Reflektion, a US company that is deploying artificial intelligence to analyse customer behaviours, defines customer intent as “the thoughts directing a customers’ decisions or actions toward a particular purchasing event.”
Customer intent, it says, is their “in-the-moment purpose: ‘I’m going to buy a jacket,’ for example.” It claims: “In the e-commerce space, customer intent is considered the holy grail of what digital merchandisers want to understand and influence.”
The simple key to delivery superior CX
Customer intent is also, according to this Forbes article, “a loaded phrase.” The article argues that understanding a prospect’s intentions or the purpose of their actions is like finding a flashlight in a mine. “If you have it, you can quickly figure out what your next step should be. Without it you’ll keep stumbling along in the dark.”
Grails, holy or otherwise, are not easily found, but in the case of customer intent, the pursuit seems to be worth the rewards.
Brian Cantor, managing director of CCW Digital — which claims to be “the world’s largest global online community for customer contact professionals” — says in a CCW report on customer intent that understanding customer intent is a simple key to delivering a superior customer experience.
But how do you determine intent?
Short of using telepathy, a customer’s true intent can only ever be deduced from analysis of their actions, and that in essence is the thrust of the report. It says that understanding customers and the ways in which they connect hinges on data. “If an organisation cannot collect, process and leverage accurate, actionable data about its customers, it cannot determine their intentions when interacting.”
The CCW report further argues that, to create a framework for ‘intent-based engagement’, an organisation must address two challenges: disconnected customer interaction channels, and disconnected organisations.
Once this disconnect has been resolved, it argues, combining language data with huge volumes of behavioural and transactional signals will enable organisations to use artificial intelligence models to more accurately determine a consumers’ journey and anticipate the next step in that journey.
“The more access AI has to data the more it learns about customer intent and offers the correct solution.”
This aligns with the pitch from Reflektion. It claims to have “a personalisation platform that listens to the behaviours of each individual shopper [and] utilises artificial intelligence to calculate their preferences and intent.”
Customer intent and AI
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it, the idea that AI can somehow infer intent from customer behaviour? The examples given in the CCW report, however, are all based on fairly explicit expressions of customer intent, such as someone wanting to change a flight booking.
The Forbes article sees customer intent being used very differently: analysing masses of behavioural information from multiple customers to filter out a cohort judged to have particular intent, and then targeting these based on what their intent has been assessed to be.
It also describes New York-based company Bombora, that uses interaction with online content to get a handle on customer intent.
Bombora, it says, “takes the raw data feeds, aggregates and analyses the data and then make it available to list vendors, telemarketing companies, and product companies who in turn use it to spot prospects with high intent.”
Bombora tracks over 50 million unique buyer interactions, according to Forbes. And because it aggregates content consumption across multiple channels and ad networks,
“Companies are able for the first time to track their target accounts, determine intent and know what the right next step is to engage that buyer in a meaningful conversation.”
If such an approach works, it should hopefully end the very wasteful phenomenon that sees customers who have purchased a particular product online bombarded for weeks afterwards with ads for similar products.
That kind of marketing has got it wrong on customer intent, but it is all too common in the online world.