The Customer-technology interface has been identified as a research priority by the Marketing Science Institute, a leading US research institute of academics and major firms, in their 2020-2022 research priorities (MSI, 2020).
Key research questions which relate to this theme include:
- What role should marketers take in designing AI-based marketing systems? (Mustak et al., 2021)
- How do relational elements, such as trust and rapport affect customers’ acceptance of AI technology? (Vlaicu et al., 2021)
- How can firms use machine learning to manage customer experience through the service journey? (Ostrom et al., 2021)
- What are the positive and negative impacts of AI-enabled automated analysis on the economic status of small entrepreneurs across the globe? (Kopalle et al., 2021)
How AI impacts customer relationships is a key research agenda identified from this review of the extant literature. Understanding the value created is an aspect which appears to have not been addressed particularly from the customer perspective. The National AI Strategy (2021) identifies the need to ‘Transition to an AI-enabled economy’. This research with SMEs is critical to this process and has the potential to impact government policy.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of marketing/management involvement within AI research in marketing management contexts. ‘We predict that AI will fall short of its promises in many marketing domains if we do not solve the challenges of tacit knowledge transfer between AI models and marketing organizations’ (De Bruyn et al., 2020). While from the Applied Sciences perspective Kok-Lim et al., (2021) propose an Artificial Intelligence Marketing (AIM) framework to enhance relationships. This project aims to address these issues by taking an interdisciplinary perspective as demonstrated by the composition of the supervisory team.
It is envisaged there will be an initial exploratory stage to scope out which types of SME’s are using AI at present. This will allow the classification of a range of current AI applications and the identification of those particularly focused on customer relationships. The next stage will be identifying from these companies with relevant AI applications linked to customer relationships for further research. For the second stage, a multi-modal qualitative research approach may include netnography, in-depth interviews with relevant staff and research with selected customers. Therefore, this project is mixed-methods based.
The research will provide an overview of the range of AI applications in Marketing in different types of SMEs. As well impacts on government policy, the SME sector and support bodies, this research will also make practical/ managerial impacts for the small businesses involved and, through dissemination, future good practice.
It will also contribute to digital marketing strategy and to marketing theory in value creation and relationship marketing. It will serve as an example of the value of interdisciplinary research within this area. Therefore, we believe there will be wide media and social media interest. It also means there is the potential for a range of journal articles across marketing, information systems, management and computing journals and SME and practitioner outlets from the PhD dissertation.