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Early adoption of large language models gains traction – but are we ready?

Early adoption of large language models gains traction – but are we ready?
(Photo: Gabby Jones / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When innovative new technologies like ChatGPT hit the market – much like social media did in the early 2000s – it creates panic, while also opening up a world of vast possibilities.

Every few decades a new generation of the World Wide Web explodes into our consciousness, causing initial chaos before being fully adopted by businesses and consumers.

Consider how, after launching in 1994, the WWW (Web 1.0) provided users with access to vast amounts of information at pace. Then in 2004 social media (Web 2.0) burst on to the scene, giving consumers the ability to interact with others everywhere, gain information and perform tasks using game-changing always-on smartphone technology.

Now, as we head into the next phase of the internet, Web 3.0, we will interact with it in ways we’ve never experienced before. Known for its ability to decentralise and disrupt every sector around the world by surpassing intermediaries, Web 3.0 is fast changing our behaviour in how we source, share and use information. 

Among the many Web 3.0 innovations taking the world by storm is the rise of LLMs (large language models), which includes the recently launched ChatGPT, a LLM, AI-driven programme that, in its first five days of going live last November, attracted one million users. Facebook in comparison took 10 months to do the same while Netflix took 3.5 years.

This new technology is fast gaining speed through user adoption, but are we ready for it?

Local vs international adoption

In South Africa, a mere 15% of consumers have used ChatGPT, while almost 49% have never heard of it. Interestingly, however, a third believe it will become part of their lives in the future. This is based on insights from the South African Customer Experience Report which I co-authored with Rogerwilco’s CEO Charlie Stewart and research tool ovatoyou’s Amanda Reekie. Now in its fifth edition, it has just been released. 

Based on these insights, it’s clear that we are behind the curve as evidenced by trends in the US. In that country, 47% of consumers had used it for fun or learning while globally, among ChatGPT users, 68% chose it over a “traditional” search engine.

It’s not surprising then that the likes of Google and Microsoft are burning the midnight oil to integrate LLMs into the internet search experience. The latter, for example, has already launched BingChat, which incorporates LLM technology into its Bing search engine.

And among the social media channels, Meta has just released a commercial version of Llama-V2, its open-source LLM. It’s also not only global tech giants that are adopting this technology; any business with the right teams in place can leverage LLMs to work smarter, faster and provide better customer experiences.

In fact, our research highlights that 46% of South African organisations are considering using LLMs to enhance their customer experience (CX) and service delivery, although only 30% believe it will be effective. 

Avoid being left behind

From my perspective, brands that are still on the fence regarding the use of and integration of LLMs into their business models and product offerings are lagging behind. Businesses should be investigating its potential and ChatGPT should not be underestimated as a game-changing tool in the hands of consumers and businesses.

While the case for businesses to adopt LLMs is clear, this new technology will catalyse the most change in the hands of consumers.

LLMs are empowering consumers in ways never seen before – whether they are using them for fun, learning or to do research. Their speed and ability to respond in close to real time are outstanding, and the answers to questions that users ask are exceptional in both the imitation of sounding like a human as well as the depth and near accuracy – which creators are aggressively working on – of content.

This technology has the potential to unleash another wave of customer empowerment, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the advent of Web 2.0 driven by social media. 

Regulation required

Of course, AI technology such as this does come with risks, which is why OpenAI (the company that owns ChatGPT) CEO Sam Altman stood before Congress in the US earlier this year with a view to engaging the government to assist in implementing and collaborating on AI regulation, quickly.

Other countries have taken stronger approaches, such as Italy which banned ChatGPT outright due to its potential to harm.

These efforts are to prevent another damaging Facebook (now Meta) situation from happening, where technological advancement outpaced regulation by a wide margin. In that case, user data from around the world was significantly compromised and its platform was used to influence elections, policy and sway sentiment, among other nefarious uses – something no one wants to see happen again.

Hyper-personalised customer engagement

On the plus side, LLMs offer brands the opportunity to hyper-personalise information where each brand engagement is customised and is based on users’ learnt behaviour.

For instance, if a user begins regularly searching for sugar-free cookies, ChatGPT can posit that they or a family member are diabetic and will then serve related content suggestions.

Just consider the possibilities this presents to CX teams. Through hyper-personalisation, the customer journey can be tightly tailored, providing even richer information than before. Teams can also use the technology to upgrade their bots, improve operations and efficiencies and advance their brand’s service and delivery thereof.

LLMs are also extremely useful for consumers when it comes to searching for reviews and recommendations made by others. Coined the “Review Revolution” in our CX report, we extrapolated that online research alone influenced a significant R516-billion in on and offline purchases across major consumer categories in 2022.

This is based on the fact that 61% of consumers said they regularly go online to get ideas or discover products, and I posit that ChatGPT-enabled search technology is set to turbocharge that number. 

Don’t do a Kodak

When innovative new technologies like ChatGPT hit the market – much like social media did in the early 2000s – it creates panic while also opening up a world of vast possibilities. It would be wise for every brand to consider how to use or build LLMs for their own purposes, to stay ahead of the competition and avoid being disrupted and rendered redundant.

As a developing nation, we are sometimes behind the developed world with regard to our adoption of innovative new tech. Yet based on international insights, it’s not going to be long before consumers demand that we get there too. Businesses and brands need to be ready. DM

Julia Ahlfeldt is the founder of Julia Ahlfeldt CX Consulting and co-author of the South African Customer Experience Report.


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