Consumer Perception in The Age of AI | by Osaruonamen Jeffery | Sep, 2021

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Osaruonamen Jeffery

A lot depends on it

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Whatever class of the economy you belong to, at best, you’re a consumer, one way or another. The impulses that go into decision-making as consumers sift through endless choices of goods, products, services, and offerings are anything but simple. Thanks to AI, consumers have been ushered into a life that is an endless stream of those impulses that come with virtually every choice to be made.

With consumers, there is no shortage of varying perspectives when it comes to how goods, products, services, and offerings are perceived based on the level of AI deployment and use. When it comes to being a consumer of any sort in the age of AI, perception is a strong force in choices and decisions, and brands must pay serious attention to it.

Some studies show that consumers are likely to accept the limitations they perceive from using an AI-based consumer journey when it is built with considerations of personalized content, interfaces, and experiences. Also, consumers tend to care less if they perceive that the service prioritizes security and know that they can access additional, human support on-demand.

Consumers prefer human-only interactions in some cases, and AI-only in others. Consumers prefer AI-only experiences more in the research/pre-purchase stage of their journey, but they are less preferred during the post-purchase/after-sales support stages of their journey. Whatever the case and stakes, consumers generally prefer experiences that combine both human elements with AI systems. They do so with the preferred expectation that they can connect to a human element on-demand.

While consumers welcome AI systems that offer human-like services, they are most likely to be put off by AI systems that physically appear like a human, more than it offers human-like services and experiences. This concept is known as the uncanny valley phenomenon.

In a survey of 10,000 consumers from 10 countries, Capgemini found that 52% of consumers do not like human-like physical features in a machine or robot.

A perspective-defining factor in customer perception is knowledge, and proper understanding of intents. They both help to establish a stance of brand trustworthiness. Consumers may try out what they are not so sure of, out of curiosity, but they will not always stick to what they don’t really understand, and more so when it comes to AI, with the concerns surrounding ethical foundations in its applications.

Trust is something very difficult to gain and very easy to lose. But a classic way of gaining trust, with AI interactions in particular, can be summarized in three words: transparency, accountability, and empowerment. That means transparency so that people can see what you are doing; accountability because you take responsibility for what you are doing; empowerment because you put people in charge to tell you if something you did was not right or not good.

– Luciano Floridi

Director of Digital Ethics Lab, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Another concern that affects how consumers see AI brands is their experience. CX concerns are success determinants of both human and AI-based services and products. In both AI and human-centered approaches, consumers always welcome and appreciate tangible experiences, while seeking solutions to their problems.

In April 2020, Capgemini surveyed a global pool of over 5,000 business customers and over 1,000 business leaders. The results show that nearly half of consumers (46%) will patronize a company where AI is delivered with good customer experiences, and in doing so, they spend 14% more they would otherwise spend.

While some consumers may be open to, and happy to use products, services, and offerings that rely on AI, this favorable perception is largely limited to use cases that appeal to their interests and making their lives better.

Ipsos polled over 1,000 Australians and found that 41% of Australians would happily consume AI-powered products and services as long as it makes their lives better; 37% would not.

Brands leverage AI in different ways to provide robust and personalized experiences to consumers. Use cases range from automated marketing to personalized product guides and buyer experiences. An accurate measure of the impact of such AI-powered, single customer experiences may not be feasible. However, these experiences create a brand-wide perception that is an aggregation of experiences across various points of deployment.

Across its various contact points, for example, a fashion brand may deploy AI-based services to generate its intended customer experiences. A smart social community bot may be deployed as part of its customer engagement strategies to drive on-demand and trending conversations that align with the identity of its target consumers.

Also, across its marketing channels, AI-driven marketing optimization and smart marketing analytics solutions may be leveraged to optimize its customer journey and nurturing cycle.

The brand may also deploy an AI-based fashion personality that can provide personalized services and try-on experiences across its online stores and social communities.

Each of these contact experiences on its own cannot deliver its target experiences to the entire target market due to individual customer engagement preferences, variations in points of deployment, among other factors. However, by maintaining a consistent and experience-focused strategy across these contact points, a certain perception can be propagated to the target market.

There is still a lot of priorities to be set to improve how customers perceive a brand on the basis of AI adoption and implementation. A significant portion of consumers is still only slightly satisfied or unsatisfied with the value they receive from AI experiences.

Customer-facing AI solutions should not be treated like just another project motivated solely by RoI and numbers. Failure to recognize and act on this will ultimately lead to unfavorable perception, distrust, and low reception or patronage, all of which are not good for any brand in any way.

Brands should note the following in building, implementing, and rolling out AI-enabled services, products, and offerings:

  1. Ensure that consumers are aware when they are being served by AI. Help them understand what they are interacting with by providing sufficient information on its transparency, accountability, and trustworthiness.

66% of consumers want to be made aware when they are interacting with AI, according to Capgemini’s global survey of 10,000 consumers.

2. Prioritize consumer-centric experiences. This may seem like the most likely and obvious thing for any brand to do. But, according to Capgemini’s survey results (shown below), things are not exactly as they seem.

Only 10% of organizations consider the impact on consumer experiences when implementing AI solutions.

3. Offer a blend of AI and human-backed solutions with the provision that consumers can access human services on-demand.

55% of consumers prefer experiences that are enabled by humans and AI.

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