How CMOs Envision AI in the Customer Experience

Author: Meghann York, Senior Director Product Marketing at Salesforce 

“It’s set to be as big or bigger than the advent of the internet,” said Sarah Fay, Managing Director, Glasswing Ventures.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Fay and other marketers know they need to get on board. In fact, more than half of marketers (51%) already use AI on at least a limited basis.

AI is already ubiquitous. Fay mentions examples of AI that are already ingrained in our daily lives:

“When you do a Google search and it automatically fills in the longer phrase, they’re using AI technology to understand your behavior and understand aggregate behavior. Facebook recognizes the faces of your friends when you post a photo. It asks if you want to tag them. How does it know that? That’s AI. And we’re talking to our devices. Amazon Echo and Google Now are big items this holiday season. This is just the beginning.”

As AI becomes more and more common, it’s obvious it’s is here to stay, and it’s redefining how marketers can deliver great customer experiences.

How do marketers use AI to enhance the customer experience?

AI is making its way into marketing departments across the world, and some marketers are starting to see that they can’t function without it. In fact, “57% of marketers using AI say it’s absolutely or very essential in helping their company create 1-to-1 marketing experiences across every touchpoint,” according to Salesforce’s fourth annual “State of Marketing” report.

Marketers personalize content, create journeys, leverage lookalike audience modeling, deliver dynamic product recommendations, score leads, and more — all with the power of AI. Fifty-nine percent of marketing leaders predict AI will have a transformational or substantial impact on their teams’ abilities to be more productive, manage digital assets, generate better business insights, and analyze campaign metrics.

For all of AI’s promise and power, it can be difficult to use and implement properly. Amit Shah, CMO,, said marketers first need to ask the right questions to position themselves to use AI successfully. “What are the set of decisions and competencies we are building up that leads to us dealing with [AI]?”

David Parker, Global Content Marketing and Digital Technology, Kimberly-Clark, said, “It’s very challenging for most marketing organizations and brands, because the width and the depth of [AI’s] capability.”

Marketers have this amazing technology, but because its capabilities are so powerful, there are obstacles in the way of using AI effectively. In fact, only 16% of business executives say they’ve completely defined processes for embedding AI analysis into their business, according to “The AI Revolution” research by Salesforce.

In short, marketers need to have a plan of attack that focuses AI’s potential. They can’t just unleash AI on their marketing challenges and expect to create better customer experiences. Instead, marketers need to pinpoint key datasets first, and use AI to uncover patterns and anomalies, which will lead to better decisions.

Alicia Hatch, CMO, Deloitte Digital, added that AI is “only as good as the data inputs that go into it.” AI isn’t a readymade solution; marketers have a decision-making role to play in its setup, implementation, and refinement. On this topic, Scott McAllister, SVP of Digital Transformation, Comcast Cable, said, “What I’ve learned is you have to direct AI at very specific use cases. If you just throw it at a massive set of data and expect to get some sort of sense of sensibility, you’re probably going to be left unhappy in the process.”

Not only will marketers be left unhappy, so too will their customers. Customer expectations these days are so high and so fragile, marketers have a big responsibility to understand the interplay between their customers and AI. In part, we can credit advances in AI for changes in customer expectations.

How does AI influence customer expectations?

We know that customers expect personalized experiences, and if they don’t get them from one company, they’ll find another company who can provide them.

Not only do consumers want personalized experiences, but they also want easy ones. AI has conditioned them to expect such effortlessness.

“[AI] just makes life a little easier,” said Fay. “The brand experience is going to become a much different experience for consumers, and expectations are going to soar.”

With high expectations comes changing behaviors, too, said Ronalee Zarate-Bayani, Head of Global Integrated Marketing & Digital Advancement at The Hershey Company. “What we need as consumers today,” Zarate-Bayani said, “Is greater convenience, ease of user experience — we’re all time-strapped — and AI is going to be a key driver of providing that convenience.”

It’s no surprise that consumers expect personalized, easy, convenient experiences. As smart buyers, we’re empowered by technology. We’re also, in many ways, conditioned by technology. Just think about how the internet affects how we do business, how we buy products, and how we interact with one another. In the mid ’90s and early 2000s, that new technology was changing our expectations. Now, our expectations are naturally high. We’ve realized how much easier and more convenient our experiences can be, so we’ve come to expect them to always be easy.

Fay touches on our behavior, and how the internet has built the foundation for future gains in AI. “Once behavior starts to change, and people recognize the benefits of technology, it never goes backwards. [AI is] seeping into our lives in a way that wasn’t possible before. Now, the infrastructure is there, so people are interacting with AI technologies and hardly even recognizing that they are.” Even when consumers recognize that they’re interacting with AI, they’re still willing to engage with it because a better, smoother experience is worth it.

AI is part of our daily lives because it’s making things easier. It’s making experiences better. However, AI can be limited by the quality of data that marketers have available. That data doesn’t always represent consumer emotions, another consideration for the future of AI.

How could AI leverage customer emotion?

Marketers think they know everything about their consumers — where the customers are in the buying cycle; when they’re most likely to convert; and how they engage with touchpoints across email, mobile, social, web, and apps. But right now, even though AI can measure predictors of consumer sentiment, it still falls short in understanding a consumer’s emotional state.

Fay said, “I think AI has the ability to understand the emotional drivers of what people really are looking for.”

Right now AI can measure and make predictions based on behavior. In the future, it also could have the ability to understand, and even predict consumer emotions. This touches on the number one issue that top marketers are already wondering about: privacy of information.

While AI offers such an amazing opportunity for marketers, it also presents a larger responsibility to protect consumer data, while still using it to create better customer experiences.

Fay said that AI “is the next big wave of value creation through technology,” and marketers would do well to keep that point in mind. Using AI is about creating value. If marketers eventually have access to data that hints at consumer emotions, they’re on the hook for making it valuable for their customers.

According to the “State of the Connected Customer” report, customers are open to sharing data if it means getting a better, more valuable experience. For example, 52% of consumers will share their personal data to enhance the product recommendations they receive, and 59% will share data to make their purchasing experience simpler.

Hatch, CMO of Deloitte, also touches on what it means for marketers to have access to such personal data. “I think that AI is going to just be a powerhouse as it converges with IoT. Once AI can tell me about the heat in my hand — what that means as I’m holding my phone, interacting with a piece of content, or the pheromones I release. Those are the real indicators for marketers. So as machines can learn those patterns, that’s when it’s going to get really, really interesting for marketing.”

Hatch admits machines can only learn those patterns as we offer more datasets to analyze and use. The collection of emotional data is still in its infancy. AI is sure to continue proving its worth in creating better, more seamless customer experiences, and it’s already a staple in so many marketing strategies. As McAllister said, though, “We’re in the very early days on this one, but it’s truly going to change the world.”

We’ll have to wait and see.

Don’t miss Meghann York, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Salesforce, and Todd James, Senior Vice President, Workplace Analytics & Insights at Fidelity Investments, at our Marketing Technology Summit 4.0, AI and the Connected Customer: Activating the Opportunities for Businesses and Brands on Friday, November 16. Register today!

Originally published on the Salesforce blog and republished with permission.

Read more from Meghann on the Salesforce blog.