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AI: The Importance of Being a “Butler’, not a Stalker”

10 min read
Author Business Systems UK
Date Oct 23, 2023
Category Customer Experience

Over the next 10 years, AI will become a more and more important part of our lives. But for AI to be successful, companies need to use it in a way that is helpful and not creepy.

Dr. Nicola Millard, BT’s Principal Innovation Partner, calls this the “butler, not stalker” analogy. Butlers are nice to have because they anticipate our needs. Stalkers, on the other hand, are creepy.

The businesses that will succeed in the future are the ones that understand how to use AI like a butler. They will use AI to personalize the customer experience, but they will never cross the line into creepy territory.

Here is a step-by-step guide that brands can use to get their customers used to being spoken to by AI.

Begin with Personalisation

The first step in using AI to communicate with your customers is to personalise the experience. A butler anticipates your needs based on what they know about you, and AI can do the same.

But brands need to start assembling the tools to do this well now. Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies means that companies need to focus on collecting first-party data. This will make it harder for many companies to personalise the customer experience, but it will also give an advantage to companies that are doing it right.

Customers don’t like it when they can’t see the link between the information that companies have about them and the actions that companies take. A recent study found that 76% of consumers become frustrated when brands suddenly appear to them because they’ve searched for those brands online. And 83% of consumers believe that their data will be more private when web browsers stop using tracking cookies.

All of this suggests that we are returning to a more familiar environment, where the companies that know their customers the best are the ones that perform the best. If you can use what your customers tell you about themselves to offer a better experience, then you can lead the way in customer service in your sector.

For example, in the UK, food and clothes retailer M&S recently acquired fashion app Thread, which uses AI to suggest items to its customers. This creates the experience of having a personal shopper. M&S will be able to add Thread’s technology to its website, so that customers can see the link between the products they’ve shown interest in and the ones that are recommended to them. This will help M&S to offer a butler-like personalised service, without making customers feel like the company is stalking them.

Utilise Proactive Communication

Once your customers are used to a personalised experience on your website, you can start proactively communicating with them. This means sending them messages that are relevant to their needs and interests, on the channels they prefer.

But it’s important to be careful not to cross the line into stalking territory. Your AI should only send messages that are valuable to the customer, such as information about deliveries or changes to their order.

You should also personalise the tone and style of your messages based on the customer’s preferences. For example, some customers may prefer emojis and casual language, while others may prefer a more professional tone.

Advanced AI can help you to do all of this but analysing customer’s data to learn their preferences, and then use this information to send tailored messages.

Provide the Customer with What They Want Before They Want It

Once you have earned your customers’ trust and collected enough data about them, you can start predicting their needs. This is the next step in providing a personalised customer experience, but it’s important to be careful not to cross the line into stalking territory.

Prediction can take different forms in different sectors. For example, banks can use AI to predict fraudulent transactions and protect their customers more quickly. Retailers can use AI to identify customers who buy all of their new products on the first week of launch and ensure that they don’t miss out on future launches.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is creating new possibilities for predictive customer service. For example, on a cruise ship, an individual’s food allergies and preferences could be shared throughout the different dining areas. Within a few days of being on board, the ship’s AI could learn the individual’s eating habits and make suggestions. Telcos can also use predictive customer service to identify customers who are likely to upgrade their plans and offer them deals before their contracts expire.

Predictive customer service is a key area of focus for brands that want to become the leading butler in their sector.

Being a Butler, not a Stalker

AI can be a powerful tool for businesses, but it’s important to use it in a way that customers trust and appreciate. Here are some tips:

  • Use only data that customers have given you.
  • Don’t use AI just to make more money. Let customers feel the benefit of AI.
  • Personalize your messages to each customer.
  • Review and analyse your AI initiatives to make sure customers are still comfortable.
  • If something feels creepy, it probably is.

By following these tips, you can use AI to improve your customer experience and build trust with your customers.

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