If you think about the trending conversations we have all been having as of late, they usually have to two things:

1. Authenticity / building meaningful customer relationships

Those two things don't really seem to fit together. Let's talk this out:

Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as America's largest living generation and this group of tech-savvy, socially conscious consumers know what they want. If they aren't happy with a service, they'll simply go elsewhere, without a backward glance. In an age where we can have pretty much anything we want packaged up and sent to our doorsteps, you have to do something pretty special to catch our attention and keep it; this means building a meaningful relationship between the brand and its customers.

At the same time big data and AI for business are on the rise big time. A report by Forrester predicted that overall business spend on AI will increase by 300 percent this year, compared to 2016. When people think of Big Data and AI, they tend to dwell on the lack of humanity, or the fact that they're a number, not a name. And there's hardly anything authentic about that.

Using AI can make sales teams optimally effective when it comes to identifying and targeting the customers most likely to buy. But how do we use AI in such a way that will cultivate a lasting bond between our company and our customers. According to Jonathan Herrick of Hatchbuck, here are a few ways:

Remember that customers are not simply numbers on a page

One of the best things about Big Data is that it allows businesses to scan through vast amounts of customer information to find relevant patterns and insights. This means that you can make use of details that otherwise went unnoticed to get to know your customers better. If you want to stay away from Chatbots for now (although, by 2020, some 80 percent of businesses will likely be using them), you can bring a more authentic experience to your human conversations by making use of relevant information.

Let's say you have a customer on the line who purchased a service from you in the past. When you have that information in front of you, as well as how many times they called in, and any complaints or positive feedback they registered, you can start the conversation off on the right foot. You have their entire purchasing history available so that customers can feel like you understand their unique situation and needs.

If there's one thing time-pressed consumers hate more than anything, it's explaining their plight over and over, as they're passed from one sales rep to another. With CRM systems integrated across your firm and updated with real time data, your entire team can access the same information. Some CRM services, like Hatchbuck, even populate your CRM with your customer's social media profiles, so you can speak to a face instead of just a name. Visualizing the person at the other end of the phone often helps to strike a chord.

Use your data to create messaging that is truly relevant

Once you have a wealth of relevant customer insights at your fingertips, the next step is to use that information. After all, it's one thing to know that your customer has a penchant for collecting comic books; it's another to use that knowledge in your communications. Make sure your emails and newsletters are targeted. If a customer lives in Florida, for example, they should definitely not be getting email blasts about preparing for a blizzard happening in the north-east. Similarly, if they're interested in your legal services, they won't care about a marketing email with discounts on your medical solutions. One of the top reasons people unsubscribe from marketing emails is because the content is not relevant to them.

When it comes to your customer conversations, according to Herrick, context is everything. He explains: "A great way to provide context for your sales teams is to integrate your CRM with your client emails, so you can track past history." Not only can you craft an offer that is relevant to them, but you can deliver it at the right time.

By getting real time insights at a glance, your sales staff will know when a particular client is ready to buy. They can even see which pages of your website the client is on, allowing them to make contact at the most opportune moment. That's hardly the same as receiving an unsolicited cold call or email at an inconvenient moment.

Stay creative

Ideate new ways to reach your customers in a meaningful way, by using their personal preferences to your advantage. Companies have been using small details on us for a while now. Even if you're not interested in car insurance or dental hygiene right now, it's still nice to get a birthday email. It's even better when it comes from a company you're in the mindset to buy from. Just think about Amazon. They frequently use our purchasing history and products we've browsed to send trigger emails and remarketing adverts with offers on our browsers. You can also try customizing your email templates to include details you know your customers will love, and bringing up small, personal details in your conversations.

Personalization isn't just for B2C firms. It plays a major role in B2B marketing communications as well. A study from research firm, Gartner, revealed that in the next few years, some 70 percent of B2B e-commerce websites will use personalized content to help executives make informed decisions faster.

Use automation to your advantage

No, automation and authenticity don't have to be arch opposites. In fact, you can actually use automation to your advantage to personalize your customer interactions. Your intelligent CRM can send out timely emails, so that opportunities are followed up on and nothing is missed. You'll also be sure of sending out relevant content that increases conversion, rather than hounding cold leads. Says Herrick, "automation picks up any slack in your business processes and translates into higher sales."

Having your CRM automate some of your communications for you allows you to stay in your customers' minds (and inboxes), without sending too many emails. You can actually make use of automated functions to humanize your communications.


Technology isn't about removing human connection, it's about amplifying it. That is, if you do it right. AI and marketing automation does its part to make the connections, but this is not an excuse to get lazy with your messaging and commitment to creating real-life relationships. It's up to us to harness the power of Big Data and use AI applications to make way for greater human connection.

Published on: Mar 23, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.