The world is having a conversation. Is your business taking part?

At each point of technological disruption, we’ve had to fundamentally re-examine the customer journey through the lens of new technology. We’ve moved from the web to mobile, to mobile 2.0 with the rise of the smartphone, and now artificial intelligence and conversational AI. At each of these points, the dominant way consumers engage with businesses has changed. In each one of these changes, businesses have had to re-imagine their customer interactions through this new medium. And now, once again, we are at the beginning of the next big shift. This time it’s conversational AI, and businesses are going to have to reimagine what their customer relationships look like in this new channel, creating conversational business.

Conversational AI is everywhere—it’s not just about Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It’s embedded in our phones, applications, voice assistants, business chatbots, and even cars. More and more, consumers are using chat to ask questions, find information, get support, and engage with businesses around them — and businesses are running to catch up with their customers’ expectations, embracing conversational business.

Regardless of the interface, users are looking for answers to their questions — and businesses that want to win customers and stay ahead of competitors need to supply the right information to every conversational AI system to power these answers.

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Conversational AI is only gaining steam

Last year, the number of Amazon Echos in use in the United States jumped from 20 million to 30 million, and the increase in dedicated skills for the Echo mirrored that growth. Alexa is one of the most popular third-party conversational interfaces, but first-party conversational experiences, like business chatbots are even more mature. Many businesses now let customers chat directly with them through bots on their first-party website and via messaging apps on the biggest platforms in the world, including Facebook and WhatsApp. Given this rapid adoption, it’s essential that information is accurate and brand experiences are compelling in this new medium.

Voice and chatbots are only two among many vehicles for conversation. What is truly groundbreaking is the back-end conversational technology that is driving the larger trend. Search engines, apps, voice assistants, and messaging platforms all sit on top of conversational frameworks and technology that enable consumers to find information and answer questions directly. That information — knowledge, in the form of structured data — underlies every UI.

Every system that powers conversational experiences — from voice assistants like Siri and Alexa to the chatbots companies can install on their own websites — has three layers: its UI, for customers to engage with; its AI, which decides what answers to show; and its knowledge graph, a brain-like database that contains everything they know about the world.

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How your business can take part

Brands can’t control the UIs of the future or the AI that will power them, but they can control the knowledge—the basic facts—that these conversational systems know about them. By structuring the data about their locations, menu items, events, products, and seasonal promotions — and the relationships between all these entities — brands can provide correct and up-to-date facts about themselves to the search and discovery tools that customers are using today and the ones they’ll adopt tomorrow.

The services high-intent consumers use to find and engage with businesses today are radically different from those they used ten, or even five years ago. In ten years they will change again, but what will remain the same is that the services of tomorrow will need data about businesses in a structured, digestible format in order to present it to the consumer. For businesses, structuring their brand data is the key to growth and to providing an excellent customer experience in a world of conversational AI.

Marc Ferrentino is Chief Strategy Officer of Yext, the leading Digital Knowledge Management platform.

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