Powerful technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and chatbots may be enabling brands to enter a new phase of CRM, but a lack of thought into how these innovations actually come together to increase engagement risks isolating customers.
AI can ensure consumers receive personalised recommendations and targeted offers on their favourite devices and channels. Chatbots can give users a rapid response based on real-time consumer data. Augmented reality can bring products to life. When integrated and transparent, they allow brands to demonstrate that they value each customer.
However, when customer experience initiatives are run in isolation, human engagement is often lost. The best brands make experience their entire business and implement this ethos across every department – from marketing to sales, IT to customer services – so they can utilise insights from one another to drive better performance.
“By breaking down these organisational siloes, brands can gain a singular view of their customers across each and every touchpoint, and ensure they receive the most relevant, personalised experiences possible,” says Bridget Perry, VP of EMEA marketing at Adobe. “It’s the unified experience that’s key here – consumers feel they’re engaging with one brand and one brand only, giving their experience a more human feel.”
A connected user experience relies on personalisation, which can only be powered by customer data. In a world where media coverage of data breaches and new regulations like GDPR can inspire public scepticism in companies that collect data, organisations should clearly communicate the value customers will receive for providing information.
As well as enabling a personalised experience, predictive analytics can be a powerful tool for transforming that collection of data into more customer loyalty by highlighting bottlenecks and pinch points in the user journey. On a wider scale, it can highlight channel usage preferences and performance, allowing firms to prioritise resources.
First Direct, the online bank that commonly ranks highly for customer service in the UK, uses data to build a more complete picture of each user, meaning interactions can be personalised and issues resolved more quickly. However, Joe Gordon, who heads up the bank, says human interaction will always remain crucial to its customer experience.
“Processes will become increasingly automated and technologies such as AI will become more mainstream, but at the same time, what cannot be automated will become even more valuable,” says Mr Gordon. “People will always be needed and establishing emotional trust with your customers is what will really make the difference.”
It’s not just collection that can cause problems, but rather what organisations then choose to do with the data. According to research by global analytics firm SAS, 93% of businesses are unable to use data to accurately predict what individual customers will want. Many brands are trapping customers in a cycle of repeated recommendations.
There is no doubt that AI will play a significant role in improving the customer journey, but companies risk losing business by automating their communications using incomplete or irrelevant data. Even where the data is relevant, analysis tends to be retrospective, meaning firms often fail to establish the next best action for customers.
“Too many companies are not using all of the information available to make accurate predictions about their customers’ latest tastes and circumstances, trapping them in the digital shadows of their past selves,” says Tiffany Carpenter, head of customer intelligence at SAS UK & Ireland. “As a result, businesses are missing out on new revenue streams, not to mention the risk of damaging their customer relationships.”
Having a customer-centric approach when developing AI applications is essential. By limiting the efforts to incorporate AI and other innovation to only technical teams, businesses risk alienating users. For maximum value, the people who engage directly with customers need to work with IT to build a truly connected experience for users.
Marketers and researchers are still trying to determine how to create the right balance between human and non-human interaction across the customer journey. The challenge for businesses is they can try to design that journey, but customers usually decide how they use the touchpoints and often each user has a unique journey.
“In the short-term, I don’t see companies moving away completely from other forms of touchpoints, instead it will happen similarly to when telephone, social media and other new channels emerged,” says Dr Rodrigo Perez-Vega, a lecturer at Henley Business School. “Companies still give customers choices as to how they want to contact the firm, but in the long-term, human interaction might become part of a premium experience.”
As companies look to reap the benefits of automating elements of its CRM, it’s clear they must do so in a way that not only transparently documents their use of customer data and integrates technologies through departments and the business itself, but also doesn’t lose any human engagement. People will always want to buy from people.