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Trust & human connection key brand differentiators in the AI era

A changing world is shaking up customer expectations, putting pressure on brands to step up. Even amidst rising costs, customers seek engagement that goes beyond mere transactions — specifically personalised experiences that match their evolving priorities.

80% of customers emphasise that the overall experience a company provides is equally important as the products and services they provide. 47% of customers say they are willing to pay extra for better customer service.

This is according to Salesforce’s latest State of Connected Customer report, a survey of 14,300 consumers and business buyers worldwide to discover how macroeconomic trends are reshaping customer expectations and behaviours, and evolving sentiment towards emerging technologies like generative artificial intelligence (AI).

Although these innovations promise to elevate their experiences, the report finds that customers are wary of potential risk. To navigate this moment, it’s imperative that companies differentiate their technology strategies, grounding them in trust and human connection.

Personalisation gives brands the edge

Personalization is a tenet of modern customer engagement. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of customers assert that they expect companies to adapt and evolve alongside their ever-changing requirements. Yet, most customers feel companies treat them as a number, rather than as a unique individual.

Technological breakthroughs like generative AI can help businesses scale support and personalization, by analysing vast amounts of data to identify patterns in customer behaviour, preferences, and feedback. But as innovations accelerate, customers’ standards may rise further. 81% of customers expect faster service as technology advances, and 73% expect better personalisation.

At the same time, customers demand a mindful approach to their data. They recognize the critical role that data plays in delivering such experiences and have grown increasingly protective of it. 80% of customers say customer experiences should be better considering all the data companies collect.

Companies have opportunities to earn back customer trust, for example, by providing a clear explanation around how data is used, and by collecting first-party data directly from their own platforms rather than sourcing third-party data from data brokers.

The customer engagement playbook is evolving

With customer service a key differentiator, brands are prompted to prioritise consistency, efficiency, and a human touch.

The significance of delivering a cohesive customer experience cannot be overstated. Customers expect one company 74% of customers expect to be able to do anything online that they can do in-person or over the phone – yet over half experience multiple departments; a sense of disjointed interactions rather than unified engagement.

Customers also expect companies to anticipate their needs and provide proactive assistance, yet such service is rare, leaving customers feeling that the quality of service they receive is left to chance. When it comes to simple tasks, investing in convenience can help — for instance, in self-service tools like account portals, FAQs, and chatbots.

At the same time, it’s important that such tools are implemented thoughtfully. Poor self-service experience can deter customers from using the service again, creating more onus on support employees.

With nearly half of customers willing to pay extra for better customer service, human connection and instant responsiveness is especially prized by customers; a competitive differentiator. The value of human touch in an AI era is clear.

The need for trust

While business buyers and frontline employees see generative AI’s potential to improve customer experiences, ethical and safety concerns are prevalent.

Customers are concerned about the societal impact of AI, fearing the introduction of biases and unintended consequences.Customers still place more trust in humans than AI, with only 37% believing AI can match human accuracy.

To combat this scepticism, companies can focus on communicating transparently how AI is used, and making clear that their employees — not technology — are in the driver’s seat.

One solution is to have a human in the loop to check AI outputs for quality and accuracy, creating a system that capitalises on the speed and personalization of AI but is factual and accurate by human standards. 80% of customers say it’s important for a human to validate the output of AI.

As companies increasingly integrate AI across their business, customers are grappling with concerns around responsible use of the technology. Transparency is the foundation of deepening trust, ensuring customers receive the personalised and safe experiences they expect.