How to Use AI to Better Understand Your Customers
It’s an understatement to say that modern technologies have complicated customer-business relationships.
AI technologies reveal customer insights at a “scale, precision and speed not achievable through humans.” This is according to a recent Gartner study.
Big data has thus revolutionized how businesses approach the customer experience.
AI helps guide prospects through the sales journey with a fine-grained level of personalization. The end goal is to enrich their experience.
In fact, one report suggests that, in the retail sector, using AI gives companies better access to the top one percent of customers. And that top percent is 18 times more valuable than the average customer.
This is thanks to the hyper-personalized modes of engagement that AI makes possible.
AI is the tool businesses will leverage for understanding customer needs at both a birds-eye and granular level.
AI faced serious skepticism at first. This was born of disbelief in AI’s actual performance abilities. Sales is a very human profession, after all.
Sales leaders were also concerned with the high costs of adoption and implementation.
But thanks to innovations in development, AI is cheaper and more accessible than ever. As a result, more and more businesses are hopping aboard the AI bandwagon.
In fact, in the global retail sector, it’s predicted that spending on AI services will reach $12 billion by 2023. This is according to a recent report by Juniper Research. This represents a massive increase from the roughly $3.6 billion reported in 2019.
Industry researchers see the writing on the wall. Either adopt AI solutions or risk being left in the dust by your competitors.
Below are some of the fundamental principles of AI implementation and adoption. Follow them and you’ll be well on your way to success.
But before we dive into the deep end, let’s start at the beginning. We must take a closer look at the importance of understanding customer needs in the first place. Only then can we understand how AI can improve customer experience.
Remember, it’s “people, process, then technology.”
Why is understanding customers so important?
Whether you’re marketing and selling services or products, you’ve already felt it.
You’ve felt the seismic paradigm shift from a “goods-dominant” to a “customer-oriented” logic.
Customers are no longer passive potential users of a given product. They’re invested stakeholders. Customers want to “co-create” value with the company serving them.
Co-creating value with the customer refers to practices such as:
- Personalizing every touchpoint in the customer journey
- Tailoring curation and customization of products or offerings
- Post-purchase brand advocacy
To personalize those touch points and engage customers well, it’s crucial that businesses understand what makes them tick.
What motivates them, what are their challenges, what influences their buying decisions? What signs do they give when they’re expressing interest, or that they’re dissatisfied?
It’s essential to understand these fine-grained insights into your customer profile. Only then can you optimize their customer experience.
A better understanding of customer expectations translates to an enhanced customer experience.
Remember, an optimized customer experience means a sharper competitive edge for your business. Know who you serve to serve them better.
It’s crucial that you can answer the above questions in detail and with keen accuracy. Then you can move on to developing relevant solutions for those customers.
A recent study looked at the consumer profile of “green,” or eco-friendly, products. The results were surprising.
First of all, marketers assumed that customers who self-identified as “caring about the environment” would be more likely to buy green products.
Businesses invested a lot in design and visual identity to emphasize their eco-friendliness.
But it turns out that people who care about the environment aren’t more likely to buy those green items at all! Nor do they care about packaging and a brand’s visual identity.
Rather, emotional and societal factors had a greater influence on consumers’ buying patterns.
Once you’re armed with these insights, you can stop wasting time and resources on things they don’t care about. You’re freed up to invest your energies into focusing on what actually matters to them.
In so doing, you improve their customer experience throughout their sales journey.
Let’s take Accent Technology’s AI-driven revenue enablement solution as an example.
It provides an in-depth portrait of buyer engagement. The platform visualizes every seller-buyer interaction. This includes:
- Social media interactions
These visualizations help you better understand and strategize around your ideal customer.
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AI enables healthy long-term relationships and reduces churn
Of course, in 2021 and beyond, it’s never just about the initial sale.
It’s about establishing strong, trusting relationships with customers who will be loyal for a lifetime. And, even serve as brand ambassadors by sharing positive feedback online or through word of mouth.
If you keep them happy, they won’t churn. It’s a simple concept, but certainly not easy. To keep them happy, you must first understand their needs (and quickly).
AI can help deliver those insights. Consider this example from the 2018 International Conference on Business Excellence:
A Swiss Telecom company reduced churn by 40% when they employed AI-driven tools.
How, exactly? Well, let’s go back to the critical benefit of AI. It’s a machine that learns like a human.
These specific AI technologies studied historical customer communication patterns. After enough “learning,” they could precisely determine when a given customer was most likely to churn.
Human sales teams were then able to swoop in and address the exact complaints of those soured customers. And, often, they won them back. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?
AI helps deliver great service at scale
Both of the above points will translate into a much richer, more rewarding customer experience.
But AI has many internal benefits as well. It can help create leaner, more agile, and more efficient business operations.
As we discussed above, it eliminates efforts that don’t add value to the customer. In larger companies, this could mean saving millions on campaigns that don’t resonate with prospects.
Instead, teams can divide resources to the areas where they’ll have the most impact. This allows them to streamline their operations without sacrificing service.
Remember Accent’s revenue enablement solution we mentioned above? Part of that solution is an AI-driven tool called sales data subscription.
Here’s how it works:
- First, it captures buyer-seller data.
- Then, it maps activities to accounts, opportunities, and timelines.
- Finally, it runs calculations and scoring to generate insights and visualizations.
Accent’s AI-powered sales manager dashboard helps analyze and visualize seller performance. In particular, it offers at-a-glance insights into:
- Opportunity health
- Which pipelines are strong or weak
- And which selling efforts or collateral customers are responding to (or not).
Based on those insights, you can ditch what’s not working and concentrate on what is.
AI helps provide excellent customer experiences for a competitive edge
A mere ten years ago, nobody talked a whole lot about “customer experience.” Now, there are entire conferences, organizations, and full-time positions dedicated to it. The end goal? To optimize how customers experience your brand, from start to finish.
Just look at job titles like “chief customer experience officer” at tech behemoths like Google.
A 2015 Accenture and Forrester survey polled high-level executives on their top priorities. They found that customer experience was the number-one concern of most respondents. And this was in 2015, an eternity ago in tech years!
A year later, the Marketing Science Institute identified customer experience as its most important research challenge.
According to industry analysts, research shows that in a few years from now, 89 percent of businesses will compete mostly on customer experience.
The evidence is indisputable. Understanding customer experience and the customer journey over time is non-negotiable. Figuring out how best to optimize that experience is critical for any business to stay afloat.
But therein lies the rub. Businesses today have less control over customer experience than ever before.
It’s ironic. The very thing that’s given marketers this power has also vastly complicated the customer experience.
The internet-age buying process means customers are much harder to pin down. They’re also influenced by, well, “influencers,” or other social forces beyond the realm of brand control. Couple this with the power of the internet to spread good (and bad) customer experiences like wildfire.
Who said marketing was easy?
Furthermore, the touch points a customer might have with a given business are fragmented and complex. They might occur across myriad channels and media.
Understanding the customer experience demands significant data collection, processing, and analysis. The scope of which is well beyond human capabilities.
That’s why so many businesses are turning to AI. Companies suddenly had access to these incredible data-gathering tools. Things like Google Analytics, Facebook Ad insights, Adwords, and CRM data.
The number of insights companies could glean was inconceivable to pre-internet businesses.
But somewhere along the way, someone stared at the massive mountain of data and said, “Okay… what now?”
These gigabytes of data are gathered from various inputs. This includes customer communications, online reviews, surveys, social media engagement, and the like.
Some data isn’t structured. Some data isn’t tabular. Some data is auditory or image-based.
What we see as an overwhelming knot of information, AI can turn into a story. It enables leaders to not only understand the customers’ actions but the intent behind them.
They can become leaner by identifying the strengths in their operations that they should be augmenting, as well as the weaknesses they need to address. This helps leaders develop a better-informed strategy for the future.
Ways to leverage customer data
So far, we’ve talked a lot about how important it is to harness the potential of customer data to better understand the customer experience.
Along the way, we’ve mentioned that AI is an efficient and powerful tool to do so. Now, let’s drill deeper into how AI can help you leverage that data.
Improving the customer experience
As we discussed above, businesses struggling to track and understand customer experience are being left behind.
This is no easy task in today’s exponentially more complex sales environment. But AI-powered services can help businesses deliver a superior customer experience in a myriad of ways.
Automating customer service and more effectively fielding service requests and inquiries. AI-powered chatbots and similar services have by now become nearly ubiquitous in our daily lives, and with reason.
It’s not just a question of saving money and manpower in terms of having an actual sales or customer service representative spend their days on the phone or typing instant messages. (Though it is that, too—this is one of the ways AI can help businesses become leaner and more efficient).
It’s also, crucially, about enhancing customer experience. Natural language processing (NLP) has made extraordinary advances in the past few years.
It is now able to not only generate natural-sounding dialogue that can pass the Turing test but also extract meaningful information from customers.
NLP can then make predictions about what that customer intended with a given word or phrase, and pull out patterns of meaning from their conversations.
In some situations, AI can deliver the solution the customer needs on its own (such as in the case of a simple technical request). When it can’t, the chatbot can predict exactly when it will be most effective to transfer the communication over to a human agent.
Customers thus can enjoy far more rapid customer service and complaint resolution. All this leads to a more positive customer experience.
Personalization and differentiation are now the name of the game in sales.
It’s imperative to have the ability to tailor your messaging to the unique profile of different customer segments.
By now, customers expect a sales approach to be carefully curated with their interests and needs in mind. (Think of micro-targeted Instagram ads, for instance).
And to do that, once again, businesses are going to need to rely on big data and AI tools that can generate wisdom from all that information.
AI can leverage customer data to optimize predictive personalization by anticipating interests and needs. AI can analyze past customer behavior and patterns in different customer segments to accurately determine what similar customers are interested in and the challenges they face.
Hyper-personalize collateral and outreach, so that the customer feels seen and understood on a personal level. They can then better imagine how the solution you’re offering matches their need or problem.
AI can help out here, too, by creating different types of content (like email responses, for instance) informed by customer data as well as past content success.
Accent’s AI-powered sales content management product, for instance, can make intelligent content suggestions based on the specifics of a given sales situation.
And one-click personalization lets sales reps deliver tailored, personalized materials to customers quickly and easily.
Better anticipate cross-sell and up-sell opportunities
You know how Netflix has an uncanny ability to show you exactly the kinds of movies you want to see?
That clairvoyance is thanks to AI and its capacity for predictive recommendations.
This is one of the most powerful skills in an AI service’s arsenal: the ability to predict what else an existing customer might be primed to purchase.
Identify high-impact customer insights
AI can deliver exponentially more powerful insights into customer behavior than a human sales rep can. The latter operates on intuition and the limited data they can process.
Humans can struggle to find patterns in customer behavior that, thanks to the internet, have grown increasingly erratic and capricious.
AI, on the other hand, can process infinitely more streams of data and find the meaningful patterns in even the most disordered inputs.
Predict the likelihood of future behaviors
Find drivers and inhibitors of customer performance, accurately answering key questions like:
- What customer behaviors are early indicators of impending outcomes such as churn?
- What customer experience actions have your team taken that have been successful or unsuccessful?
- Which improvements should you rank to improve customer experience and achieve business results?
Creating Your Ideal Customer Profile
To stay lean and agile in today’s competitive marketplace, you need an in-depth understanding of your ideal customer.
To discover that target buyer and flesh out their profile, start by taking a look at the below questions:
- How are all your efforts performing?
- What industries and personas does your organization excel with?
- What sales plays, content, or products are performing the best?
This is just one more area in which Accent’s AI tools can add value. The firm’s marketing insight tool tells you what content is being shared with buyers—even through email attachments—giving you 100% visibility into all content shared with buyers and how specific buyer personas respond.
AI algorithms scour that buyer engagement data to surface actionable insights into how content performs with different types of customers and at which points in the customer journey.
Remember that this “ideal customer” is something that’s going to fluctuate over time. You’ll need to be constantly mining new data as it comes in and reevaluating operations as necessary.
How to successfully implement AI for customer experience
Alright, now we’ve seen why an understanding of customer needs is so crucial to business success, and how AI can improve customer experience.
Now, the next logical step is figuring out how to adopt and implement AI in your own department.
Never fear: you do not need an advanced computer science degree to successfully implement AI tools!
The AI-driven CRMs and other software tools currently available on the market are intuitive by design for even the most tech-anxious.
Still, there are some basic principles that will make AI implementation much smoother.
The three fundamentals of implementing AI to augment customer experience are as follows:
Your AI solution needs to access multiple data streams from across departments to get a full picture of the customer journey. It then needs to share any patterns or insights with you in a unified, single customer view.
An effective AI solution should be able to:
Ensure all interactions between sales, marketing, and customers are captured.
Provide a full picture of the customer’s history to all teams by ensuring systems are connected and accessing the complete customer data.
Accent Technology’s Revenue Enablement Solution, for instance, lets businesses get marketing, sales, customer service, and any other pertinent departments on one page, giving them all access to a complete, accurate picture of customer engagement.
Real-time insights delivery
Another crucial way that businesses are using AI to improve customer experience is by leveraging real-time insights into customer behavior.
As we noted above, in our current paradigm, customers interact with businesses across a multitude of channels, are easily influenced by peers and societal pressures, and are increasingly capricious and prone to sudden changes in behavior.
Clearly, then, firms can only effectively respond to their needs and ensure a rich and rewarding customer experience if the insights they have are immediately relevant.
To that end, your AI solution should be able to:
- Find meaningful relationships in the data
- Visualize them for easy understanding
- Serve them up in an actionable way
- Serve them up in real-time
Accent’s AI-driven solutions can even connect with external tools like Tableau, Power BI, or Excel to swiftly generate insights and visualizations, which teams can then use to draw accurate conclusions and figure out the next steps to improve performance.
To operate most effectively, when you implement your AI solution, you need to make sure to provide it with ample business context.
That’s so it can generate a fuller picture of customer behavior and the customer experience, and then in turn generate more accurate insights and predictions. (This also pertains to the first point about data unification that we discussed above).
Accent Technologies is the first and only SaaS company to bring together Sales AI and Content Management in a true Revenue Enablement Platform. We provide both sales and marketing with better visibility into the performance of their teams. This drives revenue through intelligent recommendations for complex sales scenarios and provides the data for rich analytics that power better coaching, forecasting, and long-term customer support. Learn more about our solutions or request a live demo to see it in action.