Opinion

Creating lifetime customers with artificial intelligence

6 min read

16 November 2017

The way businesses interact with customers has drastically changed in the last decade, due to the rise of mobile and other technologies.

The ease at which we can access the internet and other advances have shifted customer expectations. Indeed, we’ve reached the stage where the success rate of companies largely comes down to opinion – so how do we win lifetime customers?

It might sound obvious but how you interact with customers is going to be a very important factor in fostering loyalty. And yet achieving efficient communication is a challenge that continues to plague businesses.

Getting an answer to a simple question, such as “where’s my order”, often requires calling up a call centre and listening to the dreaded hold music, which results in a frustrated customer and potential churn.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Thankfully, communicating with customers is also fertile ground for new artificial intelligence technologies, such as chatbots and virtual assistants.

Everything from grocery shopping and driving directions, to buying a train ticket and taking medication can be automated. These technologies have now set their sights on customer service and may forever change how we interact with our favourite brands and how they win lifetime customers.

However, as with any new technology, it must be implemented appropriately to get the full benefits – otherwise, you’re likely to move one step forward, and multiple steps back.

Automation must support humans, not replace them

Imagine that you go to a restaurant, have a great meal with delicious food, but atrocious service. Chances are, you’ll be more likely to share the negative part of the experience, resulting in the restaurant losing customers.

Indeed, a recent study from Dimensional Research revealed that 54 per cent of customers will share a negative experience with more than five people. So, when it comes to earning lifetime customers, it’s important not to mess it up. 

In its current state, AI is great for answering simple questions that often have set answers. For example, “what’s the status of my order?”, and “how can I update my shipping address?”.

However, if the questions get more complicated, it’s crucial that they system can elegantly escalate the issue to a human agent with a concise history of interactions so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves. 

It might also be wise to consider using AI on the backend, to help human agents quickly resolve problems, and provide personalised recommendations and advice, based on data collected from previous interactions with that customer, and customers with similar problems.

If you can offer both self-service, and agent-assisted interactions, you’ll ensure that the customer will be able to get the exact service they desire, helping that goal of lifetime customers.

What would Alexa do? 

Thanks to virtual assistants, like Alexa, people are seamlessly using AI to live their daily lives, from finding out the weather, to heating your house from your office. This has resulted in people expecting the same experience they get with Alexa, from every brand they use… and if they don’t, there’ll always be a competitor lurking, ready to poach disgruntled customers and make them lifetime customers.

A recent study by Forrester Research found that 84 per cent of customers prefer to engage with companies using automated platforms, compared to traditional call centres.

But while AI is hot on the agenda, if the AI experience is significantly harder than what users are used to with Alexa, it might be wise to revisit how you’re implementing it.

Ultimately, attracting and retaining lifetime customers requires brands to balance current implementation with forward-looking planning. As brands strategise for the future, they must recognise that emerging technology will continue to significantly impact customer expectations and plan for the “new normal.” 

Implement artificial intelligence intelligently

Automation won’t be the solution to every customer engagement challenge, and it’s important to recognise where it will add value, and where it will detract. There are certain problems, customers, and interfaces that will be receptive to AI, and others that won’t.

High touch interactions are best served by humans, and customers who aren’t digitally native may get overwhelmed by interacting with a company via an automated chatbot. 

Artificial intelligence is already changing the way we do business. AI offers a great and cost-effective way to deliver high quality customer experiences at scale. As the technology advances, it can only be right to include automation as part of any omnichannel strategy.

Especially as more customers start to prefer this channel for support. The key, however, is to balance the efficiency of AI with the reassurance of a human connection. Building a customer engagement strategy that integrates, as opposed to focuses on, technology like AI will ensure your brand is set up for success now and in the future. 

Dave Campbell, VP of customer engagement & support at LogMeIn

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