by Dr. Rob Nelson, AI & Cognitive Thinking Practice Lead
Are you a Starbucks customer? If so, and if you use their rewards program mobile app, you might be in for a bit of a surprise next time you take a trip.
No matter which Starbucks you visit — even if it’s half a world away from your usual Starbucks hangout — the barista at that store will know what you want before you can even tell her. That’s because of Starbucks’ AI-powered digital flywheel program.
Sure, it’s just a techy way of making it a bit easier for you to get your morning caffeine fix and a breakfast sandwich. Maybe it’s a clever way for Starbucks to grow its top line and increase their share of wallet. However, Starbucks is arguably one of the best companies at connecting brand, experience and engagement in the digital and brick and mortar world.
Yes, Starbucks is just a coffee shop?
But even so, Starbucks’ AI-powered customer engagement innovation also provides an intriguing peek into the future — the very near future. And a very exciting future for many if not most businesses.
More Important Than Fire and Electricity
Is artificial intelligence really going to be a big deal?
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai believes that AI’s impact upon humanity will be more profound than the discoveries of fire or electricity. And billionaire Mark Cuban predicts that the economic opportunities enabled by AI will create the world’s first trillionaires.
Are both of the above nothing more than wild, over-the-top prognostications? I don’t think so. Let’s look at it from a purely business perspective…
AI’s Business Impact
Artificial intelligence may lead to the birth of an intelligence greater than human intelligence — and I believe we’re well down the road toward that eventuality. If that happens, the impact to business will be mind-blowing.
But you don’t need to look far down the road, or gaze into a crystal ball, to get a sense of AI’s impact to business. It’s happening right now.
AI is currently a big part of the Digital Transformation trend. AI is used to create value, increase customer insights and engagement, and enhance operational efficiencies — working faster, harder, and smarter.
Given that we’re only at the beginning of AI’s impact upon business — and considering the impact it already has had — will it ultimately be more transformative than the discovery of fire and electricity?
Only time will tell. But it certainly seems plausible.
Already, AI is becoming embedded in so many of our processes and workflows, and even just simply becoming part of how we live. But the more urgent question is this: Are you doing it better than your competition?
AI Is Used in Customer Engagement…NOW
I opened this post with an example of using AI to impact and enhance customer engagement. And that’s appropriate since customer engagement efforts can be greatly enhanced by AI — and RIGHT NOW, not in some far-off distant future. AI, in fact, is currently reshaping what is possible with customer engagement, already substantially eclipsing the potential of traditional CRM.
Customer engagement, after all, is about nurturing relationships and delivering upon the brand promise across the breadth of the customer lifecycle. AI offers opportunities for deepening that relationship and making it more of a two-way relationship.
Perhaps most importantly, AI can foster a brand-customer conversation that customers will enjoy and that empowers them to meet their needs, while simultaneously enabling the brand to maximize the value derived from that relationship.
Has AI truly advanced enough to significantly impact customer engagement right now? Indeed it has, and these are just some of the reasons why:
- Hardware technology has advanced sufficiently to enable practical AI applications
- We’ve developed the capability to create advanced algorithms (nod to Alan Turing) capable of powering AI — think unsupervised machine learning
- Data is available in greater quantities and greater relevance than ever before
- Hardware and IT services are cheaper (relatively speaking) than at any time in history
- Customers have become adept at accepting and adopting new technologies (chat, chatbots, messaging platforms, the Internet of Things, etc.)
- IoT coupled with AI enables very sophisticated customer insight and engagement
And, as a result of all the above, customers now expect more personalization, better customer experiences, instant brand-customer interactions, and better brand relationships.
How to Apply AI to Your Customer Engagement Initiatives
AI is already in use by businesses worldwide to unlock new customer insights and deepen customer interactions, providing more meaningful customer experiences and relationships — and at a decreased service cost. While AI is not new, its application is on a skyrocketing trajectory and is reshaping what is possible with engagement whereas traditional CRM has been failing to connect those key customer moments.
How can you do the same?
Begin by reimagining your customer interactions and your customer relationship life cycle. Look for ways to enhance them. Consider how you might enhance basic relationship building-block processes such as account maintenance, payments, account troubleshooting, customer inquiries, etc.
Evaluate all possible opportunities for embedding AI into those core business functions in ways that will empower your team, remove flow and process friction and delight your customers.
Innovation is the key here. Consider organizing a Cognitive Customer Engagement Strategy and map how you will move beyond the “smoother customer experience across multiple touchpoints” focus to better accomplish what so many are struggling to achieve: forming deep and meaningful relationships with customers.
The Goal Is Simple
No matter the technology utilized, the goal is simple and unchanging: improve the customer relationship. Do that by focusing on helping customers in ways that are important to them.
AI may be the most impactful tool ever developed for accomplishing that task. But like any tool, it only works if you apply it to the task at hand.