AI technologies are becoming integral tools in facilitating a smoother customer experience, from first interaction to post-sale customer support.
Putting AI to work for your own company isn’t as difficult as it might sound. With burgeoning chatbot technology and rapid innovations in sales and service-focused AI data software, optimizing the customer journey with a little help from intelligent machines is as easy as installing a widget on your website. And at this point, if you’re not incorporating AI tech into your business processes, you’re starting to fall behind.
Below, we’ll go over how you can use chatbots and other AI tools to facilitate more positive experiences and turn potential leads into paying (and returning) customers.
The Role of AI in Modern Marketing
The internet has brought significantly more options to the average consumer, and it’s easier than ever before to ditch one product or service in favor of another. That means that you have to constantly be evolving your best practices, embracing new technologies that promise to increase your efficiency, reliability, and communicability. And that’s where AI comes in.
By 2020, it’s expected that 30 percent of all B2B companies around the world will be employing AI technologies to optimize one or more of their sales processes. Meanwhile, 84% of organizations are expected to increase their investments in some form of customer experience technology.
AI isn’t expected to just enhance the customer experience — it’s on track to completely transform it. And in an age where customers are expecting more targeted and more personalized marketing, AI could hold the key to thriving — and maybe even just surviving — in your industry.
So much of the customer journey takes place on the backend, without direct human to human contact. It makes sense then that artificial intelligence could excel where real-life marketers can’t: it’s got the stamina to be alert 24/7, and the data to make meaningful connections when and where it counts. As for us humans, with our need for sleep and our limited ability for complex cognitive analytics? We simply can’t compete.
Stop and think for a moment about all of the processes that take place in the five stages of the customer journey. Consideration isn’t just reading a few reviews; it’s promotions, web and mobile connectivity, targeted advertising. Likewise, retention is significantly more complex than a post-purchase survey inquiring about how satisfied your customer is. It’s technical support and instant online help, account management and data logistics.
Meanwhile, you have to constantly be mining the data related to each of these processes, gaining as much understanding as you possibly can about who your customers are, how they shop, and what their pain points are. Is your head spinning yet?
With so many moving parts, it becomes increasingly clear why the gold standards for marketing are changing so rapidly. It’s a different ballgame out there today, and you need different equipment if you want to play it well.
Customer-Focused AI Technology
Knowing that AI is critical for marketing success is one thing. Putting it into action is another. Here are two key AI technologies that can help you fill in the gaps and create a better all-around experience for your customers.
Chatbot technology has come a long way since the early days of SmarterChild and other talkative robots. And lest you think that chatbots are only geared toward customer service, companies are using these helpful AI tools to do everything from generate leads to target content and messaging for individual customers during each stage of the sales journey.
If nurturing the brand-customer relationship is tantamount to purchase, retention, and loyalty, then chatbots are a failsafe against bored and neglected customers who opt out of the journey altogether. They’re like a customer service rep, a logistics manager, and a sales enabler all in one.
Chatbots include on-screen chat boxes, as well as voice-activated chat assistance through mediums like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In addition to varied capabilities, they also serve a very important dual function: they’re incredibly adept data aggregators. Combine them with standard data miners and analytics and you can learn a whole lot of valuable information about customer behavior throughout the sales cycle. You can then turn this data around to improve your customers’ experience, as well as to inform your targeted marketing efforts.
Here’s how chatbot technology in action might look for your business:
- You’re a software company and a potential lead comes to your website to do some research on whether your solution is the right fit for them. They decide they like the product, but aren’t sure if it’s compatible with their system. Instead of searching through product data and FAQs, they engage with the on-screen chatbot and let them know their exact system specifications. They get an instant answer on viability, and a personalized response that’s completely tailored to their own situation.
- You’re a car dealership and a potential lead engages with your chatbot to see if you have a specific car in stock. After they get a response, you don’t hear from them again. Instead of letting the deal die, you reach out directly with the information you garnered from their chatbot conversation with a tailored promotion that can further entice them to come in and check out the vehicle in person.
- To get the most out of your chatbot, blend it with other tools, in particular your data analytic software and automated email marketing platform. This way, you get the best of all worlds: personalized conversations, personalized marketing, and consistent engagement. It’s like a trifecta of experience-boosting variables, all designed to ease an individual through the customer journey and give your company more control over where people end up.
Chatbots and the Customer Journey
Every customer is different. So is every product or service. And yet, the way that people make purchasing decisions is surprisingly predictable. Here are some ways you can use chatbots throughout three key phases of the customer journey to drive more leads toward a sale.
How Chatbots Improve Awareness Campaigns
In this early stage of the customer journey, an individual might not even know that they have a problem they need solved — and they definitely don’t know yet that your company has the right solution for them. This is where your more general targeting comes in, spreading the word about who you are and what you do, and making it easy for your customers to discover your brand and what you’re all about.
Chatbots are useful here on multiple fronts. To start, they can help nurture your top-of-funnel audience, providing quick and accurate answers to questions without the need for more in-depth customer service. And if you have tracking tools like cookies set up on your site, you can use chatbot engagement as a way to collect key info about the person chatting with your bot, which in turn can be used to bolster your larger customer models.
How Chatbots Drive Conversion in the Consideration Phase
Customers who progress to the consideration stage have a general idea of what they’re looking for, but they’re doing comparisons in order to choose the right product or service for their needs. The customer’s experience here is critical, since you need to stand out from your competitors and position yourself as the best option.
Here, maybe even more so than in the awareness stage, your chatbot’s ability to respond to questions 24/7 and with surprising speed are invaluable. Your customers don’t always want to dig around for answers, nor do all queries warrant a direct interaction with your staff. And yet, the answers to these questions can make all the difference in someone moving on in their sales journey. Chatbots, with their limitless capacity for engagement, remove the barriers that are so common in this stage, and also provide you with data on the back end about who’s asking questions — and equally important, what they’re asking about.
How Chatbots Drive Conversion in the Retention Phase
A purchasing customer is not necessarily a happy customer — you’ve still got work to do to nurture the relationship and keep them around. Retention is an important stage. It can cost as much as five times more to bring in a new customer than to retain an old one, making the post-purchase experience one that is certainly worth investing in.
Use chatbot technology here to stay top of mind even after a customer’s order has been fulfilled. Reach out automatically by email to see how they’re enjoying their purchase and ask if they have any questions; send notifications about content related to their purchase that may help them get more use out of it; and analyze post-purchase customer feedback. All of these chatbot functions serve to both satisfy existing customers and provide insights that can help drive future sales.
AI Data Analytics
AI data analytic tools are your eyes and ears, taking all of the data your marketing and sales efforts gather and turning it into something that you can really use. It can find patterns in customer behavior that would have never been apparent otherwise, and even make intelligent predictions that allow you to get ahead of the game.
So why AI and not just good old-fashioned analytics? Because traditional ways of doing things are simply no longer adequate in the face of the sheer amount of data businesses are collecting. You need all of the assistance that you can get mining that data and finding the diamonds in the rough — i.e. the nuggets of information that you can use to improve your practices and inch your way closer to a truly optimized customer journey.
Just like chatbots, AI-driven data analytic platforms work best when they’re part of a bigger whole, and not just operating on their own. Get the most value possible out of your AI tools by combining them into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and that can make your marketing more effective on all fronts.