Deploying self-service channels in retail| Consumer Trends

Mark A. Carlson


Why conversational AI is the future of customer-driven self-service.

In the modern retail environment, shoppers expect services to be provided, questions to be answered, and issues to be resolved at the snap of their fingers — and most would prefer if another human were not involved in any of it. Recent research from Frost & Sullivan confirms this, finding 81% of customers prefer to resolve issues by themselves without human support from the company.

Self-service solutions — like FAQs, how-to videos and other informational content — are imperative to keep up with these increasing demands. But each of these solutions requires a customer be able to find them in the first place. This is the challenge conversational AI is helping to solve.

Conversational AI effectively marries these self-service solutions to meaningful touchpoints with your brand, resulting in quick resolutions and deeper relationships. One of the best parts is that with adoption and use of the technology, the deep well of data collected from these conversations presents brands with the opportunity to better predict and accommodate customers’ needs and wants.

By incorporating conversational AI into their self-service strategies, retailers can not only create personalized and engaging experiences today but also the insights to innovate and improve the customer experiences of tomorrow.

Organizational benefits of AI-driven customer experiences

In addition to keeping up with rising consumer expectations, conversational AI also offers clear advantages to the companies that choose to use them.

By providing customers with the tools to answer their own questions via chatbots and IVR, the demand for live agent interactions decreases and frees up valuable time for more pressing issues. Meanwhile, customers don’t have to wait to call during specific operating hours or wait on hold for an available agent.

In fact, in a global report compiled by MIT Technology Review Insights, on the adoption and impact of AI on customer experience, nearly 90% of the 599 companies interviewed reported faster complaint resolution, and 80% noted enhanced call volume processing using AI. Eighty percent of respondents also reported improvements in customer satisfaction, resulting in deeper customer relationships and an increase in both loyalty and revenue.

Increased operational efficiencies, increased cost savings, and increased response times all make for more satisfied customers and employees — the drivers of any successful business.

What to know before you deploy

Sometimes, deploying conversational AI, like a chatbot, can be as easy as flipping a switch on a communications platform your organization already uses. But to make bots that people will actually use? That will solve issues rather than exacerbate them? Ones that will save you money rather than just cost you? That requires sound strategy.

Just as customers’ expectations for self-service options have grown, so too have their expectations for the ability of these solutions to fulfill their needs. A recent report from PwC found 59% of customers will walk away after several bad experiences, even if they love the brand. An alarming 17% will leave the brand after just one bad experience.

As anyone who has struggled to get a bot to understand what they’re saying can attest, failing to incorporate the interests and feedback of your customers in your conversational AI strategy can turn these tools into a huge source of frustration. Don’t let the technology drive your deployment — make sure the data does that. Otherwise, you just might risk driving away your customers, too.

Best retail uses of conversational AI

With the recent growth in conversational AI, retailers are continually finding new ways to implement the technology to improve customer experiences. We can learn a lot from these examples, and more easily visualize how their efforts might lend themselves to our own.

Here are a few of the top use cases that I’ve drawn inspiration from lately:

Digital journey personalization: Spend enough time on specific landing pages or searching for certain keywords on a company’s website, and you might receive a message from a proactive chatbot offering assistance for the topic you’re looking into. For example, if you are looking to make travel plans and keep visiting the travel website’s page on “Affordable International Excursions,” the predictive chatbot might pop up offering to provide pricing information or connect you with a travel agent to come up with an itinerary on a set budget.

Shopping assistance: Especially during COVID, when in-person shopping wasn’t always possible, conversational AI helped fill the gap between many would-be window shoppers and storefronts. Signet Jewelers, who operates Kay, Jared, and other widely known jewelry stores, established a chatbot to help guide people through the shopping experience and, when needed, escalate them to a human expert who could help show and explain products and facilitate these meaningful purchases right from their phone or computer.

Self-checkout: Conversational AI is used to guide customers, step by step, through the self-checkout process. With faster results and little human interaction, self-checkout has become an increasingly popular choice among grocery shoppers. So much so that stores have begun piloting programs that take it a step further. With Stop & Shop’s Scan It program, grocery shoppers follow the AI guidance to scan their groceries with their mobile device as they walk the store, add the items to their cart and when they’re done shopping, pay through their phone — bypassing the checkout line completely.

The future is self-serving

The potential of self-service, including conversational AI, to transform the way brands and customers interact is limitless. The technology can provide your business with the means to meet the need of rising consumer demands while also enabling your team to work more efficiently, lower costs, and focus on high-value interactions with your customers. And the truth of it is, if you are not offering self-service options to your customers, it is likely your competition is or will — and, based on customer habits, that’s where they’ll go.

By prioritizing the holistic, intuitive self-service experience, you can not only get ahead of competitors, but you can meet your customers where they are, wherever they are, and equip them with the information they need to excel — all in a way that drives value and results for your brand.

Brian Lannan is VP, retail experience, at Avtex


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