Artificial intelligence is powering the next wave of customer experience: virtual buying assistants, chatbots, and voice-activated apps all are changing the way that customers interact with brands. The future of ecommerce will look entirely different, and brands are taking steps now – big or small – to make this vision a reality.

The story less often told, however, is how artificial intelligence drives ecommerce behind the scenes, creating personalization that guides the consumer, enables them to pick up where they left off, and reads their cues and preferences effortlessly to give them only information relevant to their needs.

What Makes AI Tick

The beauty of AI is that it makes the customer-brand relationship stronger: every interaction is personal, experiences are more memorable, and AI – machine learning – remembers the things the customer says and does from historical context to inform a brand’s next move.

What’s important is that AI is smart enough to set out to do what it says it will: without the right logic and overarching algorithms in place, what is intended to be an elevated experience between brand and customer can easily deteriorate.

It’s what happens so often in marketing automation today: An email kindly requesting feedback on a recent trip is sent en masse immediately after a flight delay caused you to miss your event; Receiving an ad for that sweater you’ve been dying to buy only to find out it’s actually sold out.

Sound familiar?

These scenarios aren’t unusual in today’s day and age. AI sets out to correct these moments that interrupt the customer-brand relationship and cause friction – and confusion – along the path to purchase.

Beyond Chatbots

A recent Entrepreneur article, “The Growth of Artificial Intelligence in Ecommerce,” highlighted how AI advancements are a win/win for customers and retailers alike, saying: “Shoppers will be able to easily find the best price for an item and communicate with chatbots for quick customer service. For retailers, they’ll be able to better analyze consumer data to predict future buying patterns, create autonomous replenishing systems and also save money and time on customer service by utilizing chatbots.”

That’s definitely true. But one without the other doesn’t quite compute. Bringing chatbots to life without strong AI running your systems on the backend has the potential to do more harm than good for customer relationships.

It’s more important than ever to show consumers that AI is friend, not foe: According to our recent report, 88 percent of marketers agree or strongly agree that AI helps personalize customer interactions, yet 45 percent of consumers polled disagree or strongly disagree that AI (more broadly) will improve their experiences with brands in the future. And, despite the fact that 79 percent of marketers responded that they think customers are either excited or very excited for chatbots, nearly 50 percent of consumers reported that they are very unexcited or somewhat unexcited about chatbots. Marketers need to show consumers that AI – in all of its forms – is doing what it set out to do: make their lives easier. This needs to happen consistently in practice to prevent a disconnect between what marketers think consumers benefit from and what they are experiencing, in reality.

Bringing Data Together

Integration is key to a successful AI implementation. Having a central hub for data to reside is what makes AI run smoothly, so that it can do what it promises to do: personalize, automate decisions, and analyze customer behavior. Having access to customer data across channels is necessary to take the next step to operationalize AI, so that it is received well by customers and has the greatest impact on business. AI must be supported by a database that can collect all of the disparate sources of data – activity across channels, historical data, demographic/psychographic detail and any other valuable segmentation – so that it can delight the customer again and again.

With these things in mind, AI can bring customers and brands together, helping brands really know their customers – better than ever before.