By Dessy Ohanians, Academic Resources and Quality Manager at The University of Law Business School
Time and time again, research into successful companies shows that one of the secrets of sustainable growth is well managed customer relationships. From the organisation’s perspective that means designing and implementing proactive and focussed steps to improve the customer experience. From the customer’s perspective the interest is not just in what you are being sold, but also how it is made, how you are being sold to and what happens after that. This shift in focus has forced companies to invest in their customer relations teams, train their staff and even deploy artificial intelligence tools such as chatbots to understand better their customer lifecycle.
The customer lifecycle usually begins with the customer acquisition process. Marketers create campaigns to attract new customers by providing information about the features and benefits of the product or service on offer. However, this is no longer enough for creating a long-lasting relationship. A one-off purchase, also known as ‘transactional relationship’ is only a suitable strategy for a limited number of business types (the coffee shop at the airport for example). For most other businesses, the first purchase is not considered to be the end goal of marketing efforts but rather the beginning of a relationship of repeat and loyal customers that will come time and time again to make a purchase, sign up for a prescription and even better – recommend the product to their friends and relatives.
So where in this customer lifecycle we see the benefit of introducing artificial intelligence tools? Isn’t ‘relationship’ built based on human interaction?
Strong customer relationships have several characteristics that must be present:
- Longevity – interaction with the customer over a long period of time on a recurring and regular basis
- Personalisation – understanding and collating the personal preferences of each customer to provide a dedicated personal service each time the customer returns
- Community – connecting customers into user communities that allow for the sharing of experiences and knowledge.
- Co-creation – customers are invited to share reviews of their experiences to thus create value for new customers, or even participate in the product design stage of a new product.
In all the above characteristics we can leverage the benefits of using chatbots to ensure consistency over time, facilitate knowledge collection and transfer, create efficiency and utilise large data processing to enable personalisation of service.
Just like a personal assistant, chatbots are designed to identify what a customer wants and help them get to their desired outcome using a software powered by artificial intelligence algorithms and natural language processing capabilities. Some may argue that chatbots can deliver a superior customer experiences and enhanced customer relationships compared to human customer services agent. Here are some of the way this can be achieved:
- You meet the customer in a time and place they prefer. Today’s customers expect to interact with brands at their own convenience, unrestricted by opening hours, weekends, time zones, devices or platforms. To achieve such hyper flexibility with a human workforce, companies would need to invest large amounts of money in recruiting the right staff, training and retaining them. Chatbots on the other hand have a larger capacity to serve more than one customer at a time, they are ‘happy’ to work 24/7, even uring holidays. They can easily support multiple platforms and always be present when a customer is ready to interact.
- You can answer questions quickly. With enough good quality training data and sufficient time, AI based chatbots get better over time. Every new conversation with a customer provides further data for training that helps the chatbot contextualise the questions it receives and the appropriateness of the answers it generates. Accuracy of the answers provided by a chatbot is one of the first metrics that also indicates the level of trust customers will have when interacting with the brand.
- You provide personalisation at scale. Every customer is unique and a brand that recognises that is one step ahead of the competition. By collecting and analysing historical data about previous interactions with the customer, a chatbot can adapt its approach to each customers and approach them differently. According to research by Accenture carried out in 2018, as many as 83% of customers are happy to hand over personal information for the benefit of personalised experiences.
Companies collect customer data at a much larger scale than ever before. A large proportion of it sits locked in databases never to be utilised for the benefit of the company. Artificial Intelligence tools allow businesses to tap into the hidden power of this data by applying advanced analytics that reveals trends and insights not available to humans before. Providing a superior, more personalised and faster customer experience is proven to have a positive effect on metrics such as customer retention, loyalty, and satisfaction which of course is what every business owner and shareholder dreams about.