by Darshan Mehta, author of “Getting to Aha!: Why Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts“
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the business buzzword du jour. Currently, AI is used primarily to discern patterns from large amounts of data in order to create algorithms, or “bots,” that can automate tasks.
AI will undoubtedly play an increasing role in business as we move forward, but too many companies make the mistake of defaulting to AI without first considering the customer experience. AI can often save time and money, but it can also derode the customer experience, which will make you lose customers (and money) in the long run.
Despite advances in technology, as of this writing, no one knows how to replicate the power of human instinct — the so-called sixth sense. It is precisely this human power of intuition—of sensing what another human being is thinking or feeling during an interaction — that brands need to build their customer experience around.
In determining how your business should use AI, you need to find a balance between AI and human tools, to deliver a superior customer experience.
Balancing Cost Savings and Customer Service
The decision whether — and how much — to incorporate AI into your business is largely a balancing act between cost savings and customer service.
A key driver behind business-oriented AI is the desire for speed, scale, and labor cost reduction. Labor costs are typically the largest expense for a business, so if AI can reduce these costs, the savings can be substantial.
In general, saving money in a business makes sense. However, the exception is when cost savings come at the expense of the customer experience. In a world of increasing competition, the customer experience has become a key factor in customers’ purchasing behavior. A good experience can be priceless. In fact, a Walker Consulting report predicts that experience will soon outrank both price and product as a brand’s key differentiator.
Arguably, businesses could use AI to improve the customer experience. For example, with the cost savings, they could choose to lower the cost of their product or service, or they could direct more resources to product development or customer service. In practice, however, the way companies use AI often degrades the customer experience.
For example, across industries, one of the most common uses of AI is automated voice systems. These are notorious for frustrating customers. Although some organizations have developed automated systems with human-sounding voices, excellent voice recognition, and accurate call routing, most customers still prefer to deal with another human being. After all, if someone has made the effort to use the phone rather than an online interface, chances are they have a relatively complex question or request. Every call is an opportunity to create an emotional impact on a customer — and deliver a loyalty-inspiring experience. Between AI and a human, which do you trust to make the most of that opportunity?
So when considering AI, prioritize your customer experience. Replacing humans in some jobs may be necessary. But when those jobs involve direct interaction with customers, trading people for algorithms can do a company’s bottom line more harm than good.
What Do Your Customers Want?
Every company — and every customer base — is different. Some customers will accept greater levels of automation than others. There’s only one way for you to know your customers’ tolerance level: ask them.
More and more, as brands, we default to technology to solve our problems, and we forget about one of the most powerful tools at our disposal: conversations. We have access to more quantitative data than ever, and we can use that data to make surprisingly accurate predictions about customer behavior. However, as helpful as such predictions are, they don’t replace the insights that can be gained from speaking directly with your customers.
To determine your customers’ tolerance for AI, engage them in meaningful conversations. What questions would they be willing to address via an automated system? How many steps would they be willing to take before they’re put in contact with a human being? How long would they be willing to wait to speak with a real person?
The objective of these conversations should be to balance cost-saving objectives with the experience that customers want, or demand. You want to treat your customers with decency, dignity, and respect, and that means talking and really listening to them.
Customer Service: Still a Differentiator
The future of business is not AI; it’s the customer experience. AI is simply one tool we can use to impact the customer experience.
Companies’ neglect of various elements of their customers’ experience, particularly service and support, has conditioned many of us to expect frustrating encounters. Here’s the good news: strengthening your customer experience can help you stand out from the crowd. In fact, reengineering any of the aspects of your customers’ experience from technology to products to operations can net you new users or fans while helping you retain those you already have.
So to decide whether to use AI, simply ask, “Will this improve the customer experience?” Be thoughtful about how you use AI and prioritize your customer experience, and you will stand out among your competition.
*this excerpt has been adapted from “Getting to Aha!: Why Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts“
In 1998, Darshan Mehta pioneered online focus groups and surveys and founded iResearch, an online insights platform. He draws upon more than twenty years of marketing strategy experience to help business leaders understand and leverage changing consumer preferences. He is author of “Getting to Aha!: Why Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts“.