For more than two decades, we’ve talked about how the experiences brands enable are the principal way they’ll compete in the market. Indeed, it was in 1998 when the Harvard Business Review published “Welcome to the Experience Economy” by Joe Pine and James Gilmore. The sad truth remains, though, that companies have not really moved the needle on creating differentiation via customer experience. There are signs, however, that artificial intelligence (AI) might just be the key they’ve been waiting for.
Winning on experience is a two-sided coin: It requires an understanding of the drivers of consumer preference and the ability to meet these preferences across channels, time and contexts.
But while it’s essential to understand the needs and desires of your consumers, it’s a very expensive, time-consuming and complex proposition to meet them consistently, relevantly and in whatever way they choose to interact with you. It’s also a challenge to act on those insights to build relationships of lasting value and deliver personally relevant customer experiences with speed, scale and repeatability.
Brands that employ AI, however, are meeting these challenges, at scale. This is what we call “marrying intimacy with industrialization.” Here are two ways we’re seeing AI being used to deliver brand-differentiating experiences in a scalable way:
- Using data and AI to move from understanding what happened to predicting what will happen. Technology-enabled channels allow for contextual dialogs between brands and people. The very nature of that dialog creates a rich (and, with care, a continually self-enriching) source of information and insight. Such insight allows for a heightened contextual understanding and empathy on the part of brands, which in turn leads to greater trust and higher-order, emotion-based consumer engagement.
We express this evolution via the customer experience hierarchy of needs. The levels progress from satisfaction (meets my needs), to prediction (anticipates my needs) to affiliation (high degree of personal relevance). Needless to say, the value of the customer increases exponentially as the relationship moves up the pyramid.
Competing at the lowest level – meeting customer needs – is both table stakes and increasingly valuable in establishing a relationship. This is especially true as we enter a world without third-party cookies, where direct customer relationships are the currency of future engagement. Using AI, brands can ascend the hierarchy to better predict consumer expectations and propose relevant and engaging experiences that are valued by the consumer and valuable for the brand.
- Taking cost out of experience delivery. While content is the fuel of consumer engagement, the complexity and cost of producing, adapting and managing content are set to escalate. This is the result of three coinciding developments:
- Technology-centric and omnichannel experience development are becoming a bigger part of the overall marketing spend.
- Personalization has become an expected part of the experience.
- Continued channel proliferation.
Here again, AI tools are being used to streamline the process, taking people, cost and time out of the equation while enabling marketers to produce relevant content in the right format at the right time in the right channel at a scale unimaginable without the help of automation.
For our e-commerce clients, we use artificial intelligence to simultaneously test hundreds of thousands of page layouts to find the one that is most relevant and most valuable to a given set of customers. We use machine learning to refactor content from one format to another, enabling content reuse across contexts. And we use automated scripts to test thousands of executions across myriad channels against original design specifications, ensuring brand consistency regardless of context. On average, these approaches reduce the cost of content production/adaptation by between 20% and 40% and enable a 30% quicker speed to market.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on customer experiences – yet consumers are unimpressed with the results. For us, addressing customer experience challenges requires taking a holistic approach, tying together the experience itself and the different parts of the client organization and the enabling infrastructure. AI is an accelerator of success, on both sides of the intimacy and industrialization equation.
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