Digital channels such as chatbots, in-app messaging, and social media are increasingly becoming a person’s gateway into a brand. But it certainly doesn’t end there. We streamline and automate entire customer experiences; we order and track pizza delivery via app, send voice messages by text instead of making a phone call, use facial filters to virtually try on new glasses online… and so on. Anything we can do to accomplish something without leaving home or, in many cases, making contact with another human being.
But one thing remains true: people are still more likely to make a phone call when buying a big-ticket item or attempting to resolve something with customer service. When I order shrimp parm but receive a meatball hero, my instinct is still to get a live person on the phone to help remedy the situation. Why is that?
Human versus AI… or humanized AI?
According to a study by Google, the top two reasons (59% and 57% of respondents, respectively) for going the human route are: to quickly get an answer/accomplish your goal, and to talk to a real person. A human-to-human call is a different form of instant gratification — an immediate connection we’ve yet to replicate with three “typing” dots or a virtual queue — even if it’s no longer marketed as such.
But can businesses use AI to provide the human touch? In a world where Google Assistant can not only make a hair appointment over the phone, but also convincingly murmur “mmhmmm” to a human receptionist on the other end, the answer is quickly becoming yes.
“Digital transformation is not elective surgery”
That’s what Forrester Research said in their 2018 predictions report (subtitled “a year of reckoning,” which sounds about right to me). Forrester says that “[digital transformation] is the critical response needed to meet rising customer expectations, deliver individualized experiences at scale, and operate at the speed of the market.” Currently, over 60% of executives believe they’re behind in their digital transformation — something that takes far more than an expensive new tool to solve. Forrester’s recent report also noted that today’s customers are ignoring ads, and that CMOs will instead turn their attention toward and increase their spend on:
- Revitalizing CX to boost affinity and stem churn.
- Aligning loyalty programs to customer expectations.
- Understanding how to decode digital platform algorithms.
- Advancing martech (aka digital marketing) to deliver individualized experiences at scale.
This return to basics puts the emphasis back on the customer, with programs and advertising focused on personalization, meaningful engagement through feedback and rewards, and, ultimately, retention. One way to do that is by employing AI-powered technologies with strategy behind them — not simply implementing a chatbot without the proper training and relevant content resources… and then expecting it to win over customers. (A truly intelligent chatbot, on the other hand, is a different story.)
How AI algorithms can drive customer satisfaction and brand loyalty
Instant gratification is a difficult enough feat for businesses, but customers also want those interactions to be with humans — or to at least resemble the same interactions as they’d have with a human. In Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report, 64% of consumers and 80% of business buyers said that they expect companies to respond to and interact with them in real time. And 80% of all consumers polled said that immediate responses to their requests affected their loyalty to a brand. But how do you deliver a 1:1 experience that saves time (automation) and provides personalization (a human touch)?
To get started, it’s simpler than you’d think. Customers crave customization just as they do speed. Customers willingly use intelligent assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri to get information and make purchases. First, it was via phone. Then it was in our homes, on our nightstands, playing music we requested from another room. And now — now it’s automatically calling a restaurant on our behalf to make a dinner reservation via humanlike conversation. (Or… just about.)
As voice assistants become more intelligent, these one-on-one conversations between buyer and seller (customer and receptionist, diner and host, etc.) will build upon the human experience — not replace it. As Gregg Johnson puts it in Harvard Business Review, your customers still want to talk to a human being. Johnson writes:
“Innovative brands are connecting their digital initiatives with voice experiences. Artificial intelligence can automatically mine voice conversations for insights, allowing brands to link their voice and digital marketing initiatives. If, for example, a consumer mentions an add-on product during a phone conversation, the brand can tailor future interactions accordingly. This might involve a follow-up email with relevant product information and a targeted call-to-action.”
Using AI to learn and mirror human conversation and generate more targeted, personalized shopping experiences for customers isn’t a way of mimicking a human customer experience. It’s a way of elevating it. Businesses already collect so much customer data; it’s time to mine it intelligently and use it for good — to better serve customers the things they most want, whether it’s a shirt, a car, or… you know, shrimp parm.