The growing power of consumer-friendly artificial intelligence means businesses need smart customer insights to stay competitive says Neil McIlroy, Head of Product Innovations at Feefo.
Are we entering a world in which parentage is determined by artificial intelligence (AI)? After all, dating apps use algorithms to match up prospective partners without causing too much friction.
But would most of us have children with someone purely on the recommendation of a more sophisticated dating app? Would we rely on AI to decide where to live and what our next job should be?
Perhaps not, but we must recognise the increasing role of AI in shaping our decisions. Fuelled by ever more powerful algorithms, AI is capable of constantly updating its knowledge of individual consumers’ patterns of behaviour, private lives, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Using such information and cross-referencing it with masses of other demographic data gives it the predictive capacity to make recommendations with high degrees of confidence.
While few citizens want their private lives governed by algorithms, AI (an umbrella term that includes natural language processing and machine learning) is set to become far more influential when it comes to deciding where to go on holiday, buy a house or which estate agent to use.
Analysts at Gartner predict that 20 per cent of citizens in developed nations will use artificial intelligence assistants to help them with everyday, operational tasks by the year 2020. Millions of consumers are already enjoying the benefits of using voice-activated devices. In the UK, Ofcom reports that 13 per cent of households use an AI-driven smart speaker such as Amazon Alexa.
The growth of consumer-facing AI solutions is putting greater power in the hands of the customer contemplating the purchase of goods and services. He or she can interrogate the solution and rapidly get a comprehensive picture of what is available, and where and what other consumers think.
In response, consumer-facing businesses will have to optimise their entire operations by integrating data such as internal sales and customer records, competitive intelligence, trend analysis and social media preferences. Instead of keeping all the data in separate departmental pools, they will need to bring it together in a data lake where it can be analysed. Then they can create customer profiles or personas to provide hyper-personalised services, recommendations and updates that are intensely relevant to what individual consumers want.
How consumer reviews are a major source of insight
Amid all this innovation, customer sentiment can easily be overlooked as a vital source of insight. Every day millions of customers leave opinions about every aspect of buying, receiving and using services and products. Smart, AI-powered, highly agile customer insight platforms are using this source material to give consumers rapid access to the accumulated wisdom of thousands of real fellow-customers.
AI filters out the particular aspect of the product or service that most interests an individual consumer just as easily as it can provide an accurate insight into what customers feel and think about a product or service. This is a very potent consumer tool. Research1 among 2,000 UK consumers conducted this year found that 94 per cent of respondents now turn to online reviews before buying products or services.
Consumers have rapid access to the information they want
AI will rapidly analyse the information to keep consumers informed in real time. Take a national double-glazing company, as one example. Customers in Bedford may suddenly have started experiencing difficulty obtaining quotes or find installation is shoddy, whereas customers of the business elsewhere in the country are happy. If you live in Bedford that information is likely to be critical to your choice of supplier.
Equally, two retailers selling the same model of fridge may generate very different levels of satisfaction in their respective sets of customers. Consumers can quickly drill down and find if these problems are serious enough to affect whether they go ahead and buy a new appliance with a specific retailer. Gone are the days of relying simply on word-of-mouth.
In the travel industry, AI-powered smart insight platforms give the millions of consumers contemplating a weekend away or a month in the Maldives, the ability to extract key information from thousands of reviews. That could be about any aspect of a holiday, from whether a hotel is suitable for their age group or a villa genuinely has disabled access. The power is at the fingertips of the consumer.
Smart insights are also transforming the service sector
The same forces are at work in the service sector. Smart insight platforms provide job-seekers with accurate and up-to-the-minute feedback on how agencies and individual recruitment consultants perform. Candidates can see for themselves whether an agency is suited to their needs, relying on information that comes from real clients and which is delivered by a reputable platform operating nationally across multiple industries. They are more likely to put their faith in such information than in the opinions of a limited number of relatives and friends.
Businesses must obtain even smarter insights
In myriad ways, AI will hand power back to the consumer, enabling them to make smarter decisions more quickly than ever. To respond, any customer-facing business will need the ability to detect trends in sentiment and how they relate to specific aspects of their products or services. Research has found that while 78 per cent of businesses monitor the “voice of the consumer”, less than a quarter feel they have access to the insights they need to transform their organisation.
All businesses and professional services organisations must embrace the necessity of using AI-powered platforms to obtain the customer insight necessary for major competitive advantage. From supply chain managers to online helpdesks and store assistants, access to this information in real time enables everyone to excel in a more demanding market where consumers use AI applications to shape their decisions.