How trusted generative AI can improve the connected customer experience
Most people are concerned about the implications of generative AI on data security, ethics, and bias. In fact, 81% of customers want a human to be in the loop, reviewing and validating generative AI outputs.
Although evolving technologies like generative AI promise to elevate their experiences, customers are wary of the risks involved, according to the sixth edition of Salesforce's State of the Connected Customer report -- a survey of 11,000 consumers and 3,300 business buyers worldwide.
In the latest research from Salesforce, rising costs and shifting priorities have customers rethinking their relationships with brands. Meanwhile, companies are feeling pressure to increase efficiency. Here is the executive summary of the State of Connected Customer 2023 report:
A changing world shakes up customer expectations. Economic and technological shifts are changing customer priorities, behaviors, and expectations. The pressure is on for brands to step up. Eighty-one percent of customers expect faster service as technology advances.
The customer engagement playbook evolves. Customers have revealed the recipe for companies to earn their loyalty: consistency, efficiency, and a human touch. Seventy-nine percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments.
The trust gap widens as AI goes mainstream. Brands are turning to generative AI to boost efficiency while improving customer engagement. Customers -- wary of the technology risks -- demand a thoughtful approach built on trust. Eighty percent of customers say it's important for humans to validate AI's outputs.
Here are 12 important statistics and key trends from the report:
Customer experience matters: Eighty percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.
Customers are switching brands for better deals (72%), product quality (55%), product availability (41%), product selection (41%) and changing needs/expectations (39%).
Personalization gives brands a favorability boost: Personalization is a tenet of modern customer engagement, as almost 66% of customers say they expect companies to adapt experiences to match their changing needs and preferences.
The better the customer data, the better the engagement quality: Technological breakthroughs like generative AI can help businesses scale support and personalization, and are further raising customers' standards: Eighty-one percent of customers expect faster service as technology advances, and 73% expect better personalization. The more data customers provide, the better an experience they expect.
The online experience must match the in-person experience: Seventy-four percent of customers expect to be able to do anything online that they can do in person or by phone.
On average, business buyers engage with companies across 10 channels, and 71% of customers prefer different channels depending on context.
Business buyers expect more from brands: Sixty-three percent of business buyers say most customer experiences fall short of what they know is possible.
B2B sales is harder now: B2B sales cycles have lengthened as the number of stakeholders grows and budgets come under scrutiny. Companies are focused on extracting maximum value from every purchase, and 69% of sales professionals say selling is increasingly difficult.
Customers expect self-service for simple tasks: Self-service tools do require thoughtful implementation, though. Case in point: Over two-thirds of customers won't use a company's chatbot again after just one negative experience. The report found that 72% of customers have used self-service portals, and 55% have used self-service chatbots.
The human touch is the differentiator: Nearly half of customers -- including three-fifths of millennials -- are willing to pay extra for better customer service, underscoring the importance of customer experience even in an age of price sensitivity. And speed matters: Seventy-seven percent of customers expect to interact with someone immediately when they contact a company.
Customer service determines customer advocacy: Companies that prioritize good customer service don't just grow their reputation -- they grow their business. Important fact: Eight-eight percent of customers say good customer service makes them more likely to purchase again.
Proactive service is rare and prized: Today, 53% of customers expect companies to anticipate their needs, and yet only 29% of business buyers say most companies address service issues proactively.
A deeper look into the widening trust gap as AI goes mainstream reveals that customers remain cautious. As companies focus on efficiency, generative AI promises time and resource savings by scaling content creation. Six in 10 desk workers use or plan to use generative AI.
The report revealed the importance of trust as a key driver for adoption of generative AI. While there is room for companies to improve trust across the board, one impactful area is ethical AI. Just over half of customers trust companies to use AI ethically.68% of customers say advances in AI make it more important for companies to be trustworthy.
Customers also stressed the importance of human touch in the AI era. A mere 37% of customers trust AI's outputs to be as accurate as those of an employee. Accordingly, 81% want a human to be in the loop, reviewing and validating those outputs.
In a recent survey of IT leaders, concerns around generative AI included security risks (79%), bias (73%), and its carbon footprint (71%). AI and automation underpin efficiency and innovation. Process automation is on the rise as businesses tighten their belts and seek efficiency boosts, while advances in AI prompt IT to determine how -- not if -- to responsibly propel their organizations forward. Eighty-six percent of IT leaders believe generative AI will have a prominent role in their organizations in the near future.
So how can companies prepare for the use of generative AI?
The report included AI trust and ethical use of software expert advice:
"It's always been important to collect quality data and ensure transparency and consent in the collection process. But it's not just about taking data in. It's also about what happens to that data once we have it. We protect the people whose information enables our AI models by ensuring their data is never left in a repository that can be easily breached or misused. Companies may need data as much as ever, but the best thing they can do to protect customers is to build methodologies that prioritize keeping that data -- and their customers' trust -- safe."
-- Paula Goldman, chief ethical and humane use officer, Salesforce
AI business adoption will be driven by trust and ethics. The State of Connected Customer report concludes by advising businesses to develop their AI strategies by focusing on customer priorities - trust, ethics, and responsible use of technology. "Transparency is the foundation of what customers want," the report notes. "Over half of customers say greater visibility into how AI is applied would boost their trust. Human validation of AI's outputs follows closely, just ahead of increased control of where and how AI is applied in their engagement -- such as opportunities to opt-out."
Consumers' #1 frustration with organizations is disconnected experiences. Poorly integrated technology and processes leave 55% of customers feeling like they generally engage with separate departments rather than holistically with one unified company. New technologies like generative trusted data and AI foundational models can help improve the connected customer experience. What matters most is delivering value at the speed of trust. To learn more about the research you can visit here.