3 ways to improve the customer experience with AI and personalization

If you could overhear your potential customers as they browse around and search for items on your ecommerce site, what might they be saying — or, well, maybe muttering about — along their customer journey?

These aren’t the greatest search results.

I wonder what accessories I should buy with this.

I wonder if they have an AR app that would show me whether this top flatters my figure.

This chatbot is a dunce; maybe I’ll try a different site.

Before I hit Buy, should I look at similar items?

Hmm; not exactly positive customer feedback in terms of interacting with your product information (and, if applicable, your customer support).

If you’re like lots of online retailers, when it comes to satisfying your customer needs by providing an A-rated customer experience, there’s probably room for improvement. There are so many ways a visit to your site — and engagement within your greater omnichannel experience — could be derailed at various touchpoints and end up as a wholly bad customer experience. And again, if you’re like other ecommerce merchants, you’re probably kind of overwhelmed by the challenges of effectively meeting your customer expectations.

63% of execs find personalization challenging

You’ve undoubtedly heard about AI and personalized experiences being the solution to almost anything that ails your site, but those seem like grand initiatives. And indeed, says Gartner, 63% of digital marketing executives admit that they struggle to offer personalization. Even fewer — 17% — are using AI and machine learning broadly with their marketing.

That may be the dismal case, but considering that 60% of consumers (according to Twilio) are likely to become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience, it’s still worth pushing forward, would you agree?

But where would you start in this new quest to help customers? Your team may not have the deep pockets of Amazon or Walmart; you don’t have gobs of money lying around for updating your website design or doing a deep dive and intensive follow-up with your team members, which does manage to ensure happy customers and loyal customers by improving your user experience, but, unfortunately, also drains the entirety of your cash reserves.

Fair enough.

The good news, though, is your decision on where to start improving your customer experience could actually be pretty easy.

Start with search

At Algolia, we recommend starting by taking a hard look at the quality of your on-site search. If your customers have complained about it, that’s your answer. Here’s the plan: Integrate AI with your search functionality so your shoppers can instantly find what they need, as they’re expecting based on enjoyable forays they’ve had on other retailers’ sites.

Why is this a solid, customer-focused differentiator of a strategy?

Simple: job 1 is to quickly help your shoppers access what they want. And then, instead of bumbling around and wasting time, they can focus on considering any personalized suggestions and move closer to checking out. And of course, that quicker customer engagement with what people actually need can translate into a positive customer experience that generates higher sales and better metrics — a win-win all around.

We know from experience that improving your site search can take care of many pain points lower down the customer-satisfaction chain. Then you can fix the smaller-bad-experience stuff as it crops up.

For instance, if you start applying AI in your search, your chatbot (if you have one or plan to get one) should provide better search content by association, making your pages feel more customer-centric. If people can quickly find the item they want using your lightning-fast, accurate search, they’ll have time to consider your recommendations and upsell ideas.

“The fields of search and customer experience are now inextricably linked,” notes Search Engine Land. You aren’t Google or Amazon, but that doesn’t mean your site’s a lost cause. You can still give your shoppers or subscribers fantastic search.

Ready to start streamlining your search customer experience? Here are three tried-and-true steps:

1. Optimize for mobile

The mobile market has been blazing hot for a while: more shoppers use their smartphones than their desktop computers, and 67% of ecommerce store visitors come from mobile devices. And this trend is only accelerating as new technologies are integrated.

According to Deloitte, by 2025, thanks in part to social media being easily accessible on phones, 75% of the world’s population will be using augmented reality (AR) — “the next form of mobile engagement that is exciting consumers”.

Despite that projection, many companies have yet to clean up issues with their mobile experiences (think slow response times and clunky interfaces that work on a website but are a disaster on a phone screen).

You can’t afford to lose your customers to a bad mobile experience, so don’t be one of these companies. For mobile, make sure there are no glitches and that your page-load times are fast. When you implement search that works well on all mobile devices, your users will be able to:

  • Quickly find what they need while they’re on the go
  • Zero in on local search results (e.g., “Where’s good pizza near me?”)
  • Seamlessly use voice search

2. Improve discovery experiences

You’re probably aware that a high percentage of people (43%, according to Forrester) go straight to the search box when they land on a website or open an app. But what about the ones who don’t? You know, those prospective buyers who don’t quite know what they want yet, or they prefer to just browse around and check out the latest new thing and what’s gone on sale. And some people browse first to get ideas, and then maybe head to the search box, or go back and forth.

The point is that you want to make sure all your shoppers’ item-finding routes are covered, which means complementing your first-rate search with excellent-quality content discovery.

How, exactly, would you do this? As customers browse, you can present dynamic AI-powered recommendations that encourage them to explore an expanded set of options tailored for their interests.

Algolia creates 1:1 personalized marketing experiences for each customer by allowing exploration of inventory through navigation and recommendations. For example, if a shopper:

  • Needs to buy a blender but the brand they prefer is out of stock, AI could suggest alternative highly rated brands
  • Adds a blouse to their shopping cart, the AI might suggest complementary jewelry
  • Is looking at buying a computer, they can be shown cross-sell items such as software and laptop bags

Like a helpful human sales assistant, AI personalization can help keep browsing people on track through the entire customer journey, whether or not they get to the search box.

3. Make personalized recommendations through a chatbot

It’s safe to say that a self-service chatbot probably isn’t going to make an emotional connection with your customers. But a chatbot also should not be just tolerable functionality lurking in the lower right-hand corner of the screen in case of a customer-service emergency. Employing a seemingly warm and friendly, AI-“educated” bot is a proven way to make real-time suggestions that facilitate customer loyalty. Which is why AI-powered chatbots — intelligent virtual assistants as opposed to simply earlier generation assistants — are ever more popular in ecommerce, with an estimated market share of $454.8 million by 2027.

If a chatbot’s customer interactions prove helpful, the shopper may seek out its reliable advice time and again. That means not only a good customer experience but potentially better retention, raising your conversion rate, and a higher customer lifetime value. An AI-chatbot has the potential to transform any ecommerce site into a 1:1 personalized shopping experience.


How to improve your customer experience

Whether your prospective customers are searching, browsing, or switching back and forth, there are tons of ways to raise your game and subsequently bump up your ROI with a great customer experience. That may still sound a bit overwhelming, but you now have a concrete way to start down the road to online retail success.

Want details on these winning strategies? Here at Algolia, we’d love to suggest specific ways to give your customer experience a makeover. If you have a sec, we’d be happy to provide a personalized demo of how Algolia might help with your use case.

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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