New York Times from TBrand Studio


With rapid advances in the field of A.I., the big challenge now lies in creating and living in harmony with these technological developments via a more human approach to innovation. In this four-part series, we explore how emotion-guided A.I. is being used to innovate businesses and transform lives.

There’s satisfaction in life — and then there are customer satisfaction surveys. Businesses see these questionnaires as a vital lifeline for understanding how customers feel about their products. But the customer survey is facing some stiff competition. Emerging fields of technology such as facial recognition and voice analysis are being used to examine the emotional responses of customers to products and experiences in real time. Every laugh, smirk, hint of excitement and look of surprise is recorded by video and then matched to an emotion. Using artificial intelligence, these emotional signals are categorized to help businesses understand what it is about their products that makes their customers pleased, excited or dissatisfied.

IN ONE REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE,passengers on a cruise are interviewed as they engage in activities onboard the ship to discuss their experiences. As they are relaxing by the pool, heading for the dining room or strolling the decks, they are invited to share their feelings about their experiences. Rather than simply filling out a form, they are asked questions, and their reactions are videoed and analyzed by facial-recognition software. This technology observes their expressions and gauges how happy they were with the experience. Did their faces light up when asked about the food? Or drop when the cabaret was mentioned?

This can provide a more accurate analysis of how people feel than their own self-report in a survey, where they may be polite or forget about the exact feeling. Emotion recognition offers the opportunity to delve into people’s true, underlying feelings and adjust the proposition in real time rather than waiting days or weeks to analyze a survey.

Brands across the entertainment, packaged goods, retail and auto industries are experimenting with emotion tracking as a smart addition to customer surveys. The technology stands to massively improve the feedback loop from customers to businesses. Keeping customers satisfied is the driving force of enterprise. Discovering the elements of an experience that made them smile and tailoring products to deliver greater happiness is key to success. Keeping a flow of feedback from customers to brands is vital to improving products, enhancing satisfaction by creating more personalized experiences — all of which can ultimately boost customer loyalty.

“BUSINESSES HAVE FOREVERbeen trying to figure out how their products and services meet the needs of consumers — that feedback loop is vital,” says Mark Kirby, Capgemini’s Perform A.I. evangelist, chief technology and innovation officer for North America. “This area is ripe for disruptive technologies that enable the data loop to ascertain how customers feel.” Kirby adds that emotion-tracking technology is being widely tested by entertainment companies. TV producers are using facial recognition to judge how much members of a studio audience enjoy a show. He believes emotion tracking through A.I. will need to use a range of different analyses to increase accuracy.

“I could have my face say one thing and my words say something different,” he says. “If the A.I. is multimodal, taking visual cues from my facial expressions, analyzing my words and examining my tone of voice, that combination will be more accurate.” Emotion tracking relies on recording millions of facial expressions and tones of voice, then uses machine-learning algorithms to categorize these and match them to emotions. The more data that is collected, the more accurate it becomes. These are early days for the technology, but it stands to improve over time as more emotional reactions are observed.

Emotion A.I. is becoming big business. Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, who chairs the investment fund Sinovation Ventures, told Capgemini in an interview that his fund is investing in a retail chain in China that will use A.I. for forecasting sales, managing inventory and improving merchandising. He added: “In a year or two, we will begin implementing sensor-based and computer-vision tracking. The facial-recognition technology will be able to detect customers’ expressions, emotions and eye contact to glean detailed knowledge of what each customer is thinking and feeling about specific product items in the store and how that relates to their shopping behavior over time.” He said the chain plans to open 1,000 stores in the next three years.



— Mark Kirby, Perform A.I. evangelist, chief technology & innovation officer for North America, Capgemini


MEANWHILE, A CONVENIENCE STOREbrand with thousands of outlets across Asia is introducing facial- and gesture-recognition technology to analyze staff activities and observe the behavior of customers. It will monitor data points such as how long they linger at the shelves and track their emotions at different locations within the stores. With this data, the retailer will attempt to identify the drivers of customer satisfaction and take the steps necessary to improve it.

At the same time, retail technology companies are developing smart shelves, which use computer vision to track the emotional reactions of shoppers as they pick up and examine goods, either putting them in their shopping carts or placing them back on the shelf. However, the ground rule here is to inform the customers of such screenings and data tracking and obtain their permission.

AND ON THEIR END,the public will give permission for their reactions to products and experiences to be analyzed only when they sense that they will reap real benefits from emotion tracking. One potential benefit is the prospect of continuous improvements to products and services based on people’s emotional reactions. “To me,” says Kirby, “it seems there is this massive frontier in terms of business, where the more you can dynamically adjust your products and services in real time, the more effective you will be.”

Emotion tracking will allow businesses to create a feedback loop of customer insights that provides continuous improvement to customer satisfaction. The power of A.I. is that it allows a business to change customers’ experience in real time, depending on their reactions. This paves the way for hyperpersonalized products for different types of customers. Businesses are shifting from a data-driven approach to improving customer experience to a human-driven strategy using emotion-powered A.I. Making customers happy is about to get a whole lot easier.

Illustration: Rose Wong

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