woman window shopping in front of vintage store
PHOTO: Gyorgy Bakos

Artificial intelligence is making its way into business processes across organizations. However, recent research from PointSource (registration required) indicates one of its greatest impacts can be seen in the customer experience arena, and specifically, in online shopping. The study found that when artificial intelligence (AI) was present, 49 percent of consumers said they would shop at that online location more frequently, while 34 percent said they would spend more money and 38 percent said they would share their experiences with friends and family.

The report was based on a survey of 1,008 U.S. consumers conducted online between Oct. 13 to 21, 2017. The report concludes that, while AI was a difficult concept for consumers even a few years ago, 83 percent of those surveyed said they’re OK shopping with a brand or retailer that uses chatbots or other AI capabilities. 

So where are businesses putting AI to work to help them deliver better, more relevant customer experiences?

1. AI Helps Deliver Relevant Experiences, Seamlessly

Sean Connell is chief technology officer at Boston-based customer experience agency Verndale. He said that from the customer perspective, if the organizations they interact with are using AI correctly, they shouldn’t know AI is running the experience behind the scenes. AI has the power to make customers feel they are making their choices, but, it’s the machine learning and the algorithm that are handling those decisions.

“A savvy customer may realize AI is being used because they are starting to get more pertinent information/offers that are more relevant to them. They will likely engage more if this is the case, and more engagement means more accurate data,” he said.

Related Article: The Future of Customer Experience Is AI: Are You Ready?

2. AI Boosts Ecommerce Accuracy

He added that AI is most prevalent in online commerce. There is a direct path from product education to purchase, he said. With AI in place, brands can confirm end mile attribution (knowing through which channels a customer purchased an item). It is one of the industries that has been using AI for the longest period of time, Connell continued, citing the examples of setting dynamic pricing structures.

“Dynamic pricing approaches have been an equal mix of strategy, black magic and luck. How do you price things low enough that you get your customer to feel like they are getting value while still making as much money as possible,” Connell said. “Brands can use AI to sift through data from a business intelligence perspective, then use those insights to get to know customers better. This method enables marketers to avoid being intrusive and deliver experiences customers will appreciate."

3. AI Opens New Avenues of Personalized Experiences

James Nuttall is content and outreach specialist at the online car insurance comparison website Cuuver.com. He said AI will help brands to create a far more personalized experience for their customers. Whether this is through using fingerprint and face recognition to place orders, access their devices, or voice detection to converse with chatbots, AI is opening a whole new world of possibilities for businesses to build a more interactive, personalized customer experience.

“The risk with this is security. Voice recognition can be easily manufactured or manipulated, so brands will need to have a firm grasp on how to stop their technology from being hacked. History has shown that, if even a small amount of personal data is leaked, it can seriously damage a company’s reputation as being trustworthy and secure,” he said.

Related Article: How 5 Companies Successfully Introduced AI Into the Customer Experience

4. AI Enhances Service Environments

Eva Dixon, marketing manager at customer messaging service provider Kipsu, said if the current AI landscape is hyper-focused on replacing human interaction and streamlining service, the future of AI lies in assisting (not replacing) service professionals to make them even more relevant. “Imagine a chatbot, for instance. In a truly high-touch service environment (think of a 5-star resort or even a clinic or hospital), no one wants a computer-generated response to spit back what a computer thinks someone should say, often devoid of emotion and empathy,” she said.

“Instead, AI should stay limited and, if anything, handle only simple requests like ‘What’s the wifi password?’ where answers are finite and definitive. Leave more nuanced questions like ‘Where do you recommend I take my partner for our anniversary dinner?' Or ‘What are my treatment options?’ to the the professionals who have dedicated their lives to building these kinds of experiences.”

5. AI Improves Contact Centers

In the contact center, AI has already disrupted customer services by injecting the “chatbot” into the customer service process. These virtual assistants — software programs designed to act like humans but are actually just digital portals — automatically engage in ‘conversations’ with consumers while also managing their transactions, according to Samir Patel, partner and director of engineering at Chicago-based collaboration specialist TetraVX.

6. AI Connects Customer Touchpoints

Artificial intelligence plays a major role in creating connected customer experiences across every single touch-point throughout the entire customer lifecycle, according to Luc Burgelman, CEO and co-founder of the Belgium-based CRM specialist NGDATA. To make the most of customer interactions, brands need to centralize their data and insights and build a holistic picture of each individual customer. When adding layers of prescriptive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, brands can then anticipate the needs of every customer and proactively intervene to keep the customer loyal.

“We can certainly point to AI-based virtual assistants and chatbots, especially those in customer-facing industries, as examples of AI used to engage with and support customers. We’ll see these companies add even more AI that results in more interactive experiences. Customers will have voice control over the chatbot, which will act as a client advisor via the computer, taking on the role of a real, human person,” he said.

Related Article: Brands Still Haven't Tapped AI's Full Promises

7. AI Predicts Experiences

AI also plays an important role in another critical component of customer experience: the anticipation of future needs of each customer, Burgelman said. Looking at behavioral patterns, market trends and user experiences for proactive measures that secure a personalized, unique and memorable experience across multiple channels enables the customer to feel understood and valued, and more likely to develop a loyalty that will be a good basis for customer retention, up-selling and cross-selling.

8. AI Detects Customer Patterns 

Jenny Yang is the principal product manager and data scientist at Vancouver, British Columbia-based customer intelligence platform Vision Critical. She said AI can transform businesses and improve customer experiences in ways that otherwise wouldn't be possible. The best AI solutions often go unnoticed by both consumers and business stakeholders, but profoundly simplify and improve everyday tasks — from reducing the need for human intervention for customer support to uncovering deeper insight at a more rapid pace to inform business decisions.

"AI is particularly necessary for brands looking to provide exceptional customer experiences thanks to its ability to detect patterns in data and provide actionable insight based on its findings. Using the technology, brands are able to process and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data — quickly and at scale,” she said.

9. AI Supports Product Discovery

Taking a customer-centric approach is undeniably a primary focus for brands today, Oliver Tan, CEO and co-founder of Singapore-based ViSenze. However, given the massive volume of social content consumers see everyday, brands need to adopt intelligent AI-based technologies in their strategies to engage more effectively with their customers. According to a June 2017 eMarketer report (account required), 52 percent of shoppers today still have difficulty finding the exact product they seek online, and 68 percent are open to recommendations for alternative items if their desired product is out of stock.

“This means that brands must revamp their existing ways in which their products are being discovered, searched and found. AI-powered strategies — like visual search, discovery and recommendations — are increasingly being used by brands and retailers to help consumers search more efficiently for relevant products, uplifting conversion. The road to commerce is always paved with content, and using AI helps brands improve and bring about exciting customer shopping experiences,” Tan said.

10. AI Optimizes Data

"AI’s role will be to help businesses use the treasure trove of customer context available to them through every digital interaction, whether it’s through their website, email or a modern messaging app,” Warren Levitan, CEO and cofounder of omnichannel messaging platform provider Smooch said. "If they can mine that data for insights about customer needs and preferences, they can use intelligent chatbots, in conjunction with human agents, to deliver more personal and truly exceptional customer experiences.”