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AI Must Support Customer Experience Outcomes, Not Just Processes

sasArtificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and other advanced analytics can drive optimal customer experience for marketers worldwide. With an abundance of data, companies try to collect the right data and transform it into meaningful insights about customers via powerful algorithms. These insights drive relevant conversations and make it easy for a customer to act.

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But it’s not enough to use AI to automate processes. This increasingly popular technology must also be implemented with customer experience in mind to ultimately produce positive outcomes.

In marketing, the equation of “relevance + convenience = acceptance” is still valid. The only difference now that definitions of relevance (more precision targeting) and convenience (real-time technology, a variety of channels) have changed. But, apart from technology, the data used, and the increasingly more demanding consumers, the basic rules of customer engagement remain the same.

Most companies have a stack of technologies used to attempt to deliver a consistent customer experience. They go to great lengths to understand their most valuable asset – their customers – to learn as much as possible and predict behavior. Many use real-time analytics — applying the fanciest, best-performing models that data scientists can develop. All in compliance, of course, with the new data protection regulations like GDPR. Technology allows organizations to use the data to discover the most accurate insights, and then deploy resulting algorithms daily to drive an optimal customer experience.

We should consider a few caveats:

  • Does technology really drive the optimal customer experience?
  • Or is it too often only automating back offices processes and remaining disconnected from key customer journey touch points?

When my son was born 19 years ago, I opened a savings account and then made deposits into that account monthly to build a fund for him should he attend a university. Now he is preparing to go to college, making my savings a handy asset.

When he was six years old I opened a kids’ savings account for him – the modern version of a piggy bank but with pin-code security. When he turned 12 the account automatically converted to a traditional account. Separately, his mom opened another account for him at her bank while the kids’ regular savings account turned into a current account, pin-code long forgotten.

After my son turned 18, I found that the money in the original savings account had been moved to the traditional account and the original savings account had been closed. I called the bank to ask what happened, and they said I was no longer the account owner and that my son should contact them.

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My son called but was told to come to the branch office to discuss options. He had forgotten about that dormant current account ages ago, didn’t have an online login, and was told by the bank “advisor” to go online and apply for a debit card. He had to create an online profile and transfer the money to the account at my wife’s bank, and then come back to close the traditional account.

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Wait? What? When my son told me this, I was gobsmacked; why this complex, tedious and expensive process to transfer money? And why would they advise him to close his account? What a huge missed opportunity!

For starters, the fact that he wanted to close an account should have rung all the marketing alarm bells in the building. Instead of simply answering my son’s questions, the bank employee should have asked him if he needed access to the funds immediately or perhaps put the money in a student savings account.

They should have advised him and guided him on how to invest this substantial amount of money. It could have been an opportunity for the bank to build a relationship, and to grow a customer.

But no, they essentially (inadvertently?) gave him step-by-step instructions for transferring the money to another bank and closing his account. Bye-bye, customer.

Two weeks later I met with the team responsible for customer engagement at the same bank. They introduced me to new initiatives and how they use analytics to better understand customers and predict behavior. Furthermore, they use the latest AI technology to drive smart customer conversations through digital assistants and chatbots.

I had mixed feelings about all this. It was great to see the bank was amplifying its analytics use but not so great to recall how they lost a customer. I didn’t bring up my son’s experience.

So, how to square the bank’s advanced technology with my son’s experience. What went wrong? Why the disconnect?

At a minimum, the technology could have coached the advisor: guiding him/her through the scenarios; recognized my son’s characteristics from his profile; collected all the data from the questions asked; probed for and suggested possible scenarios and options; and lastly, advised him on what to do with his money.

Yes, current AI capabilities could have done that, but it never had a chance.

In the digitalization process, the entire customer journey must be considered. Knowing where customer interaction and touch points are, what interventions are appropriate at each, and what data/analysis/recommendations/actions are needed for each one.

These actions can be delivered by a human, or by the AI directly as a bot, but that focus on delivery to each touch point is critical. Rather than start with technology or with automation of some sub-process for speed or efficiency, start with the customer interaction and the expected outcomes and work backward towards the system needed to support that, especially employee training.

The pieces are already there–they just need to connect to where they’ll have the most impact.

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