Hi-tech pain relief
Using AI to improve the customer experience
Have you heard? This is the year of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with the rise of the machines, machines building machines, cyborgs, new realities and self-learning robots all entering the fray. You don’t have to be a science-fiction fan to see the early signs: it could very quickly lead to a self-made leap in human evolution, and cause dramatic changes to the society in which we live.
So, how can companies today use the technology we have right now to improve their customer experience?
The frictionless concierge
Providing a good customer experience has always been about reducing friction, increasing convenience, and removing the hurdles we have inadvertently put in the customer’s way.
Automated “chat” windows or chatbots, AI-based telephone services, natural language interpreters and voice interfaces can all provide business data and services at the touch of a button, providing a frictionless service. Near-frictionless services already allow us to place and check on an order, arrange product returns, find out general information and control our home heating and lighting.
The further you can embed these sorts of services into your business, the more value you can offer your customers. If a customer can check the stock position in a local store at 3am, then that’s a good experience. But how about a “frictionless concierge” that had the ability to modify the entire supply chain at 3am? Now that’s a really good experience, and one that will drive customer loyalty.
Personalisation has been around for some time, and personalisation engines are extremely powerful. However, they still lack the precision that could make a customer feel like they’re your only customer.
The tools themselves are capable of so much more but are under-utilised because they are still built fundamentally on rules that must be configured by humans. Their complexity restricts our ability to personalise to the level that we wish. Setting up user segmentation is not a trivial task for any sizeable organisation, and adding a significant number of overlapping rules makes the job so difficult we tend to pursue only the simplest interactions.
Artificial Intelligence fundamentally changes this. Not only does AI configure complex rules, it creates a continual tuning cycle that learns from user interaction and tweaks the rules accordingly.
Machine learning is based, mostly, on pattern matching. It’s this area of AI that accounts for it being so pervasive today. AI is now at the level where it can “view” an image and actually make sense of its component parts, recognise objects and detect patterns within very complex data. But where AI excels is in the amount of data it can work on and how quickly it can turn data into information.
Why is pattern cognition so important? The understanding of patterns leads to prediction, all sorts of interesting things happen when you extrapolate from a pattern and make a prediction. For instance, you can adjust the search results you generate if you use patterns in purchase history to predict that a certain category is more likely to be bought on a certain day because it’s a Thursday.
However, the true power of prediction relies on us thinking much harder about how to improve the customer’s experience. How about ordering a product for them without them buying it? Too “out there”? There’s a pretty well-known e-commerce giant that’s already thinking about doing just that. Or, when it comes to stock management, effectively predicting which stock needs to be moved where?
Or how about predicting that one of your customers is unlikely to be at home on the day of delivery, and moving them up to express delivery for free? This is what a great customer experience looks like.
And, ironically, it’s very likely that you’ve already got all the data you need to be able to make that happen.
AI is being applied to almost every category and type of business. It won’t make a bad product sell or a bad business succeed. It is, however, a powerful weapon to improve your relationship with your customers, offering them more convenience, and products and services on your customers’ terms.
Understanding how best to add value to your customer is actually the easy part. Think of any and all areas of friction between you and your customer: the queue at the checkout, the hassle of trying on clothes, waiting in for your delivery, and organising returns. The businesses that offer more choice to remove these points of friction will be the winners. You can’t afford an army of assistants to look after each customer, but it’s clear that AI can assist in some amazing ways.
The customer of the very near future will not demand that a business makes them feel special and loved; they will expect it.