How to use artificial intelligence in building lifelong customer relationships?

Customer expectations have never been higher than before. Customers have more choices. They are more connected, more socially engaged, more educated about products and services than at any other time.

A large amount of available options and the instant-access characteristic of digital environments have allowed customers to constantly explore many alternatives.

How does this affect your business? According to Forrester, 65% of customers are highly willing to shift spending or are forming that mindset. In other words, two-thirds of your customers are at risk of leaving.

Companies like Amazon and Netflix have set the high bar that has irrevocably increased customers’ expectations for personalization, responsiveness, service and delivery. While these expectations were once considered attributes of “the millennial mindset”, they now cut across all customer demographics and market segments, from small businesses to large corporations.

What exactly do customers want? While the symptoms are present in many different ways, customers want to create a relationship with your business. According to Gartner, “members of the next generation of customers flock to businesses that treat them as if they were special, rather than as ‘just another number.’ These customers want to have a connection, a relationship, with the organizations they deal with.”

No matter what industry you’re in, this is your mission – build a relationship with your customers or lose them to other businesses that will. But how can you accomplish that? The obvious answer seems to lie in a CRM system – it is a Customer Relationship Management system after all. But how much of traditional CRM is designed around building relationships with your customers? Surprisingly, not much.

Legacy CRM systems were created for large corporations who value process automation as well as sales team monitoring and management. According to these systems, customers are viewed as something to be managed and optimized for profit rather than someone with whom to build a relationship. CRM was created to serve the needs of sales management as they predicted pipeline for the next quarter. This might work 20 years ago but it no longer satisfies today’s empowered customers. This approach does quite little to benefit the salesperson and does almost nothing to benefit the customers.

With competitors just one click away, today’s most competent brands emphasize building customer loyalty and trust through every single interaction. Each interaction generates data and modern relationship-centric businesses harness that large stream of data to customize and personalize customers’ experience.

You are expected to anticipate their needs and create meaningful interactions that can bring real value to them. Understanding the “why”, making better decisions based on this customer data and delivering real benefits to customers are the key to build customer relationships.

Aside from managing customers, CRM applications should make the leap to become Customer Relationship Platforms designed in order to map, measure and develop customer relationships. CRM must get closer to the customer, but it must also grow smarter – and artificial intelligence will act as a key player in this evolution. How will AI drive the future of CRM?

While this may sound contradicting, AI can help customers to self-serve without a human interaction and can actually build a better relationship with them. Modern customers want 24/7 customer service, they don’t want to wait on hold and they prefer not talking to a human unless required. Most customers do not meaningfully differentiate between in person and digital environments and they are comfortable with the idea of self-serving.

Gartner states “these customers don’t want you to put humans in their way if they could complete a task on their own. They don’t see the need for another person to be involved when technology so rarely fails them.”

Using AI, usually in the form of chatbots, can reduce friction and allow customers to comfortably self-serve. Customers show signals in almost everything they do, but harnessing these signals is the key to create successful relationships. When big data first appeared, companies capture everything possible, but it was hard to interpret it and even harder to take meaningful actions based on the data learned from customer interactions.

Now, Ai can sift through a huge amount of data and use it to engage customers in a meaningful way. Additionally, linking these engagements to a broader system of record within the CRM can help companies to leverage insights once the customer wants to interact with a front-line employee. In this case, AI acts both as a force multiplier for the business to gain greater scale and as an insights engine that enables employees to interact with customers more effectively.

As you decide your goal as making deep customer relationships, you will put the customers at the center of all the things you do and gain their loyalty as a result. By using AI, you will orchestrate value-added activities that create the signals and take actions to improve your relationships. Now it’s time to treat each customer as if they’re your only customers, even when you have thousands of them.

Like Forrester says, “building the ultimate lifestyle-enhancing customer relationship will be difficult, but you don’t have a choice. If you don’t offer your customer a digitally disrupted experience, another aspiring lifestyle-enhancing provider will.”

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