Finding the Person in Personalization

How AI helps you create more empathetic experiences.

Fred Rogers, creator and host of the beloved Mister Rogers television program for children, did something unheard of in the early days of TV. He talked directly to children — millions of them, every weekday, all across the U.S. — about the things they really cared about. He let them know they were special and that they mattered. But he never simply said “Hey kids!” He spoke one-on-one, as if every child watching were the only one in that living room with him. Over the years, Fred Rogers had a profound impact on everyone he reached. Why? Because he truly understood his audience. He showed them respect. And most of all, he empathized with them.

Fast-forward 50 years, and it’s exactly what marketing needs to be today. In fact, it’s no longer optional to deliver content that’s highly personal and relevant. It’s a must. Your competitors are providing it and your customers are demanding it. They’re even willing to opt in for it. Yet they’re frustrated that despite all of the data being collected, it’s not being used to create more personal experiences.

Most companies struggle to do the following:

Source: Adobe

Rob McLaughlin, head of digital analytics at telecommunications company Sky UK, says all companies using data must work in the best interests of their customers and use it to create better experiences. “When customers do choose to share their data with us, we end up with a huge resource of information on who our clients are and what their interests might be,” says McLaughlin. “In those cases, I think it’s disrespectful if we don’t use the data to help improve our relationships.”

Companies that ignore this advice will pay the price. Irrelevant experiences can easily turn away customers. And bad experiences are just as costly. According to a report by Accenture, U.S. companies lose $1.6 trillion each year from customers switching brands due to bad experiences.

“Be as loyal to me as I am to you.”

Participant in a customer engagement survey by ERDM VoC Research Innovators

The good news is that artificial intelligence can help. While it might seem counterintuitive, AI makes it easier to empathize with your customers, communicate with them one-on-one, and anticipate and deliver what they want. AI can help you discover the people behind all the data — allowing you to connect with them through deeply personal, relevant, and engaging experiences.

“I think artificial intelligence as a whole allows companies to put the customer at the center…. I really see one of the gateway uses of AI being customer excellence throughout the organization — really understanding the customer, bringing those insights to bear in everything you do, from designing products to thinking through the customer lifecycle….

As companies and brands continually get used to the amount of data as customers reach out to them, being able to use that data throughout the ecosystem — we now have that power. And it can really transform things. It can really change your organization to someone who is putting the customer first.”

Catherine Havasi
Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder, Luminoso

Finding empathy in the algorithms

Despite the surge in online transactions, an overwhelming majority of people still prefer human interactions. That’s why it’s imperative to humanize your digital experiences. This means going beyond content based on gender, age, or location. You have to listen to what your customers are saying through their actions. And then respond in ways that show you relate.

83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings Source: Accenture.

The reality is, you can’t deliver millions of unique experiences custom-designed from the ground up. But with the help of AI, you can make your experiences feel unique to each person. Take Stitchfix, for example, who sends personalized clothing choices to millions of customers. Although they had created personas, by the time they had sent millions of “fixes” and started mining their data, they found there wasn’t a single segment that represented even one percent of their customers. Every single fix was unique. So while their human stylists play an important role in understanding what their customers want, the algorithms do what humans never could, which is to search through tens of thousands of images to find just the right pieces for every individual customer. That’s the power of AI.

But never underestimate the power of the human touch, too. A few days after a Stitchfix customer told her stylist she needed clothes for London, a Frommer’s “Guide to London” arrived in her mailbox. When you can surprise and delight your customers in very personal ways, you keep them coming back.

“When you think about empathy, and its definition, it’s really about trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To understand what they’re going through. That’s what we should all be trying to do as brands — connecting with our human being customers. We all want empathy in every aspect of our lives. And it shouldn’t be any different when it comes to the brands we spend money on.”

Kevin Lindsay,
Director of Product Marketing, Adobe

Listen. Respond. Repeat.

Customers want truly delightful experiences. Here’s how to deliver:

Man and machine — a formidable team

AI allows you to personalize experiences at a speed and scope that’s never been possible until now. That’s because it performs millions of calculations in an instant. Then, through machine learning, it builds on what it already knows, anticipating and encouraging actions that provide a higher level of value to customers. It does what humans can’t — and without human error.

“Digital can seem really inhuman,” says Drew Burns, group product marketing manager at Adobe. “Try to view it as if you were a store client, and the clerk knows you’ve been in several times and knows your patterns. Or a server in restaurant who knows that on Thursdays you always want lamb chops.” He explains that AI understands the context of each customer and what they’re looking for, seeing connections between things and determining what they’ll like because of their prior patterns. And it’s doing it for thousands or millions of customers at once — analyzing massive amounts of data in real time, identifying patterns and anomalies, and focusing on finding the data that matters, while excluding the data that doesn’t.

AI then uses this information to make decisions about what content to deliver, when to deliver it, and to whom it should be delivered, so that the digital experiences you create are automatically and instantly personalized for each customer.

And those experiences can be anywhere. Sky UK uses the power of AI to personalize the experience for each of their 22 million sports programming customers — including connecting callers to the right person in their call centers. This empowers those on the front line to better understand their customers so they can better serve their needs.

“In our contact center, we specifically use machine learning to pick out the right human to speak to a specific customer — based on a whole variety of attributes, such as their position in the lifecycle, their product holding, where they live, the success of previous engagements….That is artificial intelligence making humans better.”

Rob McLaughlin
Head of Digital Analytics, Sky UK

When AI makes humans better, you’ve tapped into the real power of the technology — to deliver more empathetic experiences. The key is to pay attention to what your customers are telling you. When you do, you create a smoother path to their desired destination. And also to your own, whether it’s higher conversions, retention rates, or loyalty in your brand.

Boosting the intelligence of AI

Artificial intelligence is an incredibly powerful tool for creating more meaningful connections with your customers. But to maximize its benefits, you also need a strong data and analytics foundation, effective targeting capabilities, and checks and balances to ensure you don’t go too far with personalization.

Customer data and analytics

Companies have more data than ever, but because so much of it exists in silos, they don’t have a holistic picture of each customer. An integrated analytics solution that digs into all first-, second-, and third-party data gathers important insights across all departments and channels to give you the big picture about what matters, and just as importantly, what doesn’t.

“AI is a neutral observer that takes all of the different data points and weighs them equally against each other. CRM data, loyalty scores, age, gender, purchase history — those could be weighted equally against technographic, behavioral data (what device they’re on, where they live, the time of day, even the weather),” says Jason Hickey, senior product marketing manager at Adobe. “Then it surfaces interesting combinations of behaviors or traits we might not have thought to combine. Like loyalty scores and time of day.”

In other words, the technology picks up things we as humans might miss. Finds relationships we can’t see. And eliminates many of the human biases inherent in doing it manually.

Effective targeting and optimization capabilities

When you have the ability to test your content, optimize it, and deliver experiences based on the results, you’ll tap into one of AI’s most powerful features. That’s because AI automates a lot of the processes and helps make decisions for you — from conducting experiments to surfacing the best-performing content for each audience to delivering highly targeted, personalized experiences and recommendations. All in real time.

But you can’t assume all of the decisions that AI makes are spot-on. It’s important to test them against other strategies to prove ROI or to avoid the pitfalls of going too far with your personalization efforts. For example, you might test automated personalization against manual personalization. Or no personalization at all. Thanks to AI, the process is no longer prohibitively time-consuming.

Checks and balance

Personalization is very personal. For some people, you can’t go far enough. For others, it’s easy to cross the line. That’s why it’s important to continually gather feedback, test, and optimize. And above all, respect your customers and act on the explicit and implicit feedback they’re constantly giving you.

If customers no longer want to participate, give them a way to opt out. When you find a tactic isn’t working or if you’ve gone too far, pay attention to their actions, like dropping off or abandoning carts. AI responds to direct signals, such as lower engagement or conversion rates, and surfaces them to you. Your job is to listen and respond.

Remember, you’re looking for a mutually beneficial relationship. For you, it’s one that drives your KPIs higher and increases engagement, conversions, revenue, and loyalty. For your customers, it’s one that makes it easier to find what they want, reduces anxiety about getting the best offer, and makes them feel appreciated and welcomed. It’s personal, one-to-one, and empathetic.

Augmenting our ability to connect

“As we’re increasingly becoming more and more technology obsessed, many business leaders have come to the false conclusion that technology should lead their brands. Nothing could be further from the truth — the role of technology should be to amplify the human dimensions.”

Martin Lindstrom
Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

AI allows us to truly understand our customers and to empathize with what they want and desire. Yet as powerful as the technology is, the models are only as good as the offers or experiences that are put into them. We will always need human creativity to understand the nuances of the market and to create great products, content, and experiences.

A while back, social media went crazy when pregnant women started receiving Gilt onesies shortly before their due dates. The company had discovered that women tend to share their excitement about expecting, so they created a model that empowered their reps to send the surprise packages late in the third trimester. The buzz this created did more to endear Gilt customers to the brand than they could have ever hoped for — because it was thoughtful, creative, and unexpected.

This is artificial intelligence at its best — using its power to amplify human ingenuity. To create deeply personal relationships with our customers. And to make them feel important — like they’re the only ones in the room.

Adobe can help

Adobe Experience Cloud can help you create the kinds of personal, relevant, and engaging experiences your customers demand. Adobe Target, Adobe Experience Manager, and Adobe Analytics are powered by Adobe Sensei, an AI and machine learning framework that enhances recommendations, improves targeting, optimizes content, and automates the delivery of highly personalized, empathetic experiences.

Learn how these solutions can help you create experiences your customers will love.

Adobe Sensei

Adobe Sensei is the technology that delivers the artificial intelligence and machine learning features across all Adobe products. The open framework helps you work smarter and faster to create customer experiences that are intuitive, empathetic, and in the moment.