A quick primer on the frontier of AI-driven customer experience

Recently at MWC Los Angeles, a massive mobile tech tradeshow, we saw a few players that are on the frontier of AI solutions for ecommerce and customer service. Liveperson, a leading player in AI-power conversational commerce, had some compelling demos showing how brands can use AI to enable customer service via messaging. Use cases included:

  • A shopper could be guided to and purchase a pair of shoes via text with a retail brand’s customer service. The process takes hardly one minute, then the automatic delivery is on its way, just after the shopper pays by sending a 5 second voice sample. No searching, no wallet, no friction, just biometrics.
  • After a car accident, a customer of an insurance company texted them in distress, wondering if there was coverage for this type of accident. They received an empathetic answer and a request for a photo of the car. After texting the photo, the customer got a quick answer and directions for next steps, skipping the typical long paperwork and approval processes.

The era of the customer experience being disrupted by AI is already here. It was inevitable, because as companies grow and online and mobile purchases increase, it’s the best way, if done right, to scale up customer service. Right now AI-powered bots can handle a greater volume of conversations at a tenth of the cost. And Liveperson has already demonstrated that most of their brand partners can achieve a 3x increase in conversions and raise customer satisfaction up to 95%. Some regions and industries have already lept ahead of the rest. Our colleagues in Shanghai told us that in November’s Double 11 shopping day in China, a branded AI shopping assistant called AliMe supported millions of customers on TMALL (a massive online marketplace) with voice queries, predictive shopping suggestions, and customer photo analysis to find relevant products. A recent report on AI from tech investment company GP Bullhound points out that though it’s typically B2C use cases in the spotlight, AI is already reshaping the customer journeys of B2B brands. Complex sales processes that can last several months are optimized and simplified by uncovering patterns, predicting best next steps and discovering high value overlooked customers.

Analysts widely agreed that AI will be the most disruptive force in business over the next decade. But at this point, though IBM reports that 74% of executives believe AI will fundamentally change how they approach customer experience, only 41% have an AI strategy. This is worrying for the rest of them, considering how quickly the technology is evolving; the gap between frontrunners and late bloomers will get bigger by the month. There are no shortage of partners and platforms to help enable the journey; GP Bullhound, a tech investment company, says that active AI startups increased 113% from 2015-2018, and VC funding for such companies increased by 350% around the same timeframe.

The use cases we’re seeing today are just the beginning, it is a newly emerging technology space still. Every step of the journey and stage of the funnel can and will be affected by an AI-powered customer experience. Imagine the best customer service you’ve ever received. Did you feel appreciated? Delighted? Maybe. But have you ever actually felt understood? This is the premise of the rising era of AI; that it can become even more sophisticated than your most capable human service representative, making customers feel instantly known and confident.

Next year’s MWC will likely present even more customer-behavior driven AI, developing and delivering 1:1 hyper personalized experiences at scale. Here are some examples already promised by a select few AI platforms:

  • A marketing email can be sent to a person looking to take a trip, and the content will be completely customized to contain exactly the trip destination and travel options the individual was looking for, using predictive analytics to determine when to send the email and what travel experiences to upsell.
  • When a consumer orders groceries online, they’ll be presented with a checkout shelf full of products that represent their particular values, as predicted by AI during their previous shopping interactions. If they value sustainability and only eat meat once a week, for example, the AI service will suggest an overstocked steak, and on Sundays only. This will evolve to include responding to even subconscious individual beliefs.

What you want or need will be intuitively and seamlessly delivered to you. You’ll get more empathy than logic, more human touch than bot. AI can listen to the tenor of your voice, and is gaining the ability to recognize your emotional state, and respond accordingly. These language-driven experiences are becoming the default way that customers interact with brands, and exchanges are growing increasingly life-like. Brands will become more personified than they ever have.

So in order to create an authentic and differentiated brand experience, companies need to thoroughly define their brand personality. But most companies may not be prepared to differentiate their brand this way. They will need to do more than simply having an internal brand platform that states that the brand may be “cheerful” or “witty.” They need to uncover where they are most human, define the unique qualities that would make someone want to talk to them, not just buy from them, instead of a competitor. Brand AI needs intentional and hands-on management to guide its development, so that a company can flourish in a landscape transitioning to unplanned conversations and emotional exchanges from controlled messages and media.

Beyond their distinct, fleshed out and cultivated brand personality, companies should also invest in strengthening their UX design capacity. As the range of services and platforms for conversations with customers expand, brands have new contexts through which to provide a dynamic and personal customer experience. They’ll need to rethink how users are engaging with them on their customer journey and bring the UX function into most critical teams.

We are always evolving our abilities to drive business design for the range of industries we work with, and a lot of what we do is to help our clients evolve too. AI-supported customer experience is seeing rapid adoption, and we are excited about the possibility for brands to get to optimize their operations, cut out the noise, and have more meaningful interactions with people.

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