The only thing scarier than a customer ranting on social media is a CMO who's read the thread.
Ironically, machines might be marketers' best bet for soothing hard feelings and answering tough questions. Already, conversational artificial intelligence has shown itself to be a time saver and satisfaction increaser. By 2022, it will save companies over $8 billion. In fact, executives surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2017 believe that conversational AI will have a larger impact on businesses than any other AI-backed technology.
But conversational AI can do more than assuage angry customers. Today, it can illuminate customers' expectations and spur online purchases. Clothing retailer H&M's Kik conversational AI uses a low-pressure tactic to understand customers' tastes and recommend products. Not to be outdone, The North Face has created on-site conversational AI to help shoppers navigate its huge selection of outdoor apparel.
Conversational AI simplifies the complex
In other words, conversational AI is a 'customer whisperer' that's capable of navigating buyers' needs and emotions with minimal human input. Marketers are using conversational AI to strengthen the customer experience in three particular ways:
1. Shaping messaging around shoppers' preferences
Smashbox, a subsidiary of cosmetics company Estée Lauder, recently worked with my company on Facebook Messenger conversational AI to manage its customers' needs in one interface. Because we kept annoying decision trees out of the mix, customers can simply tell the conversational AI what they're looking for. Users can book an appointment with a beautician, try on cosmetics, get makeup application tips, and more.
But it's not just cosmetics shoppers who win with Smashbox's AI. Although the conversational AI offers new services to customers, it's also informing Smashbox's messaging. The brand's content managers will be watching customers' actions closely to craft more resonant social and web content, Smashbox's e-commerce leader, Sarah Mold, recently told The Drum.
“We actually don't know what [our customers] want," Mold conceded. "With this bot, we’re going to get all this insight — what kind of looks they want and when. All that information we get will shape our content. And then it will also inform the products we have missing if they’re searching for [something] that we haven’t got.”
2. Answering customers’ questions and concerns
Every company could recite a veritable book of questions that customers regularly ask. Now, conversational AI can tackle the common ones, leaving the more important questions for team members.
Pizza Hut, for example, is betting big on conversational AI for social media support and ordering. Its Messenger conversational AI can answer questions about almost anything a pizza consumer could throw at it, from topping options to order times. Considering that more than half of the pizza chain's orders come through digital channels, Pizza Hut's AI might be its most important customer service tool.
Think it’s inconceivable that customers would want automated corporate interactions? Twenty-seven percent of people surveyed by PwC couldn’t tell whether they had spoken with conversational AI or a live representative during their last customer service engagement. All they knew — or cared about — was that their concerns were addressed.
3. Delighting customers like never before
What’s the difference between someone who purchases a product and someone who champions it? A top-notch experience. No wonder 86% of study participants told Walker researchers that they would pay more for better customer service — and the best news is that AI answers customers' questions faster and cheaper than human alternatives.
One of the world's leading retailers knows this well. Walmart is managing 140 million customers per week using AI while lifting e-commerce earnings 63% year over year. WalmartLabs’ VP of customer experience engineering, Laurent Desegur, told VentureBeat that he considers machine learning a lynchpin technology in the company's strategy to create the 'store of the future.' Tomorrow's Walmart shoppers can look forward to smooth, efficient interactions with their retailer of choice, not bottlenecks.
The best way to get started? Begin by getting familiar with your customer data, cleaning and organising it according to customers' needs. Implementing an AI infrastructure that can understand and respond appropriately to a shopper's situation takes time. But there's no better tool than AI to keep customers — or CMOs, for that matter — happy.