Emergence of Artificial Intelligence in Charities

On 15 November 2017, FARM Digital hosted an evening for charity professionals to learn from Microsoft, Age UK and Cancer Research UK about platforms and prototyping of artificial intelligence to better support service users.

My background in leveraging personal data to deliver service improvements through personalisation drew me to this fascinating event.

Microsoft’s platforms for building artificial intelligence solutions

Faris Haddad, Cloud Solution Architect and “Data liberator” at Microsoft gave an overview of the platform that Microsoft has developed (including Cortana Intelligence Suite and Azure Machine Learning) to enable organisations to test out and implement artificial intelligence for better access to relevant information, for fundraising and for better support through enhanced Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Of particular interest was the speech API called Language Understanding Intelligence Service (LUIS) and Microsoft Payment API available within the bots framework, taking away some of the challenges of PCI compliance.

Faris shared an interesting nugget from Gartner: “By 2020, the customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.” It’s interesting how customers will not only be used to interacting with a non-human by 2020 but will likely come to expect a high level of speed and accuracy for most operational tasks.

Age UK’s approach to quicker access to information via chatbots

The digital team at Age UK have been working hard to deliver important information and useful resources to older people and their carers, as demonstrated through their recently relaunched super accessible website ageuk.org.uk

We heard from Rob Mansfield (@robram), Head of Digital Content at Age UK, about how they set up a virtual assistant on their website for their service users to easily access answers to more general questions. This freed up their call centre staff to address the more complex queries, bringing about cost savings for the organisation and user journey improvements for older people.

Key learnings about chatbots shared by Rob from Age UK:

  1. While most people don’t understand what a chatbot is, it’s OK – internally help them see the time and cost saving benefits, and for service users, let them experience a better service through quicker responses and improved signposting.
  2. Bots give the impression of simplicity, but it will take effort and ongoing enhancements to deliver a truly great user experience.
  3. You can never answer everything – some queries will just be too complex, or unrelated – in those situations…
  4. Build a safety net to allow your chatbot user to get through to a real person – whether it’s by phone, filling in a contact form, or patching them through to a live online assistant.
  5. It’s important to dedicate time and resource to the planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance (content and technical) of the chatbot.
  6. The easiest thing you can do is think linear and utilise a decision tree to lead them down one of a pre-defined set of paths to help you help them.
  7. When interacting with a non-human, it needn’t be a sterile environment. Add some delight where appropriate, using emojis, GIFs, even a video.
  8. It’s good to make your chatbot sound human, but not too human! The aim is not to fool your users, but simply to deliver a better service to them.
  9. Real chatbots are still quite some way off. It can be really complicated to work out how to handle misspelling and mistyping and to really understand the context of what someone has typed. As technology and AI APIs develop, we’re getting closer.
  10. Know what success looks like by gauging happiness of the end user through some kind of feedback mechanism, such as a poll at the end of the chatbot interaction.

Cancer Research UK’s use of a voice-activated virtual assistant

The Innovation team at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) identify and test out ways to bring about efficiencies and a richer user experience through the use of artificial intelligence, such as for external customer service, internal customer service (IT helpdesk) and fundraising. They use product-focused start-up approaches to build organisational readiness.

Rob Leyland (@robliteration), Innovation Manager at Cancer Research UK, discussed some of the approaches their charity has taken to implement artificial intelligence, using it to provide health information to the public and to influence behaviour change.

It is scientifically proven that 40% of cancers are preventable. Knowing that overconsumption of alcohol can lead to many types of cancer, CRUK prototyped an Alexa ‘skill’ that allowed people to interact with their Amazon Echo to set goals for the maximum units of alcohol they were going to drink in a given period and to record their actual drinks consumed over that time, just by speaking into the device, with Alexa providing ongoing positive encouragement.

Rob’s team at CRUK set up a five day design sprint, using the Google Ventures Sprint approach, to build a prototype. This involved:

  • Day 1: Map – mapping out the problem and picking an important place to focus
  • Day 2: Sketch – working in isolation and sketching competing solutions on paper
  • Day 3: Decide – making difficult decisions and turning ideas into a testable hypothesis
  • Day 4: Prototype – hammering out a high-fidelity prototype
  • Day 5: Test – testing out the prototype with real live humans!

Jake Knapp, formerly of Google Ventures, explains the process well in this video:

Key learnings about prototyping an Alexa skill, shared by Rob at Cancer Research UK:

  1. Keep the scope down and start simple. Make it quick to build by minimising how much content you’re initially offering.
  2. When using voice, be concise – so that the person using it doesn’t switch off 🙂
  3. Challenge to overcome: there might be confusion about invocation (how to initiate Alexa) and intents (e.g. add a drink to my log, not my shopping basket!)
  4. Soft launch it to the skills store and then take it on the road to test with real users (e.g. within charity shops)
  5. Acknowledge (make peace with) the limitations – test it, soft launch it, trial it, enhance it.

Current thoughts about using artificial intelligence in charities

I sense that while the use of artificial intelligence is starting to emerge in charities and the applications appear to be useful for service users, AI will really shine when the data that the charities and the platforms have about the supporter or service user is clean and is used mindfully. Watch this space!


Introducing Raj Kotecha – Creative Content Consultant

Inspiring entrepreneur, talented DJ and friend, Raj Kotecha, is a creative content consultant. Raj is the man responsible for Heena and I meeting for the first time at that party in June 2007. Story for another day.

In this video @RajLoveSoul presents a guest lecture to media students at the University of East London. In it, he shares his own career history as well as some superb tips for thriving in the media business. Worth watching.

How To Manage Your Online Reputation

Chameleon Net: Full-service Web Solutions Agency

When you offer a service or sell a product, either people are talking about you, or no-one is. If they’re talking about your brand, it may be positive or it may be negative. If no-one’s talking about you, perhaps they should be.

There are many examples where a brand’s reputation has been massively damaged, simply because a negative mention of a brand snowballed and was not spotted in time.

One such example is when a blogger from America bought a computer from the large computer manufacturer Dell in 2005 and paid for a four year home service support plan. Soon after, when the machine needed seeing to, Dell told him to return the computer, which left him without the machine for 10 days. When he wrote a short blog post about the poor service, it generated over 200 comments within a few days. This then resulted in 10 follow up posts and over 2500 comments that sparked so much opinion that it led to the phrase “Dell Hell” becoming a household term. Imagine is this post had been spotted in time – perhaps the massive damage that the brand received could have been limited.

Following an internal training session on Brand Identity Tracking run by our Head of Online Marketing, Drew Davies, I thought I’d write and share a few notes about how to discover what people are saying about a particular brand, how that can be tracked over time, and how the information can be used to improve brand identity.

Why Do Companies Choose To Track Their Brands?

Companies generally want their brand tracked for predominantly one of four reasons:

  1. New product / service: The company is launching a new product in the marketplace and wants to see the attention the brand will be getting online over time.
  2. Bad reviews: A brand has been getting bad reviews on the web, and the company would like to see the extent of that damage done to the brand.
  3. Good reviews: The brand is already receiving positive reviews on the web, and the company would like to see what is being said and use it to create more products and engage with the happy consumers.
  4. No reviews: The brand has been around for a while, but the company feels that nobody’s talking about it, and so that company wants to see where their competitors are being talked about and work out how to enter those forums.

How To Benchmark Your Online Reputation

We use a three step process here at Chameleon Net to benchmark the online reputation of our clients’ brands:

Step #1: GATHER – scouting the web for mentions of specific keywords relating to the brand in question, and recording how positive or negative the conversations are about the brand. Keywords here would include variations of the brand name, categories, and competitor brand names where appropriate.
Step #2: ANALYSE – working out what the comments mean according to pre-defined metrics, and benchmarking this information over time and against competitors.
Step #3: ENGAGE – making amends where there are grievances about the brand, and reinforcing positive comments about the brand on behalf of the client.

Tracking Your Online Brand Identity – For Free!

There are already a number of free tools that companies can use to find out what people are saying about their brand online. Tools offered by Google include:

  • Google Search: visit http://www.google.co.uk, type in the name of the brand into the search box, and see a list of the websites that mention your brand.
  • Google Blog Search: visit http://blogsearch.google.com, type in the name of the brand in the search box, and see a list of the blogs that mention your brand, along with the date of when it was mentioned.
  • Google Alerts: visit http://www.google.com/alerts and sign up for alerts that will notify you by email about the latest web and news pages that mention your brand.

Limitations of using these free tools for tracking your online brand identity

If you have a good internal team who have plenty of time on their hands, information on conversations about the brand can be gathered fairly simply using the free tools listed above.

However, although the tools are good for finding the raw data, that’s where it stops. The next step is to analyse the gathered data with metrics to make sense of it, which requires a natural human touch.

Recently we tracked the brand identity of one of our clients in the not-for-profit sector who wanted to see how they are perceived online. We benchmarked our findings over time, and against similar charities in the sector.

Engaging: handling negative comments

So what happens if you discover negatives comments about your brand? What can you do to recover from an online reputation crisis?

The article at http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/01/five-steps-for-recovering-from-an-online-reputation-crisis.html suggests the following steps:

  1. Respond from the top
  2. Admit your mistakes and apologise
  3. Host the conversation
  4. Seek resolution
  5. Turn detractors into evangelists

To recover from even the severest of mistakes, base your crisis communication on sincerity, transparency, and consistency.

Engaging: encouraging more positive comments

Suppose you find positive mentions of your brand at the websites and blogs that you find, how do you leverage that?

Simply go to those websites and say “thank you” in the comments section. Then suggest other innovative ways that your product or service can be used.

Engaging: starting a conversation

Sometimes, you’ll look around the web and find that no-one’s talking about your brand. What can you do there to create positive exposure?

Well first highlight where you want to be mentioned, and then build an innovative ePR campaign to get more people talking about your brand.

Chameleon Net ran an ePR campaign to launch ‘The Survival Kit’ – a cookware kit developed in a collaboration between Jamie Oliver and Tefal. Get in touch with us to request our ePR case studies.

Is ‘Online Reputation Management’ ethical?

Some may refer to this process as controlling their message, while others may look upon it as ‘gaming the system’. What do you think? Is online reputation management ethical?

Source: Chameleon Net blog article: How to Manage Your Online Reputation by Suraj Shah

Peter Thornton on Running A Family Business

On the day of my birthday earlier this month, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Peter Thornton who previously worked in his family business (Thorntons Plc) for 30 years, eventually retiring at the age of 54 as Chairman.  Prior to meeting him, I sent him an email saying…

My grandfather ran a utensils retail business with his brothers when in Mombasa (Kenya), and my father ran a menswear retail business with his brothers in London (UK), and I would love to launch a business several years down the road with my own brother.  There’s something very magical about family businesses, and naturally I’m sure they have their own challenges and a unique dynamic (!)

When you have a moment, it would be wonderful to hear what your top three tips for running a family business would be.

Peter then sent me a very thoughtful response to my request.

I thought what he shared would be valuable for my friends who are reading this blog, so asked if he would be happy for me to publish it and if he would give a little more information about himself, his background and his services, in case any of my friends would get value from having a longer conversation with him or engaging his services.  You’ll find some gems very much applicable to marriage too I’m sure…

Here’s what Peter wrote…

My Top Three Tips for Running a Family Business – before ever starting!

Relationships & Roles

Your suggestion is that this is with your brother only.  Naturally this is far more simple than if there are more relatives involved.  However there is a need for various roles to be covered in the initial team, for more on that see below.

The most successful operations are run by emotionally mature people working in equal partnership.  By ‘equal partnership’ I do not mean that every decision however small or large has to be always taken by all partners mutually but there will be specific areas where each individual has primary responsibility and within which, to understood limits, they can make their own decisions without reference to the other partners.

This paragraph has certain built-in requirements which need to be understood in advance:
‘Emotionally mature people’ – this is of paramount importance, whether in business or in marriage!  The totally emotionally mature person hardly exists most people are immature in some way.  Going into business with your brother has advantages and disadvantages; on the positive side you know him extremely well already, on the negative side you automatically and permanently have an emotional relationship with him.

You need to understand each other’s state of maturity, do you both feel yourselves to be totally independent, adult individuals? have you progressed beyond the childish relationship?  Do you behave like two adults to each other? does either of you have a serious emotional problem, such as the need to be always dominant, or the need to always be right?  Do you entirely trust each other in terms of honesty, intentions and communication in individual, team and family relationships?

A major contributor towards ‘progressing beyond the childish relationship’ will have been to work completely independently of each other in separate organisations doing separate things for a period of time prior working together.  This will establish the individual’s independence, abilities, self-confidence and usable experience to bring to the business relationship.

‘Specific areas where each individual has primary responsibility’ – to run any organisation it is necessary to have specialists in several different roles.  Mike Southern in his Beermat set of books defines them extremely well as: Sales Cornerstone, Technical Cornerstone and Finance Cornerstone.  One or more of these will be the Entrepreneur, most likely the Technical Cornerstone.  The Entrepreneur is essential of course.  The operation can manage without the Finance Cornerstone at least initially because this can be delegated to somebody else part-time.  You therefore need to be certain about each other’s strengths, one needs to be fully capable of being the Sales Cornerstone and the other capable of being the Technical Cornerstone.

The individual running each of these areas will of course have primary responsibility and decision-making powers in those areas.  The overall corporate governance will probably be shared equally between the two of you initially that it will eventually become necessary to decide that one individual will make the final decision in corporate matters having fully sounded out the other’s opinion.  In other words this person will become the CEO.  Whatever happens this role must not be decided on the family hierarchy basis but only on the basis of ability as must every other role.

Future Family Governance Systems.

You need to be fully in agreement in advance of starting the business what your objectives are.  Do you intend always to run this between the two of you and eventually to sell it without involving any more family members or do you intend it to become a family institution for the long-term?

If it is the former it is essential that you do not ever bring in, at a later stage, any other family members because if you do so you will immediately turn it into the latter.

If it is to be the latter then you need to agree with your brother in advance the principle of and some outline rules for the following:

  • The Governance Structure for Business and Family.
  • CEO Succession
  • Agreeing Vision and Strategy
  • Rules for Entry of new family members
  • Future Share Ownership
  • etc.

As requested, a few paragraphs about Peter himself…

I started work in the family firm of Thorntons Plc (manufacturing retail confectionery business) at the age of 10 working during the holidays until I was old enough to start full-time. I became a director of the company when I was 29 and retired when I was 54 in 1989 as Chairman.

This gave me much valuable experience as a director of a family company where at one time there were six members of the family all working together.  Since that time I have studied the theory and practice of family business thoroughly preparing myself for working with family businesses.

Conflict can become very serious and destructive within a family business and it needs an outsider to relieve it.  I offer my services for this purpose and also for prescribing the stages that follow resolution of the conflict so that systems and procedures can be set up to avoid these problems occurring again in the future.

Please contact me at: peter@thornton-asc.co.uk or by telephone: 01395-548199 or Mobile 07836-212713. www.thornton-asc.co.uk

Peter Thornton

Hope you found the above words by Peter useful.  Are you running your own family business at the moment?  What are the highs and lows?  What tips would you offer?  Would these tips translate well into the world of marriage too?

Updating Public Holiday Information in MS Outlook

If you are using a version of Microsoft Outlook which is older than Outlook 2007, then you can download a file which updates all public holiday information in your calendar, giving you details of public holidays through till 2012.

Visit the information page at http://www.outlook-tips.net/howto/missinghol.htm and download and install the file which resides at http://www.outlook-tips.net/files/OUTLOOK2012.HOL if you are running Outlook 2002/2003.

I now have an up-to-date Outlook file which gives me the heads up on all public holidays right through to 2012.

Diwali – Festival Of Light – Lightbulbs!


Diwali’s here. Makes you think of light. Inner light, shining bright.

Needed to buy some lightbulbs recently – special ones that you can’t get in your local supermarket.

Scoured the web – came across yourwelcome.co.uk

Highly recommend these guys for all your lightbulb purchases. Here’s why:

Reason #1: speed of delivery

Reason #2: quality of light bulbs at a great price

Reason #3: their caring courtesy email below:

Dear Mr Shah,

Thanks for your recent order which you should now have received.

I just wanted to follow up and make sure that your recent order has been received and everything is in order.

We do try and offer a high level of customer service but we are only human and do occasionally make mistakes – if we do then I want to know about it, both to put it right and to try and stop it happening again.

If you do have any comments or feedback then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me – support@yourwelcome.co.uk

To view our whole range visit www.yourwelcome.co.uk

Thanks once again for your business.

Kind regards.

Richard Cockayne

How about that for after sales care?

I like these guys – gonna keep going back to them for all my light bulb needs.

Turns out they also do air conditioning systems. Yes, winter’s kicking in now, but when the summer comes, the way climate change is happening, it’s gonna be scorching in London.

Where do you source YOUR inner light from?