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Facial Recognition.

These two words can prompt uncomfortable images of mass surveillance, racial profiling, and other abhorrent practices. So, why would I broach such a topic in a blog about customer experience?

I believe that there are appropriate use cases for facial recognition in customer experience, and that these use cases are both ethical and advantageous to both the brand and to the customer.

Transparency, ethics, trust must be addressed before considering facial recognition

Before implementing any type of facial recognition, brands must first ensure two important safeguards are in place: customers’ explicit consent and proper privacy and security protocols.

It’s crucial that brands are transparent in informing customers about use of facial recognition technology and that consent is obtained. Brands must also implement robust security measures to protect customer data – in this case, the customer’s face. In fact, it’s a best practice NOT to store the customer image, but rather use technology that identifies specific facial landmarks to recognize the individual.

With both areas covered, we can explore ways to use images of our customers to give them a more personalized, seamless and emotionally connected experience with our brands.

Facial recognition is already part of our lives

Many of us already give brands our consent to use our faces in different ways. For example, when I scan my member card at my gym, the employee behind the counter sees my picture pop up on their screen and greets me by name.

Another common scenario is the way we open our phones through facial recognition rather than with a code or even our thumbprint. Many of us also allow our photo apps to identify our own faces as well as our family and friends’ faces.

We consent to these uses of our facial features, because … why not? If the gym needs an easy way to verify my identity and add an extra layer of personalization to my experience, that’s fine with me. Opening my phone with my face, rather than typing a code, simplifies my life. And allowing my photo app to identify faces allows me to find specific pictures faster.

Facial recognition in a real-world CX use case

As CX professionals, we’re always talking about creating seamless, personalized and memorable experiences for our customers. Facial recognition and artificial intelligence can help us do those things even better and give us something not readily available outside in-person interactions – an emotional connection. Let’s take a hypothetical scenario to explain what I mean:

You’re in charge of fundraising for a large charitable organization. Your success is measured on meeting and exceeding certain fundraising goals, which means you need to maintain and nurture strong donor relationships. How can facial recognition help you do that?

If you host events like galas or auctions, you likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs from the events. You have permission from your donors to use their images in these photographs in your annual report, on your website and in other marketing materials. But that’s not where the possibilities end.

If you can accurately identify everyone in these photographs and do it at scale, your opportunities for personalized outreach are endless. For instance, you could hyper personalize your fundraising mailings to individual donors by including a picture of them having a great time at your last gala. That picture could make the difference between them tossing the mailing in the trash or looking at it, remembering your event fondly and writing a check.

That sounds great, but for many organizations, identifying people in pictures is a manual and very time-consuming process, which means it’s just not a feasible fundraising or marketing strategy. This is where AI (artificial intelligence) comes into play. By training a facial recognition AI model to identify donor images, we can auto tag donors with a high degree of accuracy.

From there, we can pair our donor images with other information like donor name, occupation, annual donation amount, donations by event, tenure as a donor and more to create a more complete profile. All this information can then live in a secure and an easy-to-use dashboard.

What are the advantages of facial recognition for customers?

The above example illustrates how we can use facial recognition to meet a business – or in this case, a fundraising – goal. However, I posited that facial recognition can also benefit the customer. Here are just a few more ways facial recognition can be used to improve the customer experience:

  1. Authentication: As I mentioned before, many of us already use facial recognition to conveniently open our phones. In addition, facial recognition can also be used for authentication to access accounts and complete transactions without the hassle of remembering (or forgetting and resetting) a password or pin.
  2. Check-ins: Whether it’s an airport, a cruise, a concert or a theme park, facial recognition can make the check-in process easier and faster. Essentially replacing a ticket with the customer’s face can reduce wait times, better control access and even mitigate the spread of disease by providing a contactless check-in.
  3. Accessibility: For people with limited mobility, facial recognition can be used to help them control devices, interact with technology, and access services through facial gestures. Facial recognition can provide a greater level of independence by empowering people with mobility issues to engage with the world in ways that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.

Limited use of facial recognition can be mutually beneficial

Our customers need to trust us to do the right thing and I believe we can do that while using facial recognition technology responsibly and for the mutual benefit of our customers and our brands. The key is to ensure transparency, safety, and privacy above all.

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