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Innovative AI: Humanise customer experiences through extreme personalisation

Brian Solis
Brian SolisPrincipal Analyst
As Principal Analyst and futurist at Altimeter, I study disruptive technology and its impact on business and society. In my reports, articles and books, I humanise technology and its impact on business and society to help executives gain new perspectives and insights. My research explores digital transformation, customer experience and culture 2.0 and "the future of" industries, trends and behaviour.

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Artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly automating human tasks, but it’s not all bad news for us. In fact, among the first areas where this advanced technology is already adding value is AI marketing and conversational commerce. Intelligent systems are helping businesses more effectively connect customers in important touch points ranging from marketing and sales to customer support. The irony of it is that AI can help make business personal again via “extreme personalization”, where systems and their human counterparts, learn to deliver meaningful value to individual customers at scale through each engagement over time. But to do so requires more than intelligent technology, it requires a change in executive mindsets to shift the course of AI from scaling one-to-many customer experiences to that of customer-centered extreme personalization.

In 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto, a still relevant and oft-referenced business book, introduced a forward-looking, but also back-to-basics notion that “markets are conversations.” It was a call for businesses to invest in technology as a means of getting closer to customers. As the authors observed:

“Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations. [A] Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.”

Technology past, present and future offered opportunities to scale conversations and human engagement. Yet, somewhere along the way, businesses lost sight of the value of conversations and instead used technology to facilitate transactions. With each new wave of technology advancement, customer engagement scaled at the expense of experiences and resulting relationships. Email, call centers, automated attendants, IVR, websites, social media, mobile messaging, in their own way facilitated one-to-many transactions that were designed for scale and automation, but lacked a foundation and support system for intimacy and personalization.

As a result, success was measured in volume and efficiency.

Then, something changed. In the last several years, two of the biggest trends in business (r)evolution, digital transformation and corporate innovation, prioritized digital and customer experience investments to invest in disruptive technologies to more advantageously compete for the future. The most progressive companies, for example, looked beyond modernizing customer experiences and focused efforts on AI-driven personalization as building a notable competitive advantage.

Customers don’t associate automation with exceptional experiences

The reality is that today’s customers are more connected than ever before. As a result, they are also more informed, demanding and impatient. They expect real-time, personalized engagement at the right time, on the right device, with the right message. When they contact companies, they don’t want scripted engagement, automated attendants or online forms. They want human or human-like conversations. This next-level form of engagement ushers in an era of what’s referred to as extreme personalization. Going beyond the over-promised but under-delivered “personalization trend,” extreme personalization is powered by AI and built upon an architecture that converts customer data and individual preferences and intent into value-added, human-centered engagement.

Strategies must look beyond facilitating transactions however. Conversational commerce platforms such as chatbots, assistive devices, virtual assistants/concierges, robots, or even AI-powered traditional platforms including email, texts, chat/messages and call centers, must embrace a mindset and architectural approach that emphasizes extreme personalization.

There are immediate steps brands can take toward extreme personalization right now. At a recent event with my longtime friend and Kahuna CEO Sameer Patel, we discussed the following three pillars for AI-powered extreme personalization:

  1. Move from segments to an audience of one. To engage an audience of one, companies must rewire customer experience and engagement from one-to-many, transactional focused or batch-and-blast messaging to mass audiences, to understanding individual preferences and history.
  2. Unite disparate multi-channel efforts into focused cross-channel engagement. Driving for larger conversions through volume and bulk multi-channel messaging is the opposite of personalization. Today’s connected consumer is intentionally leaving behind cues for companies to employ for the benefit of everyone. Now with AI-marketing automation, businesses can leave the sleuthing and sorting to the machines. These insights will lead to the development of more relevant, compelling, personalized conversations and engagement that reach or respond to individuals at the right time, on the right device, with the right experience.
  3. Evolve from guesswork to scientific engagement. AI extends the capability of engagement beyond standard “if this, then that” interactions and traditional A/B testing. Intelligent automation eliminates assumption by allowing businesses to test multiple variants based on actual consumer insights and intent. By letting machines instantly understand individual preferences, executives are free to focus on context, cross-channel and value-added experiences for audiences of one.

Highly-functional AI and machine learning are already here. Now, executives stand at a crossroads. They can either invest in this new technology to deliver real-time, human-centered, extreme personalization in the channels that matter to audiences of one, or they can use AI to facilitate transactional, automated engagement that scales one-to-many.  One path is innovative and focused on aligning intelligent technologies with meaningful customer experiences. The other is rooted in iteration and doing the same things better, which is also fraught with compromise. AI offers businesses more than just the ability to deliver extreme personalization in the moments that matter. It’s a chance to re-architect customer experiences away from transactional, automated and impersonal engagement toward AI-powered conversational commerce that’s more human.

Oh, the irony!


Image Credit: GapingVoid


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