How AI can connect customers to your brand
Dr. Anil Kaul, CEO and co-founder, Absolutdata
A survey last year found that 98 percent of smartphone owners had used their device's artificial intelligence-based virtual personal assistant (VPA). The majority of those surveyed were inhibited about talking to their artificial intelligence (AI)-powered VPAs in public, but that's likely to change as AI becomes more firmly entrenched in everyday life. That's happening quickly through devices like smartphones as well as in-home VPAs like Google Home and Amazon Echo.
As AI becomes a part of daily living, brand leaders are realizing the potential the technology has to transform marketing. With AI, marketers can understand customers more completely and connect with them on a deeper, more personal level. This can allow brands to deliver a buying experience that is relevant to the customer. AI is poised to upend traditional notions of buyer-seller dynamics, and brands that embrace it now can gain a competitive edge by creating a happy, loyal customer base.
VPAs, chatbots and voice-activated apps are already changing buyer-seller dynamics by taking on a greater role in consumer decision-making. It's subtle, but once consumers invite AI assistants into their lives, they form a relationship. It's routine now in many homes for a homeowner to notice that the family is running short on coffee and ask Alexa to order some more. In other cases, machines are even more empowered, taking the initiative to order products themselves when stores run low.
These developments aren't a passing trend; they're fundamentally disrupting the retail space and will continue to do so as AI capabilities and human trust in machine assistants evolve. For retailers, AI holds incredible potential. VPAs can seamlessly drive the buying experience in the background, creating personalized offers to guide consumer decision-making, picking up the thread of an interrupted purchase, analyzing cues and delivering relevant information and offers in real time.
Some experts expect AI to become the primary influence over consumer purchases of all types — from buying produce to choosing an automobile to selecting a home loan. To deliver a seamless, hyper-personalized experience to customers, brands will need to tailor AI outreach based on customer data. They'll need to organize the information they have on hand, analyze unused data and apply it in ways that improve connections in an AI-driven retail environment.
For example, AI-powered bots can take on the role of a VPA, learning as buyers interact with the system. As buyers ask questions and probe for details, bots can collect data on buyers and their preferences to provide intelligent recommendations. Bots can also help customers choose gifts for family and friends and identify which gifts would be appropriate for specific occasions, learning key details from the buyer and using those insights to return a relevant suggestion.
Product selectors can also enhance the buying experience using data-driven AI. A product selector might suggest a nearby retail outlet or ecommerce hub that has a suitable product in stock. The AI processes involved in this type of technology don't have to be complex. A series of questions and judicious application of filters can trigger relevant presentation of retail, brand and product choices.
AI assistants can evolve beyond standard devices to make connections on a more human level. Jibo, a social robot designed for the home, helps owners with household tasks. Similarly designed in-store robot assistants can walk customers through self-service buying decisions, conversing with consumers in a more natural way to determine product preferences and enable more informed decision-making.
Top brands — including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Knorr, Skype, Hilton, EasyJet, Under Armour, Amazon and others — are already putting AI to work via chat boxes to assist customers with finding the best price, locating an item or exchanging products. These brands are leading the way in demonstrating how AI can connect companies and customers.
In an increasingly competitive, data-driven market, forward-thinking brand leaders can gain an edge by leveraging conversations between humans and their AI assistants. Brands that create a seamless experience that delivers personalized, relevant offers will have a clear advantage. Retailers can prepare for the future today by looking to the stores of data residing in CRM systems, and put it to work to improve the buyer experience. That's how to connect customers to brands — and win the retail future.