When was the last time you were amazed?
A few years ago it may have been the first time you used Uber and watched as your car made its way to you. Perhaps it was the first time Netflix recommended a movie that was just what you were looking for at that moment. More recently, it may have been the first time Nest automatically adjusted your home heating when you went on vacation, or when Alexa turned on your lights on command when you returned home.
All these "first time" experiences share two things in common. On one hand, they are moments of surprise, delight and magic, creating first-mover emotional bonds between consumers and brands. On the other hand, they quickly become the norm as consumer expectations are reset at new levels. Brands that aren't in that first wave of establishing the magic in their industry will quickly get left behind. This isn't just true for Silicon Valley tech companies. The innovations enabling these experiences are increasingly permeating every consumer experience with brands around the world.
Pulling back the curtain, the magic we're talking about is really the underlying artificial intelligence that powers the experience. Thanks to the perfect storm of scalable and affordable cloud computing, smarter software that can learn, and a deluge of data from every aspect of our connected lives, we are truly at the dawn of the AI era. This virtuous circle will be the engine to power every customer experience. AI will make every customer interaction smarter, more intuitive and faster. AI will always be learning, becoming even more magical over time.
While this magic will be transformative for consumers, it can be incredibly disruptive for brands. Those brands that are early to embrace AI will have an insurmountable competitive advantage and will be viewed as "smart" as they predict and anticipate the needs of their customers. The net effect will be a raising of the bar for the customer experience. In comparison, all non AI-powered experiences will be viewed as dumb. Just consider the AI-powered ride-sharing experience. Thanks to apps like Uber and Lyft, this experience has forever shifted consumer expectations around taxis. The taxi experience now looks antiquated and inefficient relative to the surprise and delight of an Uber. So what happens when an AI-powered experience happens in your category and completely shifts consumer expectations in your industry? Will you be caught flat-footed, scrambling to play AI catch up? It's not a question of "if" but rather "when" AI will transform your industry and more importantly your brand.
So how can you augment the intelligence of your brand?
First, harness the power of patterns. I believe that machine learning can inspire human learning—and we now have enough data to truly learn. Unfortunately, many brands are drowning in data and don't know how to get the most out of it. In 2018, it's no longer just about getting data, but rather understanding the patterns in the data. And that's where AI comes in.
There's no possible way for a human to process and analyze the vast amounts of data we get today. AI and the portfolio of machine learning tools are perfectly suited to crunch through massive datasets to sort and organize them into interesting, non-intuitive clusters. AI can then identify interesting patterns for marketers to analyze and discover something new and remarkable.
Second, automate for efficiency. Part of what makes for a magical customer experience is understanding the power of automation. In the AI era, anything that can be automated, will be. All of the repetitive and rote activities are much better handled by machines than people. Why waste someone's time making them pull levers or try to do something that a machine is much better at? Think about the ATM. While not AI per se, it was an early example of a machine automating something that people used to do. Instead of having employees dispense cash, the machine does it far more efficiently, freeing up employees to spend their time on much more valuable activities like client service.
Third, plan with predictions. To deliver on the magic of AI, you must leverage predictive models to deeply understand consumer behavior. In reality, machine learning is really using statistics to predict outcomes, and statistics is one of the most powerful ways to interpret the world around you. From weather forecasts to medicine to insurance, predictions are critical to understanding behavior and anticipating the future. Marketers using AI-driven, self-adapting predictive models will find a new superpower in being able to anticipate customer behavior in the context of your products, your taxonomy and your engagement touch points.
So what parts of the customer journey can be made magical by applying AI?
As media planning has shifted to audience planning, you now have the ability to assess every step in the journey and predict the needs of different audiences. One size does not fit all, so you no longer need to use an antiquated broadcast approach. While everyone will expect the personalized one-to-one experience, you can do this at scale by grouping audiences based on different behavioral patterns that you identify via AI.
By identifying the patterns in your data, using automation where it makes sense, and planning with predictions, you can now rethink how to make your customer experience magical for the AI era.