With consumers constantly demanding more for less, our industry is always looking for new ways to satisfy customers while keeping costs low. Sometimes, that demand can be a tall order for us humans, so companies are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to hack logistics, customer experience and other aspects of business to keep themselves in the green.
But how can companies industrialize their businesses in an era where consumers are trending towards more artisanal and hand-crafted experiences?
Well, first consider that even those “hand-crafted” experiences are often orchestrated by a number of automated processes which move the product from production to testing, to packaging, to shipping, before even coming in contact with the consumer. According to VentureBeat, the challenge historically has been that machines doing this work are fixed in a certain may, meaning if the machine runs out of product or something doesn’t meet the exact standard required for the machine to run the way it’s meant to, it just won’t run, requiring a stop and manual fix.
So one way to ensure your customers are feeling like their experience is hand-crafted is to ensure everything about their transaction goes perfectly. Integrating AI into businesses can dramatically reduce human errors and hike up quality leading to an increase in consumer satisfaction and, eventually, sales. According to Lori Mitchell-Keller, global general manager of Consumer Industries at SAP, key AI applications have positively impacted the front- and back-end processes of F&B companies she’s worked with:
Shelf management - F&B retailers can use AI to automate inventory management. Staff can take photos of store shelves to initiate a machine learning process that automatically detects missing or misplaced items and notifies stakeholders to restock or make corrections.
Image-based procurement - AI and image-recognition technologies can ease the procurement process and reduce the time it takes to send an order. Employees can take a photo of an item to activate an automated database search for the exact item or an equivalent product.
Personalized customer service - Using chatbots or voice assistants powered by natural language processing and machine learning, companies can tap consumer shopping data and history to provide hyper-personalized and automated customer service experiences.
Heightened consumer engagement - CPG players can use AI to maintain strong empathy with their audience. By closely monitoring conversations on social media, companies can use AI to analyze consumer data and identify sentiments or behavior that are crucial not only in building positive experiences but also in the development and design of new product lines.
Some CPG businesses are already implementing AI in areas such as financial and sales planning, chemical/contaminant monitoring, and back office paperwork automation. Leading2Lean, a data analytics business providing solutions to companies looking to become more efficient, outlines certain inefficiencies it found in just one of its clients' production lines and how much more productivity they were able to provide the company just through the use of data analytics and manufacturing software.
“Lakeview Farms achieve[d] significant reductions in line downtime (34 percent), equipment repair costs (15 percent), and worker overtime ratio (17 percent).”
AI does come with its own hefty price tag, though, especially for those looking for customized systems. And integrating the technology is not exactly “plug and play.”
Ken Wood, executive vice president of product management at logistics technology company Descartes, warns: “It’s painful to wire systems together — our customers tell us that consistently. The more vendors, the harder the project. The more systems you have to cobble together, the more expensive and longer time it takes.”
Read more about why food and beverage businesses should be taking advantage of this technology at VentureBeat.