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PHOTO: Charles Deluvio

Only 10 years ago, artificial intelligence (AI) was just a lofty concept for consumers, appearing in pop culture references or fleeting news stories. Today, it pervades every corner of life, from Siri on our iPhones, to smart home security systems, to the recommended products in our Amazon feed. Everywhere we look, AI has become part of our daily processes — and as we live, learn and work from home amidst the pandemic, this has only accelerated. It’s safe to say that AI is no longer just a novel concept; it’s a convenience we've come to expect in day-to-day life.

What’s interesting to me is that, in customer care, the benefits of AI are not quite so widely welcomed. In fact, consumers often view AI as a barrier to attaining the support they seek. And this isn’t a huge surprise. Compared to flashy direct-to-consumer applications, like autonomous vehicles or smart TVs, applications of AI in business — chatbots, virtual assistants and others — are often interpreted as a tool for businesses to minimize and deflect customer complaints, rather than support them.

It’s time for marketers to flip the narrative and show consumers that AI is not just another obstacle in their customer service journey, but rather a touchpoint in a frictionless end-to-end experience. Here are three best practices for marketing AI-powered experiences that consumers will welcome:

1. Don’t Just Throw AI Out There. Provide Context

One of the biggest problems with AI in business today is that brands use the term as a catch-all phrase. Yes, “AI” often grabs attention. It can also help position a company at the forefront of technological innovation. But ultimately, the term means very little to consumers unless they can understand how AI is specifically being used to support their needs and goals.

Right now, AI can manage inquiries at a retail brand by accessing order history through the phone number from which the customer is calling. At the same time, AI can help a collections agency negotiate optimal payment plans for customers based on their unique financial circumstances.

The value of AI applications varies drastically in different contexts. Marketers should make it clear to consumers why AI is the best solution for a customer’s specific pain point, whether it's saving time with easy access to order history or eliminating the need to interact with human agents on touchy financial subjects. By clearly outlining how the technology is working to serve them, consumers will ultimately lean into it for support and convenience.

Related Article: Where AI Customer Experience Investments Are Paying Off

2. Emphasize Sophistication, Not Automation

Today, the narrative around AI in business often relates to the automation of repetitive tasks. While AI certainly helps to streamline processes, the technology has moved far beyond mere automation. Marketers need to make it clear to consumers that AI is here to deepen relationships between brands and customers, not take away the human touch.

For instance, with advancements in data analytics or conversational AI technologies — natural language processing (NLP), automated speech recognition, deep neural networks — brands can now offer more personalized support with data-driven insights or mimic human-like conversation flow. It’s important to note that not all AI is created equal. The level of sophistication serves as a key differentiator in whether consumers view your technology as a bridge or as a barrier.

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit AI’s Limitations

While AI can provide consumers with more seamless, enjoyable experiences, the technology still has a long way to go before it can run without bumps in the road. Marketers should be transparent about the limitations of AI — recognize where AI falls short and how the company is working to improve the technology over time.

For example, if humans are working on the backend of the solution to correct mistakes or monitor quality, brands should make this clear to consumers from the get-go. By acknowledging that AI is supported by human knowledge and is continuously learning to better meet demand, consumers will be far more likely to see AI as a tool, rather than a frustrating hindrance. Transparency will not only set appropriate expectations, but will also foster deeper trust between brands and customers.

Consumer comfort with AI in business requires thoughtful effort every step of the way, especially when the tangible benefits aren’t as clearly spelled out as they are in consumer applications. By leaning into context, sophistication and transparency, your company is sure to market powerful experiences that will keep your customer coming back for more.