AI Strategies for Building a Holistic View of Customers

Leaders across all types of customer-facing teams have differing priorities when it comes to the customer experience (CX) they deliver. But they also share several that make collaboration imperative.

Senior executives from commerce to customer service to marketing and other functions are all addressing the need to provide personalised CX across the end-to-end journey — and want to expand their use of artificial intelligence (AI) to do so. With this comes a need to focus on data security, streamline operations and processes that improve CX, and target better business outcomes.

This was evident throughout the sessions at Salesforce Connections 2024 in May in Chicago. Speakers discussed what it means to serve customers in today’s “choice economy,” where customers expect choice across products, services and interaction channels. These industry experts shared strategies for building a 360-degree view of the customer to enable personalisation across those channels.

Speakers also discussed how to keep customer experience-focused AI use cases simple — to garner the quick wins that propel further innovation and experimentation. And they emphasised that it’s important for CX leaders to educate themselves on AI and data strategy, so they can have more informed conversations with their C-suite about the technology. This will also facilitate conversations about the potential ROI of investing in AI for customer engagement.

Three areas key points stood out:

  1. The personalisation imperative
  2. The value of customer data
  3. The opportunity of generative AI

Let’s dig into these three areas to better understand how to expand your use of AI.

Personalised Service Experiences Are Where Brands Will Win

Nearly three-quarters of consumers expect better personalisation as technology advances, the Salesforce “State of Customer Service” report finds. The type of personalisation consumers prefer most, according to Genesys research, is getting the service they need in their channel of choice when they want it. These findings signify the importance of journey management and orchestrating personalised end-to-end journeys, noted several speakers.

Experts also cited the value of taking an omnichannel approach in experience orchestration — ensuring that an organisation’s underlying data and technology are connected across channels. This allows the context of customers’ interactions to move with them along their journeys, eliminating the need for customers to repeat themselves — a frustrating aspect of bad customer service. And this connectivity is crucial because 79% of consumers expect consistency across departments. One-third say they get so frustrated by repeating themselves that they want to scream or vow never to do business with that company again, the Genesys research finds.

The Salesforce research finds that disjointed experiences are consumers’ No. 1 source of frustration when interacting with brands. At the same time, 95% of decision-makers report that integration is a top challenge of AI implementations. A lack of integration can inhibit an organisation’s ability to deliver seamless journeys.

Data Opens Doors

Delivering the personalisation consumers expect starts with data. Speakers stressed the need for data to power journey management and enable experience orchestration. They also recommended that organisations use data to match identities and align them across systems to deliver more contextually relevant and personalised customer experiences.

Over time, some speakers noted, CX teams can evolve from using data for next-best-action recommendations in real time to next-best experiences. Instead of a suggestion for just one follow-on action, organisations will be able to use data and AI to design and orchestrate full journeys in real time.

Some speakers recommended casting a wide net to pull data from a variety of sources that would support most of their proposed use cases for omnichannel experiences, especially AI-powered ones. Others suggested starting with just the data needed for any initial use cases and expanding from there. But all speakers emphasised the importance of creating organization-wide rules for data alignment, governance, quality and security, as well as building guardrails to avoid data leakage.

Speakers also cited several data-related challenges. Disconnected technology solutions and divisions that work independently can cause fragmented experiences that erode a customers’ trust in an organisation. Cross-functional collaboration and staff alignment can help bridge functional silos — and a cloud-based CX platform enables a business to bridge its data across channels and functions.

Copilots: A Starting Point with Generative AI

Most every discussion about data strategy at the conference led to a conversation about AI in general — and generative AI in particular.

In their AI evolution, many companies have been using predictive AI solutions for some time; a growing number are adopting generative AI tools. But in the not-too-distant future, it’s predicted that more autonomous AI will simplify self-service and make agents more productive and effective. Further along the AI evolution path, companies will weave the technology into most experience-related operations.

Much of the excitement around AI was focused on copilots and how they can assist customers and agents quickly and effectively to complete tasks, find information and more. Speakers talked about moving beyond basic chatbots to a future where AI-powered assistants can service customers in nearly the same way an in-store associate would. Many consumers would welcome this: 61% say they’d rather use self-service for simple issues, the Salesforce research found. Currently, about three-quarters of service organisations provide a service chatbot.

In the future, speakers posited, AI will provide “democratised insights,” by not only answering questions, but also by suggesting what other questions to ask. This will be especially valuable in data analysis and uncovering insights to act on.

That doesn’t mean using AI will always be intuitive. Speakers asserted that CX leaders across functions will need to train their staff on new skills like creating AI prompts. Many also recommended implementing training to ensure that everyone in their organisation has at least a basic understanding of AI.

With all the excitement came cautions. Speakers stressed the importance of data security, as well as guardrails to protect against bias and toxicity in AI-powered communications, content and recommendations.

6 Tips for Moving Forward with AI

One thing is clear: It’s time to move customer experience from manual support to generative experiences — and from static processes across disparate platforms to AI-powered flows across connected channels.

Speakers offered these six tips for progressing on your AI journey and gaining a competitive advantage:

  1. Gain organisational alignment around CX strategy, as well as the supporting data and AI strategy and use.
  2. Select initial use cases that build buy-in and momentum for future projects.
  3. Conduct controlled pilots to test use cases and build confidence.
  4. Identify and share success metrics to track progress and illustrate ROI and other benefits.
  5. Create a 360-degree view of the customer to enable personalised experiences across the end-to-end customer journey.
  6. Think big, start small and move fast to gain quick wins you can build on and show value as you iterate and evolve.

Poor service is the No. 1 reason customers stop purchasing from a brand, the Salesforce research finds. Additionally, Genesys research finds that consumers will switch brands after five or fewer poor experiences; one-third stopped doing business with a brand after a negative experience in the past year.

It’s time for CX leaders to evolve their experience strategies to ensure they can continue to meet customers’ ever-evolving expectations and provide positive experiences — and before they’re too far behind competitors to catch up.

Ready to see where AI can add value to your customer experience? Read “How to build your business case for AI” and to learn where to focus your AI efforts to achieve results and continue on your CX transformation.