Retaining the human touch in an AI driven world

Martin Häring, CMO at Finastra, discusses AI and the importance of retaining the human touch in B2B customer experience

Thanks to the proliferation of digital-first experiences available today, B2B customers are now coming to expect the same digitally-automated and efficient experiences they receive in their B2C interactions. We’re seeing this start to emerge in B2B, with some experimenting with digital assistants, chatbots or robo-advisors to guide customers along their purchasing journey. But while these technologies have their place in the customer experience, it’s essential that B2B firms still give their customers the opportunity to escalate complex issues or discussions to a human operator.

By retaining the option to choose human interactions, whether in the form of a video call or the ability to book appointments in person, businesses can keep a human element in their business and do a better job at creating customers for life.

The human touch vs the AI experience

A truly customer-centric approach demands that the customer is placed at the heart of everything. To achieve this, B2B firms should be utilising CRM systems to their full extent, recording details of all customer interactions across all channels. When assessing what part of their customer journey can be automated, B2B firms should never remove the input of their human advisors outright. The question shouldn’t be “Can AI and automation do it all?” but rather “Do we want it to do it all?” 

AI and automation should have a place in most businesses, and can deliver enormous benefits, but won’t be the solution to every customer engagement. B2B firms should first assess the value AI can add to the customer experience. For businesses with fewer customers, it may not be practical to automate customer interactions – and AI may be better applied in the back-office to alleviate data analysis tasks.

Those B2B firms that do choose to implement these technologies in the customer experience should prioritise reassuring their customers that a human advisor can be contacted any time they need one.  

This approach will be especially vital in the B2B space, where customer relationships are built upon trust, and on the basis that their best interests and business needs are being catered for. Moving forward, AI may become advanced enough to demonstrate this level of empathy – but right now businesses should seek to implement a combination of automated digital services working in cooperation with human advisors.

The data concern

Data collection is an important aspect of delivering a connected B2B customer experience, whether automated or via human advisors, but can be something businesses think will push their customers away.

In reality, it’s more likely that B2B customers will be loyal towards firms that understand their business and treat them uniquely. To deliver against this goal, it’s essential that B2B marketers are conversant with big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. At the same time, organizations must also ensure they treat customer data sensitively and securely in full compliance with data protection and privacy regulations to build trust and customer confidence long term.  

Years ago, no one thought digital payments would be successful – now they are widely adopted. The same is true for data sharing. Comfort levels will follow the more the benefits of giving data outweigh the risks.

The future of customer experience

Moving forward, it won’t just be the products and services a business delivers, but the overall customer experience that will be the critical differentiator for success. In a world where more and more things are becoming dematerialised, customers are less likely to go directly to unknown businesses for their products and more likely to go to providers that they already trust to give them the best convenience and experience. Using B2C as an example, think about the way the high street has been affected by Amazon, the hotel business by Airbnb or taxi firms by Uber. These companies themselves have dematerialised their respective industries and focus entirely on the digital experience they provide to their customers.

For B2B marketers to truly succeed in this CX-driven world, they must first ensure they have a solid customer strategy and then drive it from the top down. The best firms will use a combination of AI, data analytics and automation technologies to drive efficiencies in customer engagement, while also ensuring their customers have the choice to engage with real, trusted advisors whenever needed.

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