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The AI-enhanced CX: Agility for an uncertain future

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30-second summary:

  • In March 2020, market research firm IDC forecasted 2020 artificial intelligence (AI) spending to range from $48 billion, a 25% increase from 2019, to $50.7 billion, a 32% increase.
  • Demand for AI is showing resilience compared to other technologies in a post COVID-19 reality.
  • Here’s how AI is impacting three CX-focused business functions: marketing and customer engagement, sales execution and omnichannel customer service.

In March 2020, market research firm IDC forecasted 2020 artificial intelligence (AI) spending to range from $48 billion, a 25% increase from 2019, to $50.7 billion, a 32% increase.

While the second half of this year remains uncertain due to COVID-19, demand for AI seems to be showing resilience compared to other technologies.

As businesses work to identify the best approaches for how they can operate and succeed in a new reality, AI continues to play a critical role.

By automating repetitive tasks and finding patterns in large quantities of data, AI services have the potential to help organizations with everything from enhancing remote work and data processing to advancing patient care and powering workforce analytics.

But an area where the technology promises an even broader impact is in the customer experience (CX). With the exponential growth of data arises an opportunity for both B2B and B2C brands to utilize it along with AI to improve everyday experiences for customers.

AI impact in three CX-focused business functions

To deliver a top-notch experience, all customer-focused business units must join forces, including sales, customer service and marketing.

1) Marketing and customer engagement

To be successful, marketers need to simplify the buyer journey. While this is necessary in both B2B and B2C scenarios, it’s never been more important when interacting with consumers, whose purchasing habits have changed drastically as a result of the pandemic – especially on e-commerce channels.

Marketers can make the buying experience seamless by activating customer data and using AI to uncover patterns and surface new insights.

Two of the most high-impact use cases for AI in marketing are target account selection and lead nurture. For account selection, predictive analytics can be used to select the best set of target accounts based on their propensity to convert, allowing marketing teams to be laser-focused on the accounts where it matters most.

Additionally, AI-driven lead nurture and qualification can be applied across the breadth of customer interactions to further segment accounts according to interest, engagement and readiness to make a decision.

The end result of both strategies will improve the ROI of marketing efforts by increasing the relevance of engagement and focusing resources where they have the power to deliver the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.

2) Sales execution

The selling experience has become more complex than ever, driven in part by the rise of digital channels and the imperative of providing a highly personalized experience every time.

Today’s buyers are sophisticated and in control; they want a combination of products and services that fit their unique set of needs, are available on their preferred platform or channel and meet a desired price-point.

Lead-to-cash is one of the most important customer-centric processes in an organization – it starts with an intention to buy and ends with revenue recognition.

By integrating AI and big data into the process, organizations can make the experience more intelligent and enjoyable for the customer. AI and machine learning help transform sales teams from being reactive to proactive and intuitive to prescriptive.

Most importantly, these technologies can guide the sales journey from initial identification to customer acquisition and retention.

3) Omnichannel customer service and chatbots

Recent data found that 67% of consumers expect to directly message with businesses more over the next two years. And, in the wake of COVID-19, it’s likely that customers will want to interact with service leaders even more.

With this in mind, it has never been more important for brands to orchestrate seamless service to support customers throughout their entire journey, regardless of channel.

With that, organizations must strike the important balance between self-service and human interaction to deliver the most convenient experience possible. AI-powered chatbots are a valuable tool that can save businesses money while allowing customers to take care of minor issues on their own time.

It’s important to remember, though, that chatbots won’t perform as well if they try to understand everything; rather, they should be used to tackle a select number of topics such as invoice management, order tracking and account management.

In fact, research shows that chatbots are able to accelerate the handling of queries regarding invoice management by 2-3X.

And while chatbots can be a huge time saver, there are also many cases where a customer would prefer to speak with a live agent. For complicated issues, engaging live with a service agent is by far the fastest and easiest way to get things resolved.

Modern businesses should view chatbots not as a replacement for humans but rather as supplementing the human workforce to help their employees be as efficient as possible.

Deepen customer relationships with AI

As we look ahead to the future of business, AI and machine learning will be critical to staying agile and always keeping up with customers’ evolving needs.

Organizations must continue to prioritize their digital transformation to meet these needs and drive the customer experience forward.

More than ever, customers are looking to connect with the brands they engage with on a deeper level. With the right approach, AI has the potential to help businesses connect with their customers on a much more personal level.

Sven Feurer is Senior Director Product Engineering & Operations SAP Customer Experience at SAP SE. 

The post The AI-enhanced CX: Agility for an uncertain future appeared first on ClickZ.



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Marketing Strategies

25 Stats That Prove Why You Need Link-Building in Your SEO Strategy

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You probably already know how crucial SEO is for your website’s traffic.

One of the most important sub tactics within an SEO strategy is link-building. Not sure what this means? Here’s the quick explanation.

When websites link to your website, search algorithms determine that you have “authority” in  your industry because other brands are referring to you. The higher your authority gets, the better your search rankings could be. Additionally, linking to other posts within your site can also help to boost your authority as its a sign to algorithms that you’ve thoroughly covered a topic you’re discussing.

But, here’s where it gets a bit more tricky. When a more credible website, such as a notable publication with a high search ranking links to you, that link counts for more than an internal link or a link from a site with less search credibility. Also, if you link a blog post or page to a site with no or poor search authority, your ranking might go down because you aren’t linking to sources that search algorithms deem as credible.

These are just a few of the nuances that make link building difficult and time-consuming for many marketers. But, research shows that taking the time to build a solid link strategy can quickly boost your search rankings.

In fact, in 2019, most SEO experts said external links were one of the three most valuable aspects of their search optimization strategies. Meanwhile, 51% of marketers say they notice positive effects of general link building strategies within one to three months of executing on those tactics.

The above stats are just a taste of what link building can do for your web strategy. To help you understand the opportunities, challenges, common tactics, and costs behind successful link building, here are 25 helpful stats.

Link Building Opportunities and Challenges

  • Links are one of the top two criteria considered in Google’s page ranking algorithm. (Search Engine Land)
  • SEO experts say the third most important factor for search optimization is external linking. (Databox)
  • In the near future, 53% of marketers believe link building will have the same impact on search rankings, while 41% think it will have less of an impact. (Aira)
  • 52% of marketers believe brand mentions impact organic search rankings. (Aira)
  • In five years, 92% of marketers believe that links will still be ranking criteria in Google algorithms. (Aira)
  • 13% of search experts say link building is the most valuable SEO tactic. (Ascend)
  • 51% of marketers say it takes one to three months to see the impact of link-building efforts. (Aira)
  • In a study of web content, zero correlation between backlinks and social shares. (Backlinko)
  • 94% of the world’s content gets zero external links. (Backlinko)
  • Only 2.2% of content generates links from multiple websites. (Backlinko)
  • 41% of SEO experts consider link building to be the most difficult part of search optimization, (Ascend)
  • 65% of marketers measure their link quality by looking at their domain authority. Meanwhile, marketers also use domain ratings (48%) and page authority (36%) to determine link quality. (Aira)
  • If they could only choose one metric for studying link quality, 34% of marketers would look at domain authority while 22% would look at domain rating. (Aira)
  • 38% of marketers say page rankings are the top KPI they use to determine the effectiveness of their link-building efforts. (Aira)

Link Building Processes

  • 36% of businesses hire outside experts or freelancers for link building efforts. (Aira)
  • 48% of marketers report on “nofollow” links as part of their process. (Aira)
  • 42% of SEOs spend equal time on building internal and external links. (Databox)

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Link Building Costs

  • 46% of marketers spend $10,000 or more annually on link building, while 22% spend between $1,000 and $2,500. (Aira)
  • 61% of marketers say they use zero to ten percent of their total budget on link building.  (Aira)
  • It often costs brands $1,000 or more to gain a quality link. (Siege Media)
  • 41% of marketers expect the cost of link building to increase in the future. (Aira)

Common Link Building Tactics

  • 69% of marketers believe that buying links positively impacts search rankings. (Aira)
  • “Why” posts, “What” posts, and infographics received 25.8% more links compared to videos and “How-to” posts. (Backlinko)
  • Long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles. Therefore, long-form content appears to be ideal for backlink acquisition. (Backlinko)

long form blog content pulls in the highest amount of backlinks

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  • 51% of SEOs say bloggers should include two to three internal links in a blog post while 36% say three to five should be included. (Databox)

How to Embrace Link Building

As you can see from the stats above, link building can be crucial for search rankings, but can also be quite challenging. Luckily, there are a few simple strategies that you can take on immediately to help boost your site’s authority through links.

For example, you can include internal links in your blog posts and web content, publish original quotes or data that people will link to, or create a basic outreach strategy that allows you to share your newest posts. To learn more about how you can start or broaden your SEO strategy, check out this detailed link building guide.

Want to learn about other search optimization techniques and tools? You might also enjoy our Ultimate Guide to SEO.





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Now Is The Time To Find And Correct Your Digital Strategy Pitfalls

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/

/Every brand or enterprise is crafting and refining their digital strategy on a daily basis. However, especially in the world of B2B, companies fall into many of the same mistakes. 

According to a 2019 Forrester report, “44% of B2B buyers expect to do more than half of their work-related purchasing online in the next three years.” In the wake of COVID-19, that figure is probably even higher. It is crucial that marketers create engaging digital content, leveraging every digital touchpoint as an opportunity to build trust and strengthen relationships.

Marketers have access to more target audience research and data than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to avoid pitfalls. Let’s consider the consequential B2B marketing mistakes that companies are making, and demonstrate why a digital strategy audit is the solution.

Your Content Shouldn’t Reflect Your Organization Chart

 Too often, companies — particularly B2B enterprises — build their websites and digital assets around their internal organization structure rather than a customer’s needs. As an example, imagine you are a customer looking for a mop. You surf to a company’s website to buy a complete cleaning solution, but they have separate pages for mop handles and mop heads because they operate as separate divisions. Now you have to research the parts separately, figure out what you need and ensure they are compatible with one another. That’s not a huge ask for a mop, but imagine you are purchasing a complicated business system with hardware, software and a consultative service component.

Your Messaging Should Focus On The Customer, Not The Product

Companies often lead with the news of the capability or product they just launched, but prospects don’t come to your website for product announcements. They visit because they have a question or a problem. Your messaging should show people you understand that problem. This is a best practice for all marketers, but it is especially true for those marketing to developers, engineers and the C-suite. These audiences are highly skeptical of “marketing speak” and an overly product-forward content strategy will turn them off. Plus, leading with product makes your company seem uninterested in building strong audience bonds.

Don’t Overload One Area Of The Buyer Journey With Content But Neglect Others

Another mistake that is easy to overlook when you are inside the organization is creating content around some areas of the buyer journey, but not others. If your organization doesn’t have a healthy mix of content formats, you may be making this error. For example, you might have multiple white papers and blog articles that are relevant to a prospect comparing competitive solutions, but no video to share on social media to create brand awareness.

It is also common to create content for one audience segment but forget about other personas, or simply run out of time and resources. B2B purchasing decisions involve multiple decision-makers with different priorities and needs. A complete digital strategy needs to encompass all of them, which is part of what makes B2B marketing so challenging.

Don’t Overuse Jargon

Your existing customers know your lingo, but new ones may not. It is important that your messaging and content use natural language, rather than jargon, so it resonates with your audience. This may sound like a simple one, but it can be hard to catch yourself because you are accustomed to the company’s lexicon.

Why Now Is The Time For A Digital Assessment

The first step in fixing mistakes is finding them. Your company may have slowed or even stopped marketing initiatives in response to COVID-19, so use this time to audit your digital strategy.

There isn’t an industry on the planet that hasn’t been upended by the pandemic. Buying processes have changed overnight, so even if your company has managed to avoid these marketing traps, you still need to audit your strategy and update it to reflect the new normal.

A comprehensive review should include:

  • A content audit and effectiveness assessment;
  • A website CX health assessment;
  • A channel audit and effectiveness assessment;
  • A brand message assessment; and
  • An event strategy assessment.

The good news is an audit will likely uncover low-hanging fruit — low-effort/high-impact actions you can take to drive fast results for your company. Next, you can devise a plan for tackling the bigger initiatives.

Remember, as a B2B marketer, your goal is to build relationships with prospects and to lead them through their consideration journey, fostering trust every step of the way. The missteps above compromise your ability to do so. An audit kicks off the process of doing this right.


Greg Harbinson is the Senior Strategy Director at Centerline Digital, where he focuses his time on helping companies create messaging and experiences to better communicate with their customers. His work includes building messaging frameworks, defining the information architecture for websites, designing customer experience programs and helping companies understand the best ways to solve communication problems.



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To build customer loyalty during COVID-19, maximize interactions between transactions

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30-second summary:

  • To develop a true relationship with a consumer, brands will need to look beyond the point of sale (POS) to focus on the moments of engagement captured through the likes of social media interactions, feedback loops, customer service moments, content sharing, video connections and more.
  • Customers may re-evaluate their routines, which in essence is evaluating who they are loyal to. This may be driven by safety, convenience, online presence, etc. An economic recession always breaks old habits and remakes them anew. Layer on a health crisis like COVID-19, and then the threats to long-term loyalty skyrockets.
  • Right now, customers are dealing with many new experiences, such as working from home, wearing facemasks outside and cooking healthy meals for their families with limited supplies. Build a stronger emotional connection with customers by serving up content that supports these sometimes-difficult activities.
  • At a time when many people are struggling, offering customers wiggle room on return policies and other terms and conditions can surprise and delight—and convince customers that your brand is a keeper.
  • Supporting causes bigger than your company is a key element of reciprocity.

Most brands focus their marketing energy at driving transactions. From years of experience, they know how to nudge a customer down the sales funnel with a well-timed discount offer or well-placed retargeted ad. However, these techniques are not as effective during the COVID-19 crisis… and may not position them well as consumers return.

In order to protect long-term top-line revenue, brands need to look past short-term profits and focus more on lasting relationships.

To develop a true relationship with a consumer, brands will need to look beyond the point of sale (POS) to focus on the moments of engagement captured through the likes of social media interactions, feedback loops, customer service moments, content sharing, video connections and more.

One reason interacting at just the POS is not enough is simply that because transactions are fewer and further between during this time. With unemployment rates in the double digits, many customers simply do not have the discretionary funds they did before the pandemic.

Those who are still employed may feel anxiety about their financial security, as well as their emotional wellbeing. These feelings of stress and anxiety pose another challenge for brands during the pandemic.

Customers may re-evaluate their routines, which in essence is evaluating who they are loyal to. This may be driven by safety, convenience, online presence, etc. An economic recession always breaks old habits and remakes them anew. Layer on a health crisis like COVID-19, and then the threats to long-term loyalty skyrockets.

To weather the storm, your brand should address these emotions, not avoid them. Pivot your experience to create a human connection, not just a transactional one.

Address customers’ concerns and current situation through authentic engagement and meaningful interactions, and you will build loyalty that will have lasting impressions… long after COVID-19 passes. This pivot is key for most brands’ post-pandemic revival.

Three ways to drive emotional loyalty between the transaction during COVID-19

Three main emotions drive customer loyalty: the need for a habitual routine, a desire for status and feelings of reciprocity. As mentioned above, a crisis-situation will almost always disrupt consumer’s habits, and it usually makes them care less about status and exclusivity, too.

All this makes the notion of reciprocity ever so important. Customers right now are highly emotional and want to feel valued and heard by the brands they choose to engage and interact with.

They want brands to reflect their own values and priorities, and may even want the ability to contribute to a greater cause. This is one reason that socially conscious brands like Everlane and Patagonia took off after the last recession. They gave customers good reasons to stick around even during tough times.

Keep these principles in mind as you brainstorm ways to engage customers in between transactions during and after the pandemic:

1) Add value with non-sales content

Right now, customers are dealing with many new experiences, such as working from home, wearing facemasks outside and cooking healthy meals for their families with limited supplies.

Build a stronger emotional connection with customers by serving up content that supports these sometimes-difficult activities.

For example, Best Buy offered tips for setting up a home office rather than pushing computer sales. Share your helpful content via email, on social media or anywhere else you connect with your customers.

2) Make your policies flexible

At a time when many people are struggling, offering customers wiggle room on return policies and other terms and conditions can surprise and delight—and convince customers that your brand is a keeper.

For example, Marriott paused points expiration for its Bonvoy loyalty program, as well as adjusting the hotel chain’s cancellation policy to be more flexible during the pandemic.

Announcing policy changes is also a good excuse to reach out to customers to keep your band top of mind, without pushing a sale.

3) Find ways to give back to your community

Supporting causes bigger than your company is a key element of reciprocity.

For example, shoe brand Tom’s, a pioneer in this space, is donating one-third of its net profits to organizations on the front lines of the pandemic. You do not have to donate cash; in fact, the contribution might be more impactful if it is tailored to your business and its products or services.

Recently, many restaurant chains including Chipotle have donated free food to healthcare workers.

Address emotions now, but plan for the post COVID-19 future

The instability and uncertainty we all feel today will not last forever. However, brands that respond empathetically and effectively to customers’ emotions during this crisis will be best positioned to weather the storm.

Old habits are broken during a recession — but new habits are also established. In addition, those who keep customers engaged between transactions, building valuable emotional loyalty, will become part of those new habits as they form.

In order for brands to truly understand customer’s emotional drivers, you should look into tools like Kobie’s Emotional Loyalty Scoring to help re-segment and decipher customer reactions to messaging, benefits, and offers.

Marti Beller is President at Kobie Marketing. Beller has more than 20 years of loyalty marketing and customer engagement experience after most recently serving as senior vice president of global loyalty products and platforms, Mastercard. Prior to her tenure at Mastercard, she served as president of Connexions Loyalty (formerly Affinion Loyalty Group), where she led the customer engagement and loyalty strategies of multiple global brands, including top credit card issuers, worldwide hoteliers and national airlines.

The post To build customer loyalty during COVID-19, maximize interactions between transactions appeared first on ClickZ.



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