Brands Are Getting More Personal, but How Are Customers Responding?

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Over the past decade, nearly every brand has had to supercharge its marketing and customer service operations to maintain engagement with their core audiences. The coronavirus pandemic’s isolating nature, and the lasting changes in consumer behavior that stemmed from it, have been well documented. What remains to be seen is whether the customer experience (CX) offered by businesses in the wake of this black swan event will continue over the next 10 years.

Ultimately, the primary determinant of a company’s CX offerings is largely dependent on consumer demand. However, what consumers actually want from brands can sometimes seem vague or even contradictory. On one hand, customers appreciate self-service options that enable them to solve issues on their own time and terms; on the other hand, they also desire that human component who can offer assistance with genuine care and empathy. A recent consumer survey from CDP.com captures some of these divergent perspectives, and exposes significant overlap regarding how consumers are adjusting to this digital era of CX and the technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), that are powering it. The following data points show consumer expectations two years into the pandemic, and what brands should do to exceed those expectations going forward.

Open to Personalization

One of the biggest challenges for marketing and CX leaders is balancing consumer desire for privacy with the need for personalization. At times, this dynamic can resemble a tightrope act, one that is seemingly pulled in either direction based on the whim of the customer. According to the survey, over 80 percent of consumers indicated they were very or somewhat concerned about their online privacy, which would suggest that privacy is the biggest priority. However, when these same consumers were asked about the use of AI to personalize products and services, over 80 percent said they were open to it. There is one caveat, though, as 43 percent said their support depended on the specific company wielding the AI.

For brands exploring ways to boost their personalized marketing and service capabilities, they should first understand that a positive response from their customers isn’t a given. A company must first earn a customer’s trust before it starts activating these personalized interactions. That is why data scientists and policy creators recommend data transparency: so customers are aware of the trade-offs involved when it comes to brand engagement. If a brand is clear and forthright about the manner in which it is using AI and consumer data to improve CX, and actually delivers on that value exchange, then marketers and customer service representatives can confidently personalize their communications knowing that trust has been established. A robust data governance strategy is a good place to start.

AI’s Ascension

A lot of business leaders point to the pandemic as the sole catalyst for changes in the customer journey, one that prioritizes digital communications at the expense of physical interactions. While it’s true that several consumer trends emerged from the pandemic, such as online grocery shopping and the “buy online, pick-up in store” option, it’s also a fact this shift to e-commerce and digital channels had begun long before social distancing was a thing.

AI has been slowly becoming more ubiquitous not only in universities and research centers, but also in the enterprise. Over 40 percent of consumers in the CDP.com survey revealed that they work with technology or software that uses AI. The survey confirmed chatbots are growing in popularity with brands, as 53 percent of consumers verified in the survey they have communicated with an AI-powered customer service chatbot in the past 12 months. This significant engagement with chatbots implies they have evolved from the pesky pop-ups that rarely helped to resolve the issue at hand into a sophisticated channel that can concurrently improve customer care and serve important marketing functions.

Automated Service

With consumers becoming increasingly comfortable with the concept of AI and the value it adds, the more it has normalized, which can be reflected in the recent survey. Only 20 percent of consumers disagreed that AI-powered chatbots are helpful in customer service. The generational divide is not even that apparent, with only 30 percent of GenXers and Baby Boomers disagreeing that AI chatbots were helpful. As AI matures, consumers will not just be comfortable with AI, but completely reassured by the technology.

While consumers recognize AI’s utility in the form of chatbots, that does not mean that they are advocating for a purely-tech CX. Asked what they think could be done to improve customer service, 64 percent chose access to live contact center agents over more automated services. Based on these survey results, no one can claim that contact center agents are going to be replaced anytime soon. At the same time, it’s pretty evident that AI is poised to play a larger role in marketing and customer service for years to come. Brands would position themselves well by making the corresponding tech investments.

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