Coca-Cola to launch vending machine powered by AI for smarter CX

Katie Sadler


The beverage industry embraces artificial intelligence to develop services through chatbot capabilities

Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) has been working on a new smart vending machine, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to power its customer experience.

The revamped vending machine, due to initially launch in New Zealand, allows the beverage company to offer specials, track sales, pre-empt maintenance and refill needs via an internet connection. It also accepts mobile payments and allows customers to purchase through their phone before reaching or being directed to their local machine.

The unified digital system, retrofitted to existing vending machines, creates a global supply network connected to the Cloud. The technology allows the company to collect data on customer behaviour, analyse demand and modify future products and services.

Commenting on the innovation, Greg Chambers, Coca-Cola’s global group director of digital innovation, says: “The spirit of The Coca-Cola Company is about surprising people through experience. Our goal with this vending process is to create experiences only Coca-Cola can create.”

The innovation has been complemented by the creation of a digital user experience platform known as a chatbot. Here, customers can begin personalised chats with Coca-Cola as if they were communicating with a familiar operator. Coca-Cola partnered with Facebook Messenger and Pandorabots, an AI Web service that designs Internet robots (bots) capable of personalised conversations, to create a platform which did not need an app that customers are required to download.

According to the company, users can opt into conversations with the vending bot via Facebook Messenger. Using data gathered through the consumer's Facebook activity, current location and tone of conversation, the AI bot will adopt a local dialect and attitude tailored to each user.

Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, believes the development should open up a wider debate in the role of AI in customer service: “Considering vending machines are purely transactional, with no customer expectation for a helpful, empathetic or consultative service, they are a prime example of where AI would naturally be integrated. This development within such a global brand, however, certainly provides a platform for wider debate about the rise of AI in customer service.

“The rise of AI should not mean a loss of jobs for customer service staff – it will mean a reduction in transactional, process driven roles and an increased necessity for upskilling staff ability to provide a high quality problem-solving and relationship-based service.”

“Although the rise of AI can meet customer expectations for speed and efficiency, the impact on the bottom line of an empathetic, personal approach cannot be ignored,” Causon adds.

In a recent article for CX Network, Rob Walker, vice president decision management and analytics at Pegasystems, believes AI can bring a great deal of value to businesses. However, the greatest challenge to AI implementation is the many misconceptions that surround the technology. He goes on to highlight the importance for businesses to understand that AI can never replace the human touch, and should be used to augment the human role, not replace it.

Looking to the future, Walker believes chatbots will become increasingly sophisticated maintaining conversations across a number of different platforms in a natural, conversational way. Customer service may possibly be delivered through a collaborative approach allowing customers to speak to both human and chatbot during the same conversation.