Channel: Artificial Intelligence
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Comcast, a telecom giant with over $94 billion in annual revenue, uses 3 innovation arms to figure out how AI can improve customer service


Rick Rioboli

  • Companies are accelerating efforts to create "innovation cultures" internally to, among other things, find out ways to use advanced technology, including artificial intelligence, to overhaul operations like recruitment
  • Comcast is no different. The telecommunications giant relies on three different programs to figure out ways to improve customer service, Chief Information Officer Rick Rioboli recently told the "Technovation" podcast.
  • Among the AI-based applications already in use at Comcast is a system that relies on voice recognition and chatbots to match customer calls or texts with stored data to personalize answers to questions or concerns. 
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Large companies are in a rush to create "innovation cultures" to stave off new competition and find ways to use advanced technology, like artificial intelligence, to improve operations.

The people leading those efforts are increasingly the chief technology, information, and data officers, who are emerging from the shadows of the IT department and gaining new power internally as a result of the digital overhauls.

At the telecommunications giant Comcast — a company with over $94 billion in annual revenue— Chief Information Officer Rick Rioboli oversees a tech team that has gone from "order takers" to one that builds applications that are used across the organization. While he says most people link e-commerce and digital tightly together, Comcast is homing in on how to improve the customer-service function.

"There's a lot of those micro-interactions that we've now turned into digital that make the customer experience much more enjoyable than having to pick up the phone," he recently told the "Technovation" podcast.

Rioboli, for example, led the team that created the "voice-remote" feature, which functions like Apple's "Siri" and allows customers to control their TV by speaking into the remote control. And the company is continually seeking ways to improve those operations.

Ultimately, the three-part model employed by Comcast is just one system that other corporate behemoths, and smaller companies alike, can use to drive innovation.

Using innovation arms to inform the AI future

Comcast built its innovation efforts around three arms: a venture fund, a Silicon Valley-based research and development team, and an internal accelerator known as Lift Labs. Such a setup is increasingly common. Firms like Stanley Black & Decker, for example, also rely on similar teams to drive new product development.

As the head of IT, Rioboli partners with all three to, among other things, figure out how AI can be used to enhance the customer-service function. He advises Comcast Ventures, for example, on which startups or early-stage companies are worth investing in. But the benefit flows both ways. "By hearing from them what trends they see in technology, [it] really helps me understand where things are going," Rioboli said.

Comcast Labs, the R&D wing, is under the cable division. The goal is to look out as far as 10 years to figure out the most promising technology and begin to prototype it internally. That helps the IT team align its strategy to the future needs of the business.

Read more: The head of IBM's Watson walks us through the exact model tech leaders can use to build excitement around any AI project

For Lift Labs, which launched in 2017, the company partners with Techstars, a well-known startup accelerator, to find 12 early-stage firms and work with them over 13 weeks to help grow their business. At the end of the program, some startups will exit the accelerator and others will become Comcast customers. Among those in the 2019 class that are working with Comcast now is GameOn, a company that uses athletic stats and gambling odds to create prediction games for sporting events. 

Through those relationships, Comcast is figuring out how best to turn the underlying AI technology into customer-facing applications.

In one instance in use, Comcast is using AI and machine learning to use voice recognition and chatbots to match customer calls or texts with stored data to personalize answers to questions or concerns, a program known as the "Xfinity System."

Regardless of the medium — whether a customer calls and talks to agent, visits a retail store, or accesses their account online — all the interactions are fed to a "common brain," according to Rioboli. It's application like this that, as technology like AI advances, will allow Comcast to get even better at predicting and solving consumer issues.

SEE ALSO: 77% of internal-innovation efforts fail. Here's a 4-step checklist for ensuring that doesn't happen to your company.

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