The ongoing coronavirus outbreak will have a reverberating impact on almost every facet of life on this planet. Human behavior at its most fundamental will change. People will think twice about going into stores, customers will opt for online buying options more than before and the purchase experience will move from being predominantly in the physical world to being predominantly in the digital world. Businesses will have to create experiences tailored to these shifting customer behaviors.
Before the crisis, it was clear that customer experience was increasingly paramount. According to Gartner’s 2019 customer experience survey, more than two-thirds of companies competed primarily, if not solely, on the basis of customer experience. Engaged customers are key for brands as they deliver a 23% premium in share of wallet, profitability and revenue on average, according to Gallup. This trend isn’t limited to any one industry because customers transfer expectations between brands – meaning, if you are in manufacturing, your customers will expect the same type of seamless experience as they have with Apple when buying a phone.
Where Does AI Come In?
Breakthrough brands take a human-centric view to customer experience while using AI as an amplifier and an accelerator of relevance. Take Sephora, for example. Having started to experiment with AI back in 2013, the retailer understands that how AI is applied is what matters most. With AI-driven insight, the brand is able to offer customers the products and services they care most about, along with exclusive invitations or personalized product recommendations, rather than promotions for products the brand wants to sell. By creating value for customers, the brand generates affinity with them, which leads to industry dominance. While the distressed retail sector saw 9,300 stores close in 2019, Sephora opened 35 and plans to double that number in 2020 (prior to the coronavirus outbreak, which understandably may impact this plan).
Using AI to interact with consumers can create greater empathy and relevance across all contexts. Sephora exemplifies this somewhat paradoxical best practice.
Here’s another paradox: AI won’t do the work for us. Although it seems counter-intuitive, the deeper customer engagement enabled by AI also requires brands to first take time to better understand customers and anticipate customer needs. AI can then do what it’s good at: personalize the consumer experience, with speed, scale and situational agility that’s otherwise unachievable by humans alone.
But, as most businesses have found out by now, you can’t just throw AI at a problem and hope it creates exceptional experiences. Implementing AI to generate effective, scalable and profitable customer experiences takes a deliberate and methodological approach.
The brands that truly breakthrough in the experience economy have learned how to balance intimacy and industrialization. Intimacy in this use is a deep understanding of what customers care about while industrialization is the means to meet those needs as they evolve, in real time, across channels, devices and contexts.
Getting this balance right drives more humanity into the exchanges between brands and people at a greater scale than was previously imaginable.
In the post-COVID-19 world, brands will need to create valued relationships with less direct human interaction. To do this successfully, they will need to reinforce both their understanding of the needs and desires of their customers and their ability to adapt in order to meet them.