How to Integrate AI Tech Into Each Step of the Customer Journey

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

While the models and names of stages may have changed through the years, many agree that it can be boiled down to four simple components:

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Loyalty

The No. 1 goal for most businesses is to generate more conversions (which primarily consists of sales). This can be through their marketing efforts, sales tactics, brand communication, conversion rate optimization, and other methods. Of late, many companies have developed critical competencies in using AI to nudge customers towards sales, and have improved their numbers drastically as a result.

AI, machine learning, and big data technology can all work hand-in-hand to improve the customer experience and support an optimized customer journey, which leads to more conversions in several key ways.

Let’s talk about how you can start using AI tech in each stage of the funnel.

Awareness

Marketing strategies these days are often heavily focused on the top of the funnel to build brand awareness and attract new customers. For many businesses, recognition is nearly equivalent to the value of their brand. Elena Veselinova and Marija Gogova Samonikov explain in their book Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices that brand impact is a continuous process that insures purchases, cash flow, revenue and share value. Brand communication and experience creates and builds a loyal base of customers that do not consider any other brand.

Creating a strong level of brand awareness takes time and strategy. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns and advertising to increase their reach and recognition, but AI tech is able to take the guesswork out of these strategies by analyzing huge volumes of consumer data for more targeted campaigns. For example, predictive analytics software can collect, track, and analyze datasets from past customers to determine which strategies or tactics performed well. These datasets are turned into reports with insights to guide marketing efforts and place relevant content in front of the most interested eyes at the right times.

With AI-assisted marketing, advertising strategies can be backed with data to optimize ad placement. Machine learning systems can even identify the best influencers for brands to partner with in order to reach relevant audiences and grow brand familiarity.

Credit: Venturebeat.com

Consideration

The next step of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked by marketers because it can drag on for a long time, depending on the product and the customer’s needs. During the consideration phase, a customer is already familiar with a brand or product but are unsure of whether or not to actually purchase. Customers will typically research the product’s reviews, compare prices to competitors, and look for alternatives during this stage. Due to this, the number of potential customers tends to narrow down considerably as they move from this step to the decision phase.

Brands must work to combat each customer’s concerns and questions standing in the way of a purchase decision. One of the best ways to do this is by offering personalized content that is relevant to each person, making it easy for them to find the information they are seeking.

AI systems can be used to predict a customer’s needs based on consumer data and previous online behavior, and then encourage conversions with a tailored UX or even a completely customized landing page that displays content relevant to that customer.

For example, if a site visitor has viewed a certain product page and played a video demonstrating its features, these actions can trigger an AI system to target them with personalized content that prompts a conversion if they don’t proceed to buy immediately. This content could be something as simple as an email message with more information or a display ad with a special offer for the specific product.

Credit: Personyze.com

Then there are platforms that use conversational AI tech (such as chatbots and voice assistants) to power automated, text- or audio-based interactions between a business and its customers. These platforms can understand speech, decipher intent, differentiate between languages, and mimic human conversations with great accuracy. Increasingly, they are advanced enough to even understand individual context and personalize the conversation accordingly.

Based on data insights, AI tech can curate content that matches up with the issues that are most important to that person, whether it be product features, immediate delivery, long term savings, etc. Customers respond quite well to personalized offers — an Accenture study reported that 91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that sent them targeted deals or recommendations.

Decision

Once a customer moves from consideration to action, AI tools can be used to support a positive sales experience and eliminate any bumps along the way. If a customer encounters an issue while browsing the site, or during checkout or payment, it could be an instant sales killer, if it isn’t handled immediately by something like live chat.

According to multiple studies, one of the most frustrating parts about online customer service is long wait times. By using AI-enabled chatbots, companies can instantly answer common questions and resolve issues or roadblocks affecting the progression of the buyer’s journey. And customers certainly appreciate these quick response times. AI systems can significantly increase conversions with effective personalization and swift customer service.

Credit: AIMultiple.com

Loyalty

The last step of the customer journey is possibly the most valuable. Over half of customers reportedly stay loyal to brands that “get them.” Returning customers also tend to spend more money than new ones, and an oft-reported stat says that on average 65% of businesses’ revenue comes from existing customers.

Businesses (and customers) can benefit greatly from loyalty programs that are backed with machine learning technology. Starbucks famously uses AI tech to analyze customer behavior, improve convenience, and identify which promotions would perform best based on that person’s drink or food preferences, location, and purchase frequency. Their loyalty program uses this data to send out thousands of offers each day for the products their customers are most likely to buy. Their customer loyalty program grew 16% YoY last year as a direct result of their Deep Brew AI engine.

Credit: Starbucks app

While a positive shopping experience and great products are certainly important factors in a customer’s decision to buy again, data-driven marketing campaigns that encourage loyalty can also help a company to grow their numbers of repeat sales. Again, AI-assisted personalization techniques can boost the chances of a customer coming back for more, especially if they receive targeted offers or shopping suggestions based on previous interactions.

Credit: Accenture.com

The Wrap

AI is proving to be the tool of the future for marketers. It allows marketing teams to use predictive insights and analytical data to encourage and assist every micro-decision taken by consumers. AI systems not only help customers move along the buyer’s journey, they can also provide a more meaningful experience along the way, leading to more conversions and brand loyalty down the road.

The Omnichannel Customer Service Gap

As part of our analysis of the omnichannel experience today in the report “Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience,” we asked marketers how they provide customer service in each channel, and whether or not they are getting AI involved.

As part of our analysis of the omnichannel experience today in the report “Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience,” we asked marketers how they provide customer service in each channel, and whether or not they are getting AI involved.

The Extent of Omnichannel Customer Service

Here’s what the marketers had to say:

Omnichannel Customer Service chart from the Omnichannel Marketing Report, 2018.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 82 percent of marketers offer live customer service over the phone, 73 percent through email and 52 percent through social media. But only 28 percent offer live service through website chat, and almost none do via virtual assistants (which is an emerging field).

Very few respondents are dabbling in AI or AI-assisted customer service. However, 14 percent do so through web chat — which means half of all web chat is being handled by AI. That’s followed by social media and email.

Outside of website chat bots, AI customer service is still a rare experience. Also, marketers do not yet seem to consider virtual assistants and smart speakers to be important service channels.

Is That Futuristic Enough?

I was a bit surprised that service was not offered more frequently in more channels. Only half of respondents said they offer customer service reps via social media. Tiny numbers offered it through website chat or virtual assistants.

Is that a wide enough spread of service options to satisfy today’s omnichannel customer? Is it enough to be considered “Omnichannel Customer Service”? On the flip side, does limiting those options make for a better service experience?

Beyond the number of channels service was offered in, it seems that very few marketers are leveraging AI for customer service in any channels. Helping customers still means connecting them with live CSRs. Is that really the most efficient way to do things?

The slower customer service is, the higher the chance you’ll lose that customer to a competitor. Offering service on more channels should help you ensure a great experience. Using good AI to assist your CSR’s should reduce friction and make the process more efficient.

What’s holding marketers back here? Is it the fear that an already damaged experience is going to be made worse? Well, I certainly don’t think the robots are going to do a worse job than crowdsourcing that service.

If you’re nervous about creating a chat bot, we’ve got a great session coming up at the All About Marketing Tech virtual conference that will help you learn the basics and build a chatbot that doesn’t suck. Check i out.

And for more about how marketers are building their omnichannel customer experiences, click here to download the complete report for free.