. Without applied AI, this level of attentive customer support in volume is simply impossible. 

Of course, today AI extends into helping marketers forecast more accurately the future of the business or a product using a complex set of inputs under tight time constraints. Many machine learning processes have been designed to automatically learn patterns in the numerous data inputs and help marketers to predict the future of anything they want to. It’s extremely challenging for humans to forecast during a pandemic, but AI can ingest and run millions of different scenarios to forecast much better to ensure businesses like Amazon are able to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing consumer behavior during the pandemic to minimize supply chain disruptions.     

AI is even supporting companies in ways that are invisible to their employees. AI has applications in IT operations to keep systems working smoothly by spotting issues before they disrupt the business. 

We all hold great hope for a speedy recovery and an end to the dangers COVID-19 presents us. The technology industry has done an amazing job making us more resilient in ways we never knew we needed to be. And as more companies take advantage of applied AI in all aspects of their operations, I’m hopeful we’ll emerge faster from this crisis — and be in even better shape to stem the next crisis in ways previous generations could only have imagined. 


Author

Lomit Patel is the Vice President of Growth at IMVU. Prior to IMVU, Lomit managed growth at early-stage startups including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple) and EarthLink. Lomit is a public speaker, author, advisor, and recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit’s new bestselling book Lean AI, is part of Eric Ries' "The Lean Startup" series, now available at Amazon.