When the conversation turns to chatbots, many are skeptical based on experiences from Alexa, Siri, and Cortana, which aren’t always the most reliable, but there’s obviously interest in this type of artificial intelligence technology.
Former Gilt CEO and current IBM CMO Michelle Peluso explained why there’s excitement for this kind of tech in retail:
AI is changing how marketers generate insight about consumers to provide more contextual relevance. Understanding things like social profiles, movement, weather, and behavior, AI can help marketers understand at a more granular level what consumers want and need.
Consumer needs are dynamic—not static—and require an insight machine that can take this dynamism into account and feed it into your marketing plans. AI goes through a progression of understanding, reasoning, learning, and then adapting insight. Further, AI can include a lot more information in its learning process so that the marketing is more customized at the individual level.
Last year, retailers from Burberry to Burger King tested out ways to include chatbots into their digital strategies, making it one of the top tech trends that transformed retail in 2016, but there are still challenges to overcome before it can really show its ROI.
A recent article by Venture Beat noted:
Bots are great for the occasional, simple question: ‘I know what I want, give me the answer as quickly and conveniently as you can.’
When do conversations happen? Oftentimes after you made a purchase. That’s when frequently asked questions arise, not just before you buy. ‘Where is my order?’ ‘What is your return policy?’ ‘Do you also have item X in stock?’ ‘What’s the status of my claim?’ Everything starts with a question, and bots are a fantastic fit to handle these questions.
Not all bots equal, and in fact, most lack contextual awareness. This is where intelligent agents come into play.
Intelligent bots are able to process data quickly and can operate at the speed of the customer much more easily than a human. They can help retailers by:
Intelligent chatbots rely on deeper and more robust artificial intelligence (AI) and are integrated with essential enterprise systems that hold customer data. They not only parse big data for key pieces of information, but they can even learn from it. Intelligent chatbots that are built for the enterprise and serve in customer-facing roles are known as virtual agents or virtual customer assistants. In some cases they are powerful enough to conduct transactions and resolve customers’ issues as well as humans can.
Chatbots aren’t just useful for online chats. They can be deployed on many other interfaces: mobile, social media, messaging apps, voice response, and SMS texts. Most importantly for improving the overall customer experience, intelligent enterprise chatbots can anticipate customer intent.
- Understanding customer needs so that brands can personalize experiences based on past visits
- Connecting with shoppers at their convenience anywhere, anytime without typical desktop timeouts
- Learning from previous customer engagements so retailers can take action to make CX better moving forward
- Empowering associates by answering common questions and escalating deeper issues when needed to save the sale and maintain customer loyalty
A big opportunity for chatbots lies in the customer service sector, which is good news for retailers who saw costs increase in the past year. A joint report from the National Retail Federation and Forrester states that 38% of retailers plan to invest in new customer service features to manage costs and meet customer expectations, which means we may see more bots in the near future.
Forward-thinking retailers are already working on making their AI and chatbot technology better to improve CX:
- Starbucks is experimenting with the Reorder Skill with the help of Alexa, where coffee lovers can place their usual order at a recently-visited location. It works in congruence with its Barista Chatbot—both of which are reportedly publicly launching in 2017.
- Voice print technology is in the works at Amazon, which is meant to help Echo’s Alexa to distinguish one voice from another. This new tech would be helpful to manage level of access, such as charging credit cards based on who is placing an order.
Because retailers are prioritizing personalization, omnichannel, analytics, and digital store technology, we’re liking to see other retailers who tested this technology last year continue to explore its possibilities, including Nordstrom, Sephora, eBay, and 1-800-Flowers.
“From home to the car to the store, bots and messaging assist the customer journey and lighten the burden on stores,” Branding Brand’s CEO and co-founder Chris Mason said during our webinar "4 Opportunities to Win in the Digital Retail World." “Bots create inviting experiences for people.”
Learn how chatbots merge retailers’ top digital strategy initiatives in our webinar recap.