AI is the key to connecting brands with customers in an empathetic way

By Chris Pennington

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Brands are beginning to see the need to incorporate emotional intelligence into the customer experience. It is crucial to implement automation in the sales, marketing and customer service industry while also finding ways to personalize an experience for a customer using empathy.

Studies show human empathy is on the decline – a deficit costing the average brand $300 million in lost revenue every year. Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) to help brands recognize opportunities to respond in an empathetic way are on the rise. 

Understanding the customer mindset really starts with brands truly connecting with their customers to effectively market, sell, and serve. Empathetic AI solutions are coming into the picture to compliment and empower sales, marketing, and service professionals on the customer front lines; these are helping to identify the customer’s emotional state and intent, enabling organizations to deliver a high-definition customer experience.

Emotional intelligence in business leads to outperformance 

Now more than ever, customers are seeking easy, effortless experiences that satisfy their current and future needs. In fact, how customers feel drives their purchasing habits, and some 86 percent will pay more for a great customer experience. This is where brand emotional intelligence plays a critical role. McKinsey recently referenced a study that evaluated 170 publicly traded companies on their empathic abilities and found that businesses with empathy within their culture, and toward the customer, will have a net positive benefit on their bottom line. The top ten leaders in empathy outperformed the bottom ten by two times on the stock market. 

Gartner agrees that companies that deploy empathy significantly outperform those that don’t, in terms of sales and profit. Designing an emotionally aware organisation is increasingly becoming a topic at the top of the board room agendas. 

The new route for CX success relies on empathy

Empathy is critical in the route to offering customers great experiences; however, empathy can be difficult to achieve without the right plan in place. According to Forrester, consumers are gravitating toward brands that emphasize people over profits. While nearly all businesses know the importance of showing customer empathy, most struggle to deliver it on a consistent basis.

Many organisations are prioritising humans and bots working together to bring out each other’s best capabilities by using AI to identify how customers feel, so customer-facing professionals can understand and respond in real-time. Today, AI-driven sentiment analysis capabilities are supercharging CRM functions such as sales, marketing, and service interactions with the power of knowing each customer and prospect’s emotional state and intent.

Paul Greenberg, President of the 56 Group, LLC and author of The Commonwealth of Self Interest: Business Success Through Customer Engagement, has written extensively about the business empathy imperative – the ability to understand what customers and employees are going through, along with the relevant context, and act accordingly. He states, “One of the highest callings of customer experience professionals and enabling technology platforms is helping customers via an understanding of their struggles and aspirations.”

By leveraging a combination of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI to surface next-level or next-best action for empathic customer engagement, AI solutions are becoming progressively good at using sentiment analysis capabilities to understand the customer better. Greenberg says, “AI-powered sentiment analysis weds customer voice and text to business action, providing every sales and service interaction with the means to account for customers’ emotional tone and attitude – context indispensable to supporting exceptional experiences.” In addition, business professionals can review sentiment data to evaluate overall customer experience and journey effectiveness – providing the means for continuous improvement in meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

The use of empathic AI solutions mimicking human empathy is visibly helping front-line employees who work directly with customers better understand and respond in context to the range and depth of customer behaviours and emotions to ultimately serve them better.

The recipe for success

The CX journey needs to be memorable and one that also recognizes and delivers on customers’ emotional needs. On many occasions, customers will wish for a self-serve interaction that is quick, easy and makes the best use of their time. However, at other times when there is a problem or they want to understand how a product or service will best meet their needs, they will want to be truly understood, felt and heard via a human connection. 

Currently, organisations are focusing on utilising AI to improve the customer experience by understanding and delivering on their needs. Customer-facing professionals can produce the right answers and outcomes quickly and confidently by using AI solutions. For the customer, this shows that their needs and emotional state are satisfied to help build authentic connections with customers that bodes well for continued loyalty.

Leveraging AI-powered solutions using sentiment analysis provides the critical insights businesses need to recognise customer emotions and deliver high-definition customer experience at scale.

This use of AI is becoming fundamental in the customer experience realm to boost customer satisfaction and improve the bottom line. While emotional intelligence can vary from one employee to another, with empathic AI capabilities, our own human emotional intelligence can be augmented and heightened to level up the overall emotional intelligence of the organisation. 

About the Author

As Chief Customer Officer for SugarCRM, Chris Pennington is responsible for the customer journey. He leads the global professional services and support business units to drive best-in-class customer satisfaction, retention, and reference ability.

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