Navigating the New: Ensuring Empathy Endures in E-Commerce's AI Revolution
By Kait Spong
In the field of neuroscience, scientists have often contended over the topic of cognitive intelligence (or general intelligence) versus emotional intelligence — so much so that there was a whole study done on the subject by Dr. Aron K. Barbey, et al in 2012. This study found that emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence share many neural systems, meaning there are interdependencies between the two.
The concept of dual intelligence is important to keep in mind when considering the development of artificial intelligence (AI). As AI systems become more advanced and accessible in the workplace and within our personal lives, preserving a sense of empathy and emotional understanding during its usage is crucial for many reasons. But is it even possible to establish a balance between cognitive and emotional intelligence in AI systems? Or will we always have to rely on humans to offset where AI lacks empathy?
According to Bloomreach’s partner, Ansira — an independent global marketing solutions and service company with proprietary channel, website, and advertising technology — it’s a little bit of both. AI can learn the patterns consistent with identifying, interpreting, and responding to empathy.
However, we also recognize that true empathy goes beyond just recognizing and mimicking human emotions. Empathy requires understanding another person's feelings from their perspective and responding appropriately. This is where AI faces a significant challenge. Despite advances in natural language processing and machine learning, AI cannot yet fully grasp the subtleties of human expression and experience. It lacks our biological conscious and unconscious mental experiences, which are both critical to empathic understanding.
The goal isn't for AI to replace human empathy, but to augment our empathic abilities and provide support where possible. In this blog, we’ll explore what empathy looks like in AI, the types of empathy we often see in e-commerce, and where AI plays a role in the customer experience.
Why Does Empathy Matter in Brand-Consumer Relationships?
Empathy is a vital human ability that allows us to connect with others on a profound level. We can step into someone else's shoes to understand their feelings, perspectives, and experiences as if they were our own. Empathy can also be thought of as the thread that weaves our social fabric together, fostering understanding, compassion, and mutual respect.
In our fast-paced, digitally connected world, empathy still remains a cornerstone of human interaction, reminding us of the importance of genuine connection. Fortunately, there are thousands — even millions — of customer and event data points available to us as e-commerce marketers. Within these data points, we can find context clues to understand and empathize with prospects that translate into actionable steps to convert them.
AI can help brands and retailers build this continuous cycle of listening and learning that provides an advanced understanding of who your customers are and what they want, allowing your brand to create more seamless personalized experiences. Remember, intentionality is central to empathy, and data can help us achieve it.
The 3 Types of Empathy in Creating Good Customer Experiences
In a recent keynote at The Edge Summit, Bloomreach co-founder and CEO Raj De Datta referred to humans’ roles with AI as “coaches, caregivers, and creators.” By approaching the way we interact with AI through this empathetic lens, we can create technology solutions that are more intuitive, responsive, and helpful. Even though these AI systems are essentially being trained on simulated emotion responses, they still have the potential to recognize the nuances of humanity through careful programming and machine learning algorithms — and that’s something we should take advantage of.
However, it would be a disservice (and even impossible) to leave out a human being’s passion, creativity, and ingenuity in business processes, even if certain parts are automated. Although we can use AI to gather a pulse on prospects and customers and better incorporate empathy in messaging, correspondence, or campaigns, we shouldn’t fully replace the human touch in e-commerce, which can be an emotionally driven industry. Instead, we should think of AI as the co-pilot, and we should use our intuition and inventiveness to refine the outputs of the AI we use.
Between AI and your best marketers, merchandisers, and customer service representatives, your brand can create highly empathetic shopping experiences that feel seamless and personalized to your customer base. Think of AI as another way of understanding your customers by effectively consolidating and deciphering their important data points. In other words, AI can help you identify customer needs, determine patterns in their behavior, and provide personalized offers to them in a fraction of the time it would take a human to crunch that sort of data. You can also leverage AI-driven automation to ensure empathetic experiences are delivered consistently and at scale.
Whichever way you slice it, AI tools can help us enhance our empathetic perspective in business. Keep in mind that there are three types of empathy involved in creating elevated customer experiences:
- Cognitive empathy - The desire to understand and know what consumers are thinking about and feeling in the moment
- Emotional empathy - The desire to feel and walk alongside the customer and experience life from their perspective
- Compassionate empathy - The desire to help, support, and take action to assist the customer
Even though AI can’t empathize in the same ways humans can, it can help brands and retailers listen to customers, learn more about them, and understand their pain points in constructive and perceptive ways that boost brand loyalty.
How Can You Show Empathy to Your Customers?
The desire to form meaningful relationships, seek emotional support, and engage in collective experiences shapes the identity of human beings. For e-commerce professionals specifically, these human desires boil down to understanding your customer’s needs, wants, and struggles in real time. By doing so, you’ll build a brand that resonates with them on a personal level.
If you’re looking to incorporate empathic understanding as you move forward with your AI strategy, our partner, Ansira, has created a strategic approach to incorporating empathy into your AI implementation.
Walk in Their Shoes
This lesson in customer service is a tale as old as time, but the first step toward empathizing with your customers is to put yourself in their shoes. You must understand their perspective and the challenges that they face. It's about more than just listening to your customers; it's about truly grasping their experiences and emotions — only then can you provide the exceptional support and care they truly deserve.
Ask Them What They Think
Engaging with your customers by asking for their opinions validates their personal experiences and makes them feel heard by your brand. Regularly solicit customer feedback through surveys, social media interactions, or chatbots. This not only provides you with invaluable insights into your customers' thoughts but also demonstrates that you value their input.
Show Them You Know Them
Tailoring your communications and offerings to individual customer preferences and needs shows that you recognize them as unique individuals — not just lumped-together segments based on vague demographics. This hyper-personalization that customers crave is the next iteration of the online shopping experience and can significantly enhance customer loyalty and engagement.
Be a “Sensitivity” Superhero
Sensitivity can mean a lot of different things. In this context, we’re talking about sensitivity as a way to consider your customer’s needs in your marketing and merchandising efforts, showing both prospects and returning customers that you care about them as individuals. If you consider the consumer’s state of mind in your strategy, you can anticipate their needs even before they realize what they are — helping your business increase crucial e-commerce metrics like revenue per visit, average order value, and more.
Curate Their Headlines
Our information-overloaded world is one where it’s easy to skim over content that doesn’t feel relevant to us — and your prospects and customers will do just that if they don’t feel like your content is speaking to them. It’s time to start seriously considering how you can personalize content from the acquisition phase of the shopping journey (e.g., email communications) to the product descriptions and how-to blogs that influence the final purchase. By infusing tailored suggestions, tips, and insights into your brand’s content, you can save your customers time and effort and enhance their overall impression of your company.
Make Their Lives Better
When it’s all said and done, empathy is the desire to improve someone else's life. As an e-commerce business, it should be your ultimate goal to make your customers’ lives better and easier. This means providing products or services that meet a customer’s needs while creating an enjoyable shopping experience that makes those very items easy to find, research, and purchase.
Where Does AI Play a Role in Empathizing With Your Customers?
While we know composable commerce is the way of the future, it can feel overwhelming to get started, even for the most experienced of e-commerce professionals. After all, how does one innately assemble best-of-breed commerce solutions into one cohesive tech stack that satisfies their unique business needs?
For instance, your company’s goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), or use cases might differ from the former colleague you talked about on the subject. Or, you might want some context on those great G2 reviews or the positioning in the latest analyst report you’ve read about a certain product.
That is where Ansira can step in and help your e-commerce brand with its Empathy Intent Solution. Not only can the experienced agency provide the strategy to empower your brand to improve its performance within the distributed ecosystem of digital, but Ansira can also help you implement your marketing technology stack, including any Bloomreach products.
So, what does this all have to do with the nuanced task of adding empathy to your AI workflows? Well, think of Ansira as the “human layer” that enables Bloomreach’s AI-driven solutions to truly understand and digest the meaning behind customer intent, preferences, and behavior. Through Bloomreach’s AI tools, like contextual personalization, real-time segments, predictive analytics, and product recommendations, Ansira, along with Bloomreach, can work to optimize the customer experience at every touchpoint in the shopping journey.
Empowering Your Business With AI: The Ansira and Bloomreach Way
Now, let's explore the possibilities of utilizing both Ansira and Bloomreach to unlock the powerful combination of artificial intelligence and empathic understanding for your e-commerce business.
Data quality is the first step in training AI properly. This meticulous attention to data quality sets the stage for both successful AI training and impactful outcomes. Ansira differentiates itself from other digital agencies by focusing on the significance behind customer data, event data, and other types of data.
With an added human touch during the onboarding process via Ansira, Bloomreach’s solutions can gain a deeper understanding of customers’ behaviors with better data and deliver engaging experiences with every interaction. This allows every touchpoint of the shopping journey to feel purposeful to your customers, showing them that you understand their search intent — and more importantly, you care about who they are.
Intention can’t happen without awareness of the personal context. For example, being aware of life events will help you target prospects and returning customers with more effective messaging. If you’re a clothing retailer, it would be ideal to target a new mother with recommendations for baby clothing (perhaps, even including a newborn baby checklist blog), rather than suggestions for party or cocktail dresses and jumpsuits. Your company should also foster awareness around seasonal sensitivity, financial hardships, health and wellness, cultural nuances (i.e., holidays), or recent bereavement.
Of course, gathering this type of information is easier said than done, but it’s certainly possible. With the right technology, like a combination of Bloomreach’s customer data engine and AI-driven features with Ansira’s data quality and hygiene expertise and strategy, you’ll be more prepared to handle the type of personalization that customers now expect, even if they're anonymous.
As a brand or retailer, you never want to stay static — after all, the one constant in e-commerce is change. It’s crucial to stay up to date with customer expectations, optimization opportunities, and the latest trends in the industry. That’s why real-time adaptation has become so sought after by many companies in e-commerce. By continually learning and adapting to changing consumer behaviors and preferences, you’ll ensure that every interaction between your brand and the customer remains relevant — up to the millisecond.
This enables faster and more efficient responses to customer demands, ensuring their satisfaction and your business’ success. Luckily, Ansira can help your business implement Bloomreach for a wide variety of AI use cases, whether you’re a marketer looking for real-time retargeting on Google Ads or a merchandiser hoping to build out your site search with real-time segments.
Impactful Attribute Curation
By this point, you know that consumers want to be seen, heard, and understood. To respond to their expectations, your brand can optimize data usage and streamline AI processes by identifying the most vital customer and event data attributes to your business’ bottom line. This way, you can focus on what’s important to your audience and avoid unnecessary noise in your day-to-day processes.
While attribute curation will help you understand your customers on a deeper level, it will also allow your brand to anticipate their needs. This ability to predict and react to customer behavior in real time allows your brand to target campaigns, recommend products, and determine search intent on your e-commerce website based on the customer profiles you build and the actions customers take. Since standing still is not an option in the dynamic world of e-commerce, embrace change, stay agile, and continue to innovate — with Bloomreach and Ansira, your business can do just that.
During her insightful fireside chat with Bloomreach COO Christina Augustine at The Edge Summit, Allie K. Miller, a highly influential AI entrepreneur, advisor, and investor, emphasized that the success of AI extends beyond technology and can become a value add for company culture. By fostering a culture that champions AI, businesses can actually work to minimize bias and cultivate an environment that promotes fairness and inclusivity in all customer interactions. But how can you achieve this, exactly?
Aside from support in data quality and hygiene, Ansira can help design intuitive data structures to support complex, nuanced targeting and segmentation that are both unbiased and empathic to your shoppers (none of which want to be thought of as one dimensional), while Bloomreach’s machine learning will continue to learn from these data structures over time and add to its already massive e-commerce dataset. Since Ansira and Bloomreach understand the importance of a customer-first approach, both companies are committed to helping brands from a diverse range of sectors and markets create positive experiences under the e-commerce umbrella.
Dynamic Attribute Combinations
There are ample ways to test an idea, theory, or hypothesis. Since the e-commerce industry has long been rooted in the idea of testing, we are notorious for going beyond one simple A/B test here and there. Our point is that the power of data analysis cannot be overstated in e-commerce, and it's not just about crunching numbers or running a single test — it's about exploring the rich tapestry of consumer behavior, understanding the myriad influences that shape purchasing decisions, and responding to prospects and customers with precision and insight.
The ability to analyze combinations of consumer and event data attributes enhances the depth of customer understanding and leads to more nuanced and accurate responses to your customers. And AI can help you scale these initiatives by making testing easier than ever before. Delving deeper into customer motivations and crafting strategies that resonate on a profoundly personal level isn't just smart marketing — it's the future of e-commerce, and Bloomreach is excited to be leading the charge with Ansira.
Ansira and Bloomreach: Where Empathy and AI Intersect
The partnership between Ansira and Bloomreach benefits e-commerce brands in more ways than one. With Ansira's proven marketing prowess and Bloomreach's cutting-edge technology, the two companies offer the perfect blend of human insight and AI to elevate your business’ e-commerce strategy and execution.
Together, Ansira and Bloomreach go beyond crunching numbers, deploying algorithms, and launching overly generalized marketing campaigns or making impersonal product suggestions. We know e-commerce as it stands today is all about understanding the heart of your consumers — their motivations, desires, and needs. This is where the power of AI comes into play. Bloomreach uses its e-commerce AI, Loomi, to create relevant, personalized shopping experiences that speak to your prospects and returning customers.
However, the true strength of the partnership between Bloomreach and Ansira lies in the ability to balance smart technology with empathy. The teams on both sides go above and beyond to understand that behind every click and purchase is a real person with unique needs and expectations. This human-centric approach, combined with advanced AI, ensures your brand meets (and exceeds) customer expectations.
In the end, it's about harnessing the best of both worlds — the efficiency and accuracy of AI with the warmth and understanding of human empathy, a winning formula for any e-commerce brand. Interested? Learn more about the powerful combination of Bloomreach and Ansira.
Ansira, the leading independent, global marketing technology and services agency with proprietary channel, website, and advertising technology platforms, guides companies operating in distributed ecosystems to connect with their customers, fostering unwavering brand loyalty by seamlessly integrating digital and physical experiences from the enterprise to the hyper-local level. Ansira’s innovative blend of human expertise and cutting-edge technology solutions solves the challenges faced by global marketers today and drives demand for their businesses. For more information on Ansira, visit Ansira.com or LinkedIn.
Bloomreach personalizes the e-commerce experience. It unifies real-time customer and product data so businesses understand what customers really want. By connecting that understanding to every channel, the e-commerce experience becomes limitless — continuously reflecting a changing customer as they shop. With the scale of AI, this creates endless new paths to purchase, greater profitability, and fast business growth. Bloomreach products include: Engagement, a marketing automation platform; Discovery, an e-commerce search solution; and Content, a headless content management system. The company has multiple AI patents and serves 850+ global brands including: Albertsons, Bosch, Puma, and Marks & Spencer.