One of the greatest changes that the current pandemic has prompted, is the increase in the use of technology. From smarter homes to an improved online experience, people have a lot to gain from the situation. This is why UX design is vital to satisfying our customers’ demands and needs
To be fair, the trends were already there, covid just speeded them up. Recent reports have shown that:
- 62% of consumers shop online more now than before the pandemic (Bazaarvoice)
- 36% of consumers shop online weekly since covid, up from 28% pre-pandemic. (Digital Commerce 360)
- 29% currently shop more online than in person, while 35% do both equally. (Digital Commerce 360)
- Ecommerce accounts for 16.1% of all US sales, compared to 11.8% in Q1. (US Department of Commerce)
- BOPIS (Buy online pick-up in-store) surged 259% YoY in August 2020, as many shoppers are concerned about the safety of in-store shopping. This is a 59% increase in August over July! (roirevolution.com)
- 12% more time is being spent on digital this year. (Merkle)
Clearly, things have changed dramatically and businesses, both B2C and B2B are scrambling to catch up. Here are some thoughts about what is important to know when trying to meet our stay-at-home customers’ changing desires:
FROM TEXT TO VOICE
Most of us have grown up with text communication, but Gen Z, those born after 1996, are more comfortable with voice. They are less formal but far more impatient than previous generations.
They expect Alexa, Siri, Cortana and similar voice-activated personal assistants to be available whenever they have a question. With this type of search expansion into daily life, being on the front page of Google is no longer good enough. You have to be the number one answer to their questions!
AI IS NOT ONE TECHNOLOGY
Despite what digital marketers may have hoped, AI is not the solution to all our problems. It is simply a series of technologies addressing various current and future customer needs.
Unlike normal analytical processes, using AI needs developers and users to start with the end in sight. Knowing what we are looking for, rather than waiting to see what the analysis brings us, requires a very different thought process and skill set.
The questions asked become as important as the answers received, if not even more so. Therefore it is advisable to make them the best questions you can possibly ask. Your digital marketing has everything to gain and nothing to lose by better understanding these new customer’ demands and how technology can be used to meet them.
AI IS NOT 100% ACCURATE
AI is still in its infancy, despite great leaps forward in some areas in the past few years. For example, language translation is still far from accurate today, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Anything that moves us toward increased customer satisfaction from our digital marketing efforts is great. However, we must understand their limitations and not be fixated on perfection.
One of the biggest challenges is siloed data – still! It is easy to see that the more information sources we integrate, the more accurate our platforms are likely to become. But until we finally break down our internal silos AI will not be able to deliver to its full potential.
TAKING THE ROBOTS OUT OF PEOPLE
Robots are not new. Henry Ford was one of the first to realise the advantage of taking robots out of humans. In other words, gatting machines to do the boring, repetitive tasks done until then by people.
Today we need to consider the digital workforce as also an HR challenge and not (just) a technical one. Humans are not upskilling and progressing as fast as robots are. This is the real cause of any work losses that may happen as automation rolls out.
THE FUTURE OF WORK
Now that I’ve touched on the elephant in the closet, that of job losses, let’s talk about employment. The future is not so much about replacing workers, as in expanding and amplifying their work through the use of AI. And again the trend will only be amplified as businesses look to make serving their customers safer.
The future will be a world of work plus AI, not work minus AI. When, not if, robots take on many of our current tasks, people will need to supplement their knowledge with soft skills, ones that AI can’t replicate, at least for now. This is why I, like many others, refer to AI as augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.We are not replacing people but increasing their capacities in many areas.
One area that will certainly need a tremendous amount of human input is in speech analytics. You probably don’t realise it, unless you’ve learnt another language or two, but speech has enormous diversity in the ways to say the same thing. Just ask any owner of Alexa, Siri or Cortana! Sometimes their responses are hilarious, at least at first, but these quickly become irritating when you can’t make yourself understood.
For me, this is when I am trying to get my BMW to call someone. The proposed people are rarely the person I am wanting to speak to and more frustratingly, the list of names have nothing in common with either the spelling or pronunciation of their name. Perhaps it would be easier if I spoke German!
If robots are to understand humans, then the alternative expressions need to be programmed in, before being understood. Although machine learning may speed our progress, the foundations must be identified and created by humans.
AI AND CARE CENTERS
Most businesses have customer service departments and many are jumping on the bandwagon of requesting AI. However, most don’t really know why they need it! The case for AI has to be put into terms of its business impact and relevance in order to be valued beyond mere “modernisation.” Just ask anyone who has chatted with a bot or gone round in circles clicking numbers on a self-service phone line! So many corporations today have increased their technology but have not improved their customers’ satisfaction.
AI is already proving to be of great value in following and analysing customer service connections. A supervisor can’t listen in or read every exchange, but AI can. However, as previously mentioned, understanding speech is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to sentiment. An agent will quickly sense when something is wrong or an answer is unsatisfactory, even when the customer is saying everything is alright.
The sequence of events that led to the customer’s connection, is just as important as the call to customer services itself. This is where total integration of all touchpoints is vital. The customer already sees them as such, but most companies do not. This leads to irritation when a customer must repeat their details and experiences with each new customer service agent.
It could be so easily eliminated, by simply integrating multiple data sources and then assessing the customer’s “effort” in getting the answers they are looking for. The greater the effort has been, the quicker a solution should be found and ideally, it should be more than the customers expects. This would be when surprise and delight become absolutely essential.
I believe that not taking the customer’s perspective here is the root cause of this less than satisfactory situation today. Once again, adopting a customer-first strategy is the answer.
Customers in developed markets already have far more interaction with AI than they probably realise. However, when developing chatbots it is important to allow for far more variation in the words people use than we usually think of. The challenge is not only understanding the variations in vocabulary, but also the jargon, colloquialisms, spelling mistakes, acronyms and alternative expressions. This is one area where I believe we still have a long way to go in UX design.
Instead of aiming for perfection, by brainstorming all possible variants, our time would be better spent in identifying the 20% of variations that cover 80% of the cases. Ideally, we should first collect the information on the words people use and the way that most express themselves when speaking about a topic. Only then should we analyse what the company is most likely to receive and integrate the additional phrases. Perfection is once again the enemy in progressing the use of chatbots.
We also need to be transparent about when chatbots are being used. It may be a good idea to make them respond in a friendly way, but pretending to actually be a human is not a good idea. Customers will eventually understand that they are exchanging with a chatbot when the responses they are getting do not meet their expectations. That can only lead to frustration and perhaps even irritation that they have been cheated in some way.
AI TAKING DIGITAL MARKETING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
There are three main areas to consider where marketers are facing challenges that I believe can be helped through the use of AI:
- Digital marketing has made our communications’ media choice even more challenging. There are far more channels than ever, many being used concurrently, especially by the under 35’s. For example, it is rare for people to watch TV these days without either their smartphone or the internet catching their attention too. They will frequently switch from screen to screen and not only when the ads come on.
- The second challenge for marketing is that there are far more brands vying for attention online. The relative cheapness of advertising on the internet means that those brands that didn’t have sufficient budget to access traditional media because of their high costs, can now communicate directly with their current and potential clients online.
- Customers are more demanding and expect real-time responses to their questions, and ever-shorter delivery times for purchased goods.
AI and ML can improve digital marketing through predictive intelligence, content curation / creation, dynamic pricing, and especially by improving the customers’ overall experiences. I think that digital marketing is best used as an amplifier of traditional media, and when connections need to be more individualised, relevant and timely. This is not always the case, so it is important to choose wisely, rather than diluting efforts.
It is indeed exciting times for marketing with all the opportunities that technology, AI and ML offer us, to connect with and engage our customers. However, we are still faced with many of the same challenges we’ve always had.
Essentials such as knowing and understanding our customers more deeply, and removing the siloed information hubs within an organisation, remain critical.
Without finding solutions to these, digital marketing will perhaps be cheaper in terms of investment but could become a more costly exercise and perhaps less effective. What do you think?
This post is an updated version of one first posted on C3Centricity in February 2019.