The practical magic of artificial intelligence

Simon Fraser, Senior Director for Customer Experience Strategy at InMoment, explains how AI is the beating heart of customer experience in the age of the relationship.

To be human is to continually look for improvement, to innovate and to cast an eye to the future. Simply put - we live in an ever changing world.

Economic, societal and environmental forces create constant metamorphosis in our thoughts, feeling and actions - one way this is evident is in the way we as customers interact with brands.

One of the key drivers for change in perceptions of brands and our experiences with them is artificial intelligence (AI). For some, this technology feels alien - new, exciting and perhaps a little scary, yet it has been around for decades. As far back as the 50s when Alan Turing made waves in computing advancements, automation in technology and machine learning has been a constant in human innovation. Fast forward nearly 70 years and AI is everywhere - from spam filters ubiquitous in email technology to Alexa and Google Home.

This innovation, however, has come at a price, most fervently felt in the lack of trust towards brands in a so-called techlash against those at the frontier of tech - Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. This techlash has also caused a wider issue around for any breaches in customer data. As we continue to innovate, we must consider the challenges technology such as AI brings, particularly for business that are looking to apply it to improve the customer experience.  

For many brands, the key battle is between acquiring and enhancing use of data whilst nurturing customers’ trust. Trust is a funny, and sometimes elusive thing - difficult to attain but remarkably easy to lose. Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever explains this as “a BRAND without TRUST is just a product. Trust arrives on foot, but it leaves on horesback.” The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal cast a gloomy shadow over brands’ use of customer data, highlighting a major shift in power and expectations between customers and brands - and the need to fundamentally change the agreement and ground rules between these two groups.

With the fallout from Cambridge Analytica, the introduction of GDPR in May, and the widely-discussed perception that AI could cause job losses,  it could be argued that the drive to innovate is threatened. However, the opportunity to harness the learnings from our recent experiences with data is inumerable. GDPR (and other legislation) is in fact an opportunity, to drive transparent and authentic conversations with customers and move from conducting transactions to building relationships - enabled by technology. The key is doing so in a way that benefits the customer and does not border on a ‘creepy’ engagement, such as receiving a prompt from Google to post a photo at a popular location you’ve just visited. InMoment’s annual CX Trends survey found that 75% of customers find most forms of personalisation creepy, so it is imperative brands respect customer data and understand what level of personalisation enhances the customer experience.

To forge and leverage these relationships to create reciprocal benefit, brands must go beyond listening and engage customers in always-on, intelligent conversations. It’s about engaging rather than eavesdropping, using real-time analysis and response of customer feedback across all channels - from social media networks to CX surveys  - and harness predictive technology to respond to customers in a way that works for me. By doing so, brands will welcome customers as co-creators of the customer experience and create a value-added relationships.

It’s time for brands to change their perception of AI and see the value it brings, augmenting human experiences and interactions. For example, AI could be used to take away mundane, repetitive tasks that could give employees time to focus on driving real change, such as investing more time in providing customers with authentic expertise.  

Where AI will really show its mettle is in its ability to spot trends for brands when using a range of different touch points with their customers – critical in CX. AI will support the next stage in the evolution of CX, such as enabling more conversational surveys via chatbots and shifting reporting to predicting and eventually prescribing. For brands looking to harness AI in this way, success will rely on sourcing the right data, ensuring continuous testing, learning and adapting, measuring everything and setting appropriate expectations. With this, brands will be able to fly in the era of the relationship.

About Simon Fraser

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