When I call my telephone company these days I start off by asking if I’m speaking to a real person or a chatbot. You used to be able to tell, but it’s getting more and more difficult. According to the BBC, “The Research firm Canalys estimates that approximately 100 million smart speakers - the hardware that allows users to interact with voice assistants - were sold globally in 2018.” Apparently the first thing people do is try and stress them with inappropriate language or questions. The financial chatbot Cleo AI has been asked to “send nudes” so many times that the programmers did a bit of work and it now responds by sending an image of a circuit board.
First it was a harmless and timorous wee Roomba, vacuuming around your furniture. Now we have driverless cars, autonomous aerial transport, chatty refrigerators that can tell you when you are out of milk, chatbot doctors who can diagnose your acid reflux, and smart homes that will close the curtains and run you a bath while you are still in traffic.
Soon we’ll be using all this AI technology in the wine industry. Are these chatbots allowed to lie I wonder? “Yes, that is our last case of Grenache.” “The shipping to New Jersey is very reasonable on 12 bottles.”
Unless you live under a bit of silex you’ve all seen the Treasury Wine Estates augmented reality wine labels which they call ‘Living Wine Labels.’ They used it to bring to life a bunch of convicts. My immediate thought went to winemakers, owners or vineyard managers. These are the people our customers romanticize about meeting during their visits. We are only a hop, skip and a jump from having the label speak to the customer without an app. It could be a regularly updated format about what’s happening in the vineyard right now, as you stand in the store. In their own words why the winemaker or owner thinks you should buy the bottle.
When I was at a Luxe SF event in Yountville earlier this year, they had a panel on staffing. Surprise, surprise, it’s very hard to find staff for wineries these days, let alone the brighter sparks. Solutions from higher salaries to more affordable housing were bandied about. For some larger wineries I’d take my old mentor Leslie Rudd’s advice. “If you can’t solve the problem, remove the problem.” I was doing a business evaluation on a central Napa Valley winery a while back and found that the wine hosts were depressingly lackluster in their approach to the task. They added almost no value to the experience other than picking up the bottle, pouring, and mumbling something about oak and cassis. My recommendation was that they should take the annual cost of salaries, hiring, advertising, training, benefits, sick days, supervising, firing and replacing, and add it all up. Then take this hefty number and use it as a budget to get an automated wine dispensing system, cool graphics, lots of screens, and use video with some interactive AI. Would have been a better experience and sold more wine; I sometimes wonder where that report is now.
Imagine a nicely coiffed human sized Alexa approaches you. The chatbot function welcomes you to the winery, introduces itself, and asks who you are and where you are from. You say, “Bill from Dallas.” Using facial recognition, the software in this Alexa almost instantaneously scans the web for all your social media for what you’ve posted, what you buy, who you talk to, and what you comment on. The chatbot function then immediately starts tailoring your Alexa wine interaction to your personal likes and dislikes. It contextualizes your cultural background, while addressing you as “Bill” throughout. “What about them Cowboys Bill!” “Bill, this goes great with BBQ ribs.” “Are you carrying today, Bill?” It asks you questions about your tasting experience preferences and, based on your answers, adapts accordingly while making suggestions on which wines you should taste. Maybe all in an accent and cadence you are comfortable with. It will also do this in multiple languages.
Will the human element disappear? No more Wine Educators? Actually, I believe that some of the very best wine hosts will survive for a while, but as a luxury. “You can have our AI host Alexa conduct a very personalized and informative tasting for you for $30 per person. Or you can have a human host… Jenny’s available to look after you. She was born and brought up in the Valley and is so charming and quirky that I’m sure you’ll find her worth the extra $55 per person.”
“What do you think darling… the AI or a real person?” “Well it’s our anniversary, let’s splurge a little… we’ll have Jenny.” “Wonderful choice Madam, I’m sure you’ll be delighted.”
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