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Artificial intelligence is a controversial topic in the technology world. While some argue that it brings with it a host of potential dangers, others say that it can make the world safer, easier, and more efficient. While both sides of the argument have merit, there is no denying that A.I. is here to stay, and will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on tech startups. However, for now there are still some things that A.I. can't improve upon.

In this guest blog post, Designli CEO/Co-Founder and friend of the Founder Institute Keith Shields describes what founders will still have to do on their own that A.I. can't.

In 2012, Gartner predicted that the CMO’s IT budget would exceed the CIO’s IT budget by 2017. It looks like it's on schedule to happen. AI technology is transforming marketing. It can now predict which customers will need a special offer in order to convert and then target those offers only to those individuals. It can determine what content is most likely to bring a customer back to a website based on historical data and deliver appropriate retargeted ads automatically to each individual. It can send emails that appear to be from a company employee to a prospect who downloaded something from a site and craft follow-up emails based on that individual’s continuing behavior and responses. The value of technology to marketers is at an all-time high.

What can’t AI do? Computers are not sentient beings. While they can collect data, analyze it, and apply it in many new ways, computers cannot yet replicate human empathy and emotion. It still takes real human-to-human interaction to give customers an extraordinary experience that makes them want to return and spread the word about their experience with others.

AI technology is valuable, but marketers need to take care to use it appropriately (for gathering, analyzing, and applying data), rather than relying on it to do what only humans can do. When it comes to empathy and emotion, you’ll need smart people on your team who understand how to connect and communicate. Interestingly, this essential need for human interaction gives startups and small teams an advantage, since smaller teams are more agile and can more easily implement the techniques involved.

Memory and Emotion Impact Experience

Humans have selective memory. People (with some exceptions) remember only certain elements of any given event. Typically, what they remember are the exceptional moments — either positive or negative. And from those exceptional moments, people feel emotions that they connect with the event. Those positive or negative memories, along with the accompanying emotion, shape their experience of the event. Even if the majority of the event was neutral, if it contains one exceptional positive moment, people will experience it as positive overall. On the other hand, one exceptional negative moment can doom an otherwise fine event.

The task of marketers and CX teams is to make sure that interactions with their brands contain at least one exceptional positive moment — from how consumers experience their ads, all the way through the buying process, to ongoing customer service engagements. Team members should always be asking, “How does the customer feel about this?”

Empathy Is the Key to Positive Experiences

How can companies deliver positive experiences when consumers want personalization, and no customer is exactly the same? Empathy is the magic wand that transforms experiences.

Psychologists tell us that the desire to be understood is basic human need. This need goes so deep that some experts go as far as to say that feeling understood is a prerequisite for our other desires to be satisfyingly fulfilled. When companies can effectively deliver empathy in each customer experience, there’s a strong chance that the customer will label the experience a positive one.

Empathy requires emotional intelligence. Team members who are customer-facing should have the ability to read emotion and analyze what the emotion calls for in response. This is where AI falls short, and why humans are essential to the process.

How to Use Empathy to Transform Experiences

What does empathy look like, practically? And how can marketers and CX teams infuse experiences with empathy? Here are a few ideas.

  • Take the time to do in-depth persona research to understand your audience’s wants, needs, and grievances. Without a true understanding, impactful empathy isn’t possible.

  • Segment your audience so that you can target your messaging and offers by segment.

  • Personalize. Match your messaging to your audience’s specific desires, values, and pain points. The key here is specificity — no one will believe that you truly understand if your messaging is vague or tries to be all-encompassing.

  • Use photography and video that’s reflective of your target personas in social media posts and ads, rather than visuals that feature stock models.

  • Ask team members to listen carefully to each customer to understand their priorities, then be sure to address the customer’s needs in order of priority.

  • In negative situations, have team members use empathetic phrases like, “I can understand how frustrating it is when…,” and “I can imagine how upsetting it is to….”

  • Give team members the freedom to take ownership of problems to solve them.

Empathy comes from a real understanding of another person. Make it your team’s mission to always be seeking to better understand your target personas, and schedule regular brainstorm sessions to come up with new ideas on how to infuse your customer experiences with empathy. As your empathy grows, your customers will feel the positivity, and you’ll see a positive business impact as a result.

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