Why you should see artificial intelligence as your top intern, rather than an Einstein

Kevin Walsh is artificial intelligence product group lead at HubSpot.

Personalisation is essential for high-quality customer experience. This means that contact points should always be timely and relevant. Services such as Netflix and Spotify have made personalisation an art. You always see songs that you like or the series that are ‘made for you’.

How do these companies get to know you so well? This personalisation is thanks to AI, which is crucial for services such as Netflix and Spotify. For them, AI means the difference between a customer who has to manually indicate that they like something and a platform that already knows what the customer is looking for.

AI ensures personalisation at the product level but, what about the rest of the customer journey? Will chatbots replace sales staff? Will writers no longer be needed thanks to artificial content genomes? Technology is not there yet, and consumers seem increasingly sceptical – research claims that around 86% of consumers still prefer to interact with a human than a chatbot. The customer experience should be frictionless but, above all, human. At a time when everything is becoming automated, customers increasingly need more personal contact.

Not a professor but an intern

To understand how AI helps with personalisation, we must first dispel a persistent myth about AI. With AI, you don’t get an Einstein to teach you how to do your job or to manage your sales funnel for you on your own. AI is no smarter than you. And it’s certainly not so smart that it writes top articles or closes enterprise sales. That’s because AI can only work with the data you enter. If data is missing, inconsistent or unstructured, the resulting models will be unreliable. Therefore, AI cannot (yet) create a decent article – there are too many uncertainties, too many ways to complete the project, and the criteria is still too vague for success.

So AI is not a genius. But it’s faster, more consistent and it doesn’t go on vacation. You can actually see AI as a super-reliable intern. It learns quickly, can do a lot with the right dates, but won’t take over the final responsibility for your business strategy that quickly.

Always the right data

So how does AI help you with personalisation? First, AI allows you to keep your data consistent, complete and structured. Spotify and Netflix are relatively easy to personalise. Songs and movies are strictly defined and the data is highly structured, allowing AI to make the right connections with user activity quickly. Commercial teams have a harder time – they work with many more types of data, spread over different tools, which are used for various purposes. And then that data has to be available and easily accessible – almost half of marketers say their data is siloed and hard to access, while a quarter claim they have either too much or not enough data.

AI helps marketers clean up and replenish data. They can remove or merge duplicate records, and even enriching records by extracting additional information from, LinkedIn or email signatures or by scanning business cards, for example. These are essential but time-consuming tasks that you can leave to AI. AI makes your data more consistent, your segmentation better, and your communication more relevant. Not to mention the time savings – if you have millions of records in your system, you’d literally spend thousands of years checking them all. AI does this in a matter of hours.

Advanced automation

AI also supports personalisation by making automation more advanced. A good example is adaptive page testing. Held up as the A/B testing of the future, instead of only testing two variants of a landing page and implementing a winner manually after a few weeks, the AI tests multiple variants at the same time. The best performing variants are continuously monitored and optmised based on website traffic, moving more and more towards the better performing options until one winner remains. This way, you lose fewer conversions during the test and your users get more relevant experience.

Chatbots are another example. In essence, many chatbots are ‘just’ decision trees that make choices based on user input from responses pre-filled by marketers. A well-implemented chatbot may not be a replacement for a person, but it can ensure that a customer can speak to a relevant person as quickly as possible, should there be a need for this. In this sense, chatbots facilitate human contact.

A more human experience

AI is not a panacea. It is, however, effective in relieving pressure on marketing teams. If marketers don’t invest in AI, it becomes more and more difficult for them to deliver a seamless experience to today’s savvy and demanding consumer. By automating data entry, ensuring data consistency and supporting personalised customer contact, marketers and sales professionals have the time to focus on delivering authentic customer experiences. And that’s how companies win the race.

Photo by Hannes Richter on Unsplash

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