AI in the Digital Customer Journey: From Awareness to Aftercare
During the first half of 2023, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved into a widely available tool, enabling nearly all businesses and individuals to utilize its potential for enhancing productivity. Beyond work efficiency, what other capabilities does AI facilitate? What opportunities does it present for you in digital marketing and communication, specifically concerning the creation and optimization of digital customer journeys? The purpose of this article is to provoke thoughts on this subject and delve into ways you can employ AI.
In this article, I will go through the typical five-stage digital customer journey, primarily from the viewpoint of a B2B organization. Nevertheless, many of these considerations remain applicable to B2C entities as well.
1. Awareness stage
A standard scenario within this stage involves users gaining awareness of a company or its products/services through search engines, social media, industry events, or other marketing channels. The company's objective is to ensure its product or service is found in the relevant places and in connection with relevant search terms.
Artificial Intelligence can be utilized for optimizing search engine rankings and visibility of a website by leveraging AI-enhanced content creation, keyword optimization, and metadata augmentation for images and other content materials. AI algorithms can analyze the content of a website and provide recommendations for enhancing keywords, titles, and meta-descriptions.
Leveraging AI's image recognition technology, alternative text (alt-text) for images can be automatically generated by analyzing their content, thereby easily extending these visual elements into the realm of search engine optimization.
Besides search engine marketing, AI can be utilized in digital marketing campaigns. Numerous companies have already succeeded in executing such campaigns. For example, Coca Cola's "Real Magic" and ING bank's "Future Me" campaigns creatively utilize AI as a cornerstone in building customer experience and conveying marketing messages.
Viewed from a strategic standpoint, all activities aimed at building awareness through digital channels inevitably influence users' perceptions of the brand. Here we can use AI-powered sentiment analysis to gain insights to users' real brand perceptions based on comments and discussions on social media and other platforms. This provides businesses with the opportunity to grasp their brand image more objectively, and if necessary, tweak strategies to reshape these perceptions.
2. Discovery stage
Typically, at this stage, users visit a website and begin searching for available information and materials. The company's goal is to ensure that the site serves the customer as intuitively as possible, and that the information users seek is quickly and easily found.
While chatbots have become a common feature in web services, the advent of Conversational AI has upgraded their functionality and style to an unprecedented degree. Anyone who has interacted with ChatGPT can attest to its ability to answer queries in a human-like conversational manner. Now, similar high-quality assistance can be delivered to website users, aiding among others in site navigation and various functionalities.
To further humanize the user experience, virtual assistants can be deployed. Through dialogue, they enhance user engagement. The creation of realistic virtual avatars for user interaction is now possible. These avatar characters can be modeled either on AI-generated fictitious individuals or on a company's own customer representatives. With the inclusion of speech recognition features, these interactions could even more closely emulate real conversations.
AI-based content categorization and search functionalities can aid users in promptly identifying relevant information and resources on a web service. With AI-powered image and video analysis, it is possible to automatically identify objects, which extends the scope of categorization, search functions, and recommendations to include also visual content.
Today, considerations of accessibility are a fundamental aspect in the development of modern web services. This inclusivity ensures that web service content is accessible to a diverse range of user groups, including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. Furthermore, accessibility considerations influence how content is presented, making it easily understandable and usable for all users. For instance, a site optimized for various reading devices will present information about products and services in a format that can be efficiently vocalized by text-to-speech tools or translated into multiple languages.
AI can considerably enhance the implementation of web service accessibility and usability. For example, AI can analyze a website for accessibility, compare it to guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and provide improvement suggestions to address identified issues.
Voice recognition and speech-to-text features facilitate navigation, voice search, and form completion by dictation for users with visual impairments or motor limitations. However, voice-based site usage or conversation with a virtual assistant can also be advantageous for other users.
Built-in text-to-speech features in various devices enable the narration of website content, making the site more accessible for visually impaired or dyslexic users. This use case can be further enhanced with AI. AI-based image recognition can analyze the content of images and automatically generate text descriptions (alt-text), thereby extending assistive features to visual content as well.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) can be used to simplify website content by summarizing complex text or creating more straightforward explanations. This supports cognitive accessibility and makes the content more accessible to users with limited language skills.
Regardless of the use case, the web service can be automatically adjusted based on the analysis of users' actual behavior. Modifications can be made to aspects like site layout, font sizes, colors, and other elements, to deliver a personalized user experience.
3. Consideration and Comparison stage
In this stage, users typically familiarize themselves with and evaluate products/services, compare them to competitors, and evaluate additional value they could introduce to their organization. The company's objective is to ensure that desired information is readily available and presented comprehensively and professionally.
Artificial Intelligence can be leveraged to analyze visitor behavior and preferences, enabling the implementation of personalization and individual automatic recommendations for other site content. The simplest method involves embedding these recommendations into web pages using separate add-ons that gather user data, scan content, and consequently deliver personalized content recommendations. But with new AI tools, it is also becoming increasingly effortless to auto-create completely personalized pages featuring content that appeals to specific customers. This is made possible by Headless CMS solutions in conjunction with Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) architecture. Here, content is saved in its raw format, and different content sets are delivered in a device-specific format for users. By using AI to choose the pieces of content for each user based on their online behavior, a personalized user experience is achieved. This is already reality in large ecommerce-sites such as Amazon and content-sites such as Netflix, but with new affordable tools this is becoming more feasible for other companies as well. It is important to remember privacy concerns when implementing these solutions.
AI can significantly aid content creators. A striking example is the creation of new content where AI can add substantial value. AI can generate initial drafts of blog posts, product descriptions, and social media content. Although these may not be the final versions, they serve as a base that can be refined into a polished version with some editing. If there is a need for images, AI will be happy to help in generating them as well. Once the final version is prepared, AI can assist in reviewing the material, suggesting corrections, or optimizing the text for search engines. If multilingual versions of the texts are required, AI-based language translation can jumpstart the translation process. Many publishing systems are now offering such content creation enhancement features.
Besides using AI to create new content or optimize current content, AI can be used to enrich content that is brought to the web solution from external sources. When either importing large content volumes to the web service, or bringing data continuously through integrations, it is important to format the data to fit into the web solution and enrich it with appropriate metadata for website search, categorization, and search engine optimization. For instance, AI can aid in this process by automatically creating product pages, generating missing introductory texts, producing text descriptions for image-based content, and appending the required metadata.
4. Interaction and Conversion stage
Typically, in this stage, a user interacts with the website and express interest in products/services and transitions into a qualified lead, or in an e-commerce context, makes a purchase. The company's objective is to facilitate user interaction with the business in relevant contexts, aiming to generate high-quality leads by identifying high-potential users or possibly to facilitate direct transactions.
AI-driven chatbots or virtual assistants can enhance online customer service, and by extension, customer experience, by assisting customers in identifying suitable solutions through engaging conversation. This concept was discussed in detail in section 2.
AI can optimize the effectiveness of interactions and conversions through automated A/B testing to determine the best-performing versions of the website layout, the positioning and content of CTA elements, lead form content, or navigation structure. AI not only aids in creating diverse test options but also conducts the testing and proposes adjustments based on the test outcomes.
AI-based predictive analytics can discern user habits and recommend relevant materials, webinars, or other content to promote user interaction. Marketing automation can bolster lead generation, where AI can assist both in creating diverse content required for marketing automation and in designing and optimizing nurturing campaigns. AI can be utilized in email marketing automation, dispatching personalized content based on site interactions. AI-based lead scoring can prioritize leads based on site interactions, allowing the sales team to concentrate their follow-up actions on the most promising customers.
In an e-commerce environment, AI can enable dynamic pricing and personalized discounts. For delivery tracking and related support, a chatbot can aid the customer. On the downside, AI can help identify potential security threats and suspicious behavior, contributing to the security of the interactions.
Sentiment analysis of feedback and reviews left by customers aids in understanding customer sentiments. AI can also analyze vast user data to discern behavior trends and potential issues. AI-based services can integrate data from sources like Google Analytics, subsequently extracting trends and recurrent patterns from the data to provide automated action recommendations based on the analysis. The analysis can also help identify new keywords for the search engine optimization of the web service.
5. Aftercare and Engagement stage
In this stage, users have purchased a product or service and transitioned into customers. They may require support for the product or service from the website, search for maintenance or support services, and explore possible additional services or products. The company's objective is to ensure customer satisfaction by offering high-quality support for the product or service while also proposing additional services or products to further engage the customer.
AI-based conversational guides and virtual advisors continue to play a pivotal role in this stage, assisting users in optimizing their usage of the purchased product or service. These automated support services reduce the need for manual customer assistance and are always conveniently available.
AI can facilitate personalized content and recommendations, engaging the user further and promoting upselling. AI can be utilized to engage users with personalized email marketing, which is created based on the user's behavior, interactions, and purchase history on the website.
AI also aids in analyzing the usage patterns of support services, providing insights for the company to identify common challenges and develop support services accordingly. This analysis can also identify users who could potentially provide reviews or testimonials about the product or service.
AI can be employed to analyze and segment customer data, providing valuable insights for enhancing customer relationships and upselling opportunities. These insights can also support company management in making more informed strategic decisions.
A broad array of affordable AI-based tools are already at our disposal, capable of optimizing the digital customer journey and thus enhancing the digital customer experience. Some particularly effective solutions exist for improving customer service and making information retrieval from a website more efficient.
For some businesses, these AI technologies provide more efficient methods of task execution, while for others, they open opportunities to engage in operations that were previously economically unfeasible.
The extensive use of AI is only in its early stages, with new tools emerging daily, and no one knows what entirely new possibilities will open. However, market dynamics ensure that if a function can be refined or made more efficient, offering a competitive advantage, a company will soon adopt that improvement. Hence, it's important to start exploring AI solutions, to consider what these could mean for your business, and to build capabilities to experiment with AI's potential.
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