What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of AI? Robots and high-tech gear? Artificial Intelligence is actually a little simpler and a lot more common.
We already use AI on a near daily basis, whether it is Siri, Alexa, or even the recommendations you notice when browsing a website.
AI is causing a massive shift in the way businesses work, similar to how the World Wide Web changed the entire business experience a few decades ago. As a consequence, more and more businesses are considering adopting AI in one of their most crucial aspects – customer experience management.
Today, businesses globally realise the importance of Customer Experience – and have begun investing in it as well. In fact, Customer Experience, or CX, is at the core of business and marketing strategies. If implemented correctly, it can help reduce churn, increase loyalty, and dramatically boost brand value.
But CX is not a straightforward process. In an age of customer-centricity and the increasingly aware consumer, having a friendly customer service staff and feedback surveys at various touch-points just isn’t going to cut it.
Most customers know exactly what they want and they won’t settle for anything less. As a consequence, loyalty is a lot harder to win (and a lot more valuable.)
Moreover, with the Covid-19 pandemic upending our routine lives, customer experience journeys need to go a step further to ensure that businesses connect with their customers to maintain loyalty and increase retention.
Understanding the Present-Day Customer
The target customer profile – which would usually remain consistent over long time periods – has changed drastically in just a few months. We need to understand the new customer mindset and ensure that businesses continue to resonate with them, even though these chaotic times.
Current consumer research has revealed a few key aspects of changing customer behaviour:
+ Increased Disconnect
GoForrester’s study shows that customers are increasingly feeling more disconnected with brands and businesses.
With a spike in stress levels across society, they are becoming more and more withdrawn.
While customer behaviour has shown a drastic shift in such a short timeframe, it is likely that your customers will get even more disengaged as Covid-19 continues to spread (and if Dr. Fauci’s word is anything to go by, the tables aren’t turning anytime soon.)
In fact, the second wave of the virus coupled with the heightened unrest globally has led to a change in attitude towards many leading brands already.
This has a direct impact on purchase patterns as disengaged customers are also customers who don’t want to interact with brands regardless of their latest offerings and new releases.
+ Increased Distrust in Businesses
When stress levels are high and there is more disconnect between brands and their customers, a decreased level of trust is a natural consequence.
Today, customers are viewing brands that they may have otherwise bought from with more distrust and dislike. Brands that don’t actively cater to appease their customers in this time are being pitted against those that acknowledge our politically, economically, and medically tumultuous times.
Customers are looking for brands that resonate with them, take a stand that reflects the values of their audience, and are more socially aware. It’s important for brands to not simply jump on a bandwagon once the alarm has been sounded and protests voiced. Instead, it’s essential for them to take the extra step by being more vocal about social causes.
Brands that use the current situation to sell their product are quick to incite the ire of their customers and also see a strong backlash. Amid the current atmosphere of uncertainty and change, it is easy to lose the loyalty of your customers.
This change in attitude necessitates businesses to implement a different customer approach if they are to maintain consistent loyalty and retention while also continuing to attract more customers (just take a look at how Ben and Jerry’s have managed to stay socially relevant and beat their competition with the fine art of corporate activism).
+ Reduced Adventurousness
With more people longing to go out, this one comes as a surprise. However, think about it this way – the pandemic has reduced our sense of control over our lives.
People go on adventures to be freer, but with the lack of control over everything, more and more people are craving just that – a sense of being back in the driver’s seat.
So instead of buying new products and experiences, there has been a rising demand for the familiar and the old. It’s the same reason why we often re-watch familiar TV shows no matter how many times we’ve binged the episodes already.
So, when it comes to new products, customers are less willing to go out of their way and experiment.
What This Means for You
Being a business that’s trying to increase sales in the present economy is nothing short of a mammoth task unless you’re in the pharmaceutical industry.
With budget cuts all around and fewer employees to count on, it’s absolutely crucial to go above and beyond on your CX experience. You need to reconnect with your customers, be there for them, and in your own little way, reduce the panic of the pandemic.
Double-down and focus on high-energy customers to maintain loyalty.
How can AI help?
The key to a fabulous customer experience is ensuring a customer-centric attitude throughout your customer journey. With a limited workforce at your disposal, and a higher need to improve CX, the easiest way to make this happen is via the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence technology.
While AI has been around for a while and has been gaining popularity over the years, it’s especially pivotal today. As customers are more inclined to online experiences, AI helps you deliver superior – and more human – digital experiences at a scale that wasn’t possible before.
In fact, AI can be coded to process information in a way that is similar to human beings, but at a much larger scale. So even simple integrations along the CX chain can transform the experience you deliver while reducing the work-load on your staff.
+ Let’s Make it Personal
Artificial Intelligence technology takes the online experience to a whole new level. Who doesn’t like an experience tailored just for them? AI can help you deliver on that.
AI technology employs machine learning to present services that your customers are interested in. It’s why you often see the most relevant ads when browsing the internet, or notice the ideal products in the ‘recommended’ section.
Most people respond better to personalized emails, whether it is a birthday discount or a discount on the items they already have in the basket. The reason is simple – the brand is evidently going out of their way to do something for the customer, so the customer feels inclined to take the next step, thereby becoming more loyal to the brand.
Delivering a personalised experience is what makes brands addictive as well. In fact, that’s how many of the social media platforms operate today – by showing you the most relevant content in terms of ads and suggestions, you’re more likely to remain on that platform for longer!
Today, this is more important than ever. Personalised experiences give customers a sense of connection, making your brand more relevant.
+ The Finest Customer Service
Your customer service staff is human. So, you can’t expect them to consistently deliver their best performance, regardless of the day or time. Humans can lose patience, get fatigued, or even annoyed.
After all, people aren’t machines. But guess what – that’s where artificial intelligence comes in. Virtual Assistants and Chatbots can be coded to deliver a consistent customer experience to everyone that comes their way, 24/7.
What’s more, reducing human interaction is also often preferred by customers. Don’t you prefer the self-checkout counter at Tesco?
By implementing chatbots, simple customer queries can easily be resolved without the long call wait times to converse with an actual customer service executive, and as a consequence, more concerns can be addressed.
This doesn’t mean that customer service representatives aren’t needed altogether. You will obviously require humans at the other end, especially for the trickier situations. But, AI can dramatically free up the work-load from your employees, helping them deliver their best performance and optimising their output for the complaints and concerns that really matter.
By doing so, you will notice a dramatic improvement in your customer experience ratings as well, even with a lesser workforce.
+ Understanding Behaviour
It’s not just about delivering exceptional customer experiences, but about understanding your target markets better. It’s only when you understand what your customers really want that you can deliver experiences and services designed for them.
So, while feedback platforms help you deploy surveys and forms at key touch-points to collect information, it’s AI that makes it actionable. Specially designed algorithms and analytics software enable you to read between the lines by identifying key business drivers and weaknesses, spotting trends, and giving you critical insights that can improve your decision making.
In fact, incorporating AI into your business has several advantages. It can:
– Help you identify new target markets to expand your business
– Alert you to behaviours that predict customer churn and therefore ensure that you take timely action
– Provide offers and services that are tailored to trends within various demographics, target personas, and more, increasing brand loyalty.
+ Sentiment Analysis
AI isn’t limited to helping you deep-dive into the quantitative data.
While versatile reports will help you visualise trends and make informed decisions, you can better hear the voice of your customer with natural language processing (NLP).
In a time of increased disengagement, it’s more important than ever to listen to what your customers are saying in their comments or feedback and across social media. However, analysing qualitative data is usually a lot more complex and overwhelming.
With the aid of AI, you can easily integrate social listening and Natural Language Processing tools to understand the overarching tone and mood of your audience across platforms, spot changing trends, and identify key pain-points and product praises.
It can also raise early warning flags about changing customer sentiments, helping you rectify concerns before they get out of hand.
Moreover, this is one of the best methods to glean insights that may not have occurred to you. For example, you may have given your customers several options for why they were satisfied or dissatisfied with your service, but what if the cause of the dissatisfaction wasn’t in the options listed? Typed responses are often more complex to analyse, and that’s where sentiment analysis and NLP come in.
Sifting through individual responses to clearly understand what your customers are saying is a task that will take humans ages to accomplish. However, with the help of AI this can be completed in a fraction of the time, giving businesses a much-needed advantage.
While several SMB CEOs and top professionals remain sceptical about incorporating AI into their routine functioning, the usefulness of AI is no longer a debate. With leading global companies leveraging the many advantages of this technology to not only transform their business but also leave competition far behind, this is definitely the future of business marketing.
In fact, AI can help you connect with customers at key turning-points, making each instance more humanistic and personal.
And let’s face it, this is especially vital in the middle of a pandemic when people are feeling more disconnected than ever with the world around. It helps businesses reduce the feeling of disengagement, connect with customers via products and services that cater to their sentiments and needs, and also identify key pain points and experience gaps before they get out of hand.
So, if you’re still debating on whether an investment in AI is worth the output, it’s time to take the leap.
Reconnect with your customers, increase loyalty, and reduce your churn rate even through tumultuous times with the help of AI enhanced customer experiences.
Originally published Nov 05, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023