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AI Helped Us Stay Connected in 2020 — Here Are the Top Lessons Learned

Our most popular customer blogs had much to say about using AI to navigate business in an unusual year.

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Before we look ahead to 2021, let’s take a moment to look back at 2020. Our most popular artificial intelligence (AI) blog posts this year point to lessons in agility, ethical responsibility, and even growth amidst a year of uncertainty.

While these posts from Salesforce leaders and customers met the moment with strategies to navigate the pandemic, their advice and experiences remain relevant today. Here’s what you can take with you into the new year.

AI adoption accelerated, solving urgent business problems

COVID-19 hurtled everyone into a new way of being, forcing businesses to develop new ways to serve customers. Many turned to AI. 

According to McKinsey Global’s The State of AI in 2020 survey, half of the respondents said their organizations adopted AI in at least one function. At Salesforce, we also saw increased AI adoption: as of November, Salesforce Einstein delivered more than 80 billion AI-powered predictions every day

Here’s what three of our most popular customer blogs revealed about how they used AI to navigate their business through the pandemic.

Finding pin-point accuracy in forecasting cash flow

When Felisa Palagi took over as CEO of Internet Creations shortly after the pandemic hit, she needed a way to keep the business running while also being empathetic to the challenges customers were facing. 

With growing delays in customer payments due to the pandemic, it was difficult for the business technology and consulting firm to forecast their short- and long-term cash flow. She turned to AI to more accurately predict cash flow and proactively serve customers. Einstein Bots enabled the team to respond to customers quickly, and Einstein Prediction Builder helped increase the accuracy of forecasts by 2.5x.

“I’ve seen the relief [customers] feel knowing we have their back when they are in crisis mode,” writes Felisa in A Smarter Way to Predict Cash Flow Led This Company to Adopt AI. “It’s more than being able to generate revenue; it’s about reducing stress and freeing them up to tackle other priorities.” 

Read Felisa’s blog for advice on effective change management strategies when implementing AI.

Automation helped businesses scale quickly

Businesses started using smart automation solutions to help customers get what they need faster and free up employees to do their best work, like building customer relationships. One such business was meal delivery service Sun Basket. At the start of the pandemic, Sun Basket experienced a 50% spike in service cases and saw their customer base double in just six weeks. With people staying at home and frontline workers taking on demanding schedules, customers needed Sun Basket more than ever.

To quickly scale support, Sun Basket used Einstein Bots to help customers track their orders and packages, report issues with delays or damage, and get a credit or refund. The Sun Basket bot, aptly named “Sunny Bot,” now has the same or even better Customer Effort Score (CES) as human agents (over 90%.). Adding automation gave agents more time to focus on connecting with empathy when customers needed it most.

As Samantha Phillip, Certified Salesforce Developer and Admin at Sun Basket, writes in How to Use Chatbots to Deal with Surges in Case Volume, “We see this as a huge win — that automation can match an agent, even amidst uncertainty.” 

Read Samantha’s blog for tips on using a chatbot to scale customer service.

Deepening customer relationships with personalized conversations

Consumer behavior has changed, and retailers have had to get creative in attracting and retaining customers. McKinsey’s new survey shows there’s up to a 40% increase in consumer intent to spend online, even post-COVID. At the same time, loyalty is up for grabs: the report explains that 76% of consumers have changed stores, brands, or the way they shop. 

To address these shifts, outdoor apparel and lifestyle brand Orvis used AI to build meaningful relationships with their online customers. As Tim Delles, senior marketing manager at Orvis, writes in On the Front Lines of Retail: Why We Used AI to Drive Stronger Customer Engagement, AI helped them find the sweet spot “where connection builds demand by delivering the right pieces of content in a given moment to generate the best customer response.”

Orvis successfully developed highly-personalized communications with customers, growing their most engaged customer segment by 20%, traffic by 30%, and click-through rates by 22%. 

Read Tim’s blog for strategies to connect with customers in new ways.

Getting AI right became more important than ever

The pandemic has taught us we need to be prepared to pivot more quickly than ever before, but not at the cost of responsibility. To get AI right, businesses need to commit to creating and implementing AI responsibly and ethically — especially when it comes to AI impacting human rights. 

In Ethical AI Can’t Wait: 4 Ways to Drive Greater Equity in Your AI, Kathy Baxter, Principal Architect for Salesforce’s Ethical AI practice, offers a starting point for building fair and accurate AI solutions. 

  1. Identify and eliminate underlying bias in your systems and processes. Ask questions such as ‘Are certain factors like race or gender being inordinately impacted?’
  2. Interrogate the assumptions you make about your data. Ask questions like ‘Who are we collecting data from?’ and ‘Who is not represented, and why?’ 
  3. Solicit direct feedback from your customers to learn how the AI technology you create will impact any group of people.
  4. Don’t revert to the “move fast and break things” mindset. The power, and the risk, of AI is that it can make many predictions about people and behavior at scale and very quickly. 

“Building AI responsibly from the beginning allows you to focus on improving the world rather than constantly fixing what you’ve broken,” says Kathy.

The top takeaway from 2020: AI is now

2020 propelled many companies into the future. Digital technology and AI initiatives that were further down the roadmap or sitting on the backburner became the top priority. 

Amidst all of the change and disruption, this year has taught us that AI is not a distant future state. It’s a solution helping businesses support customers, creatively solve critical business challenges, and lead with empathy — right now. 

Learn how you can get started with AI today.

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