Everyone is talking about AI (indeed, a 2017 marketing trends report would not be complete without it), but is it an apocalyptic vision or the future of humanity?  A load of hot air or a game changer? 

There is a lot that’s already been said about the philosophy, societal implications and broad potential of AI, but a lot more that needs to be said about the practicalities and actual benefits, especially to brands. What will it mean in practice to marketers? What can they actually do? When should they exercise caution and when should they go for it?

OgilvyOne UK’s CEO, Jo Coombs, explored the impact of AI on the future of customer engagement at last week’s DMA event on the subject.

Jo argued it is vital for us as marketers to remember (and to help our organisations to remember) our humanity when using AI, or we risk disengaging customers. Without humanity, we risk emotional connections and put customer experience at risk.

It is Jo’s belief that our capacity for empathy is a defining feature of our humanity. If we use it to guide and augment artificial intelligence, we can create emotional connections with customers, without them rejecting our brands. For Jo, customer engagement is all about emotional connections. Only when a customer is emotionally connected can you really unlock total customer value - not just transaction or lifetime value, but advocacy and collaboration value.

At OgilvyOne the teams think in terms of ‘Emotionally Intelligent Customer Engagement’. By combining human emotional intelligence (EQ / empathy) with artificial intelligence (AI), OgilvyOne can gain not only unprecedented insight, but also create highly personalised experiences that enable them to create emotional connections for their clients with their customers. For Jo and OgilvyOne, the future of customer engagement is emotionally intelligent customer engagement.

So how do OgilvyOne do it? Here are Jo’s 5 things for marketers to think about when building AI into customer engagement:

1. Define the role of AI within your organisation

The role of AI within an organisation should be about elevating the customer experience. Organisations who see AI as a way to cut costs will fail quickly.  Those who see it as a way to automate so that real people can do more, will succeed. 

2. Complement rather than substitute

Machine learning is about empowering humans – real people – rather than replacing them. Jo encourages us to see AI as a way to create more insight to allow real people to do more. When thinking about how to use AI to engage with customers, Jo encourages us to remember that AI doesn’t have to do everything – it works best as an enabling tool.

3. Champion incrementalism

And while AI doesn’t have to do everything, it doesn’t have to cost everything either. When it comes to customer experience, AI should not be about huge investment. The focus should be on the little things marketers can do to improve the customer experience using AI.

4. Manage customer expectations

The only measure of an experience that really matters is how the real world compares to customers’ expectations. Marketers should be clear with the customer about what it is that your AI experience is trying to do and avoid overpraising and under-delivering. Jo stressed the importance of telling the customer what to expect, but more importantly to tell them what not to expect. So if you’re creating a simple bot make sure the customer doesn’t think it’s going to be the next Alexa or Gebo.

5. Be transparent

When customers are so skeptical, it’s really important for marketers to be transparent. Customers should be in no doubt of when they are talking to an AI system and when they are talking to a human. The reasons for decisions made by AI systems should also be explained.


Jo ended with a final poignant thought - If we rush the robotics, we risk loosing the humanity, and humanity is what creates emotional engagement. AI should be used not as the end in itself, but in conjunction with humanity, as a means to create unprecedented customer engagement. That way, we will all still have jobs and our customers won’t reject what our companies are doing.