When customers leverage AI

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For the last 12 months, most that has been written or discussed about GenAI for marketing, sales, service and CX has focused on the company’s use cases and value to the company.

For example, a typical narrative that I’ve both read and written about is that “GenAI (alongside other technologies like machine learning, deep learning, robotic process automation, etc.) can help transform both the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing.” These technologies can radically cut costs from the marketing content supply chain and improve personalisation and marketing performance.

I buy into that argument and I’ve seen it in action with clients. But to only see use cases and value for the company ignores the customer.

At some point, it’s likely that customers will have exactly the same access to sophisticated AI tools as companies. The price of GenAI tools will likely follow a declining cost curve as the technologies develop, especially as open-source competitors catch up.

What could that look like from the customer’s perspective?

Firstly, if every marketer outsources content creation and personalisation to GenAI, the customer may be flooded with mediocre, ubiquitous content. It’s as if every chef in the world used a microwave oven — food would be faster to produce but uniformly mediocre. Faced with a barrage of “hyper-personalised content” (and a Minority Report scenario), customers might start to deploy tools to sort through the noise, blocking out the majority of content reaching them.

Taking the scenario a little further, and borrowing William Gibson’s famous phrase “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed,” customers might start using their own, personal AIs to manage their transactional relationships.

Take a look at DoNotPay and you get an idea of where this could go:

  • As a customer, I give an AI access and permission to manage all of my suppliers and contracts (e.g., my telco, media companies, energy suppliers, banks, insurance companies, travel providers etc.).
  • The AI constantly monitors the market for price changes, outages (breaches of contract), deals, special offers, compensation settlements, etc.
  • I instruct the AI to optimise against my specific needs. For simplicity, let’s assume I prioritise cost and value, but it could be a wide variety of factors including service, access, innovation etc.
  • The AI analyses my providers, contracts and market events and relentlessly optimises cost and value on my behalf, interfacing with the companies’ chatbots and real agents and making switches on my behalf.

Sound far-fetched? Take a look at this AI, negotiating US$120 off a broadband bill with a Comcast Xfinity agent with no involvement from the customer.

In the EY Future Consumer Index, we explored how quickly customers are willing to adopt and trust AI with their personal consumption decisions. Almost one-third (31%) could be considered AI enthusiasts based on their responses. For example, 89% of enthusiasts are willing to trust AI-powered chatbots. But over one-fifth (21%) could be considered as sceptics, with 84% of this group not willing to trust AI-powered chatbots.

This divide — as well as the large chunk of customers somewhere in the middle — might force companies to split how they reach customers as well as how they respond to AI agents, acting on the customer’s behalf, according to an EY Future Consumer Index report.

To reach enthusiasts, business models such as D2C will evolve into AI2AI as brands develop GenAI tools tailored to AI-powered applications that the consumer trusts as much as for the end consumer. But to serve sceptics, companies will lean on longstanding brand values to establish authenticity and trust through physical touchpoints.

As ever, there’s no shortcut to building long-term, mutually beneficial customer relationships. GenAI might drive some incredible quick wins in efficiency and effectiveness, but we need to imagine a world where customers are able to deploy exactly the same tools against companies.

In that scenario, companies will need to do more than compete on price, they will need to build emotional connectivity and loyalty to survive and thrive.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.

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