No marketing plan aims to create chaos for consumers, but marketers must be cautious about how their AI-powered outreach actually operates in the wild lest they see their customers alienated by machine learning run amok.

AI is a big category of technology that may be able to help you address your marketing needs, and it’s not all chatbots and games. AI can improve audience segmentation, target ad messages, create product-pricing models and direct customers through your website. It can even write content (as Curata and WordAI do).

Some companies have had positive results with thoughtful applications of AI, but the approach is very much its infancy. Regardless, your experiments with AI — quite necessary if you want to keep up with other marketers as research says 86% plan to use it soon — need to be examined to make sure they don’t hurt your relationship with your customers as you rush to embrace this new tool.

Maintaining the human touch

It’s imperative that companies don’t lose the human element as they seek to automate customer experience. Machine learning does not have the ability to understand human emotions and the vagaries of consumer conversations. The purpose of AI is not to replace people but to work alongside them and enable them to work faster and smarter. If companies are to avoid the risk of alienating and losing their customers, maintaining human relationships will be critical.

Evaluate the (real) customer experience

It’s enticing to imagine how cool it would be to have your customers order something with a chatbot as powerful as Domino’s or to deliver a seamless mobile shopping experience. But what you imagine may not align with what you can deliver. Be realistic about what resources your company can dedicate to making the project successful. Your organisation may have limited data to feed the AI algorithm, or may be unable to develop or integrate around the technology. Your pre-launch tests need to account for these constraints.

After understanding how much work it takes on your end to load whatever AI tool you’re planning to use with data and insights, you have to examine the experience your customers will have as a result of a self-directed algorithm making decisions for your brand. Companies like Tesla can use their customers as guinea pigs; Tesla enthusiasts will tolerate a lot of bugs. Brands with less enthusiastic customers, however, will suffer the consequences when algorithms make bad choices like discriminating against particular groups of consumers.

Ask your vendor for a demo that doesn’t just show the dashboard. See how AI will determine what the consumer actually experiences. You need to walk through all of the steps just as a customer would. If customers have to do a lot more work than they would with a human customer service representative, your experiment might not be ready for prime time. Consumers prefer a human touch, according to a study from GetApp.

Anticipate the shortfall

Chatbots run out of answers and require customer service calls. AI writes content but tends to miss important nuances that might force readers to have to search for more information. Beautifully targeted ads like those created by Cosabella’s AI tool, nicknamed Albert, might have nothing to do with your website, creating a jarring experience.

The more seamless the transition between AI-driven interactions and other interactions, the better. In the US, for example, 1-800-Flowers has integrated several AI-driven ordering functions into its website and social media presence seamlessly, but it took a lot of planning to make sure the new experience was convenient enough to replace dialling “1-800-Flowers.”

Plan for failure

To ensure your shoppers aren’t accidentally being racially profiled or stalked by bad targeting, talk to your AI partner to make sure you can check in frequently on actual customer experiences. Don’t rely solely on automated reports. And when you do look at reports, consider the data in sections, looking beyond the averages. An 80% completion rate means that 20% abandoned the experience. Determine what led people down the wrong path and have a plan for how you’ll react if they post an embarrassing photo of their experience on Instagram.

Apart from being the shiniest new tool to add to a marketing stack, there is no doubting the potential of AI to revolutionise the way in which brands connect with consumers. Like any disruptive technology, AI is neither perfect and nor well understood by its new stewards. Proceed with caution lest AI alter consumer experiences in unintended ways, alienating hard-won and valuable customers.


By Nick Worth, chief marketing officer at Selligent Marketing Cloud

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