Marketing Manager IFS | mplsystems
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Improving the retail customer experience with AI

30th May 2018
Marketing Manager IFS | mplsystems
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If there was one word that could best describe our culture’s desire in their retail experiences, it would be convenience. From subscription services to same-day shipping, organisations are designing all that they do around the concept of making retail interactions as convenient as possible. A study from IBM found that 48% of customers find it important for retailers to provide on-demand personalised promotions during online interactions, which 45% expect the same for their in-store experiences. For the individuals responsible for creating these customer experiences, there are many decisions to make around the processes, tools, and technologies that enable convenience, but also achieve the organisation’s goals around productivity, cost efficiency, and revenue optimisation.

Unsurprisingly, contact centre and customer service department leaders are looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a solution for meeting their goals and solving their challenges.  But, are they using AI appropriately? And do they have the tools for identifying the best opportunities for using artificial intelligence in their retail experiences?

In brief, most companies have significant opportunities to adopt, evolve, or improve their use of AI. At the core of these opportunities is a shift in the strategy utilised for integrating technology and designing the customer experience.  Rather than making impulsive decisions that are based on hype and panic, customer experience leaders in all sectors (not just retail) should use an intentional and thoughtful approach to embedding artificial intelligence. When this is done appropriately, AI will serve to augment and elevate the customer experience in pre-existing channels.  It won’t be deployed as a standalone channel that further complicates and segments the customer’s journey. 

Research from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI.com) found that a majority of contact centre leaders believe that the customer experience is a bigger competitive differentiator than both price and product. Another study by Walker indicated that consumers would prioritise the customer experience over price and product by the year 2020.  With both consumers and contact centre leaders in agreement that the customer experience is the most important part of standing out from the competition, the critical value of delivering an exceptional CX cannot be lost. Further research paints a very clear picture that artificial intelligence will play a significant role in the future of the customer experience.

Market firm Tractica projects that global revenue from AI will reach $36.8 billion (£27.8bn) by the year 2025. With explosive growth on the horizon, it’s important to understand the best use of AI before making a significant investment. In retail environments, there are endless opportunities to use AI, but some more common places where companies leverage artificial intelligence to provide competitive advantages and natural synergies.

One of the most common spots for AI in retail is within the online sales process. Considering the wealth of data that retailers have on their customers, organisations can leverage artificial intelligence to automate and enhance their online sales process. IBM’s Watson has demonstrated its ability to sit within eCommerce interactions to power chat bots that provide recommendations for cross-selling/up-selling opportunities when customers are self-serving on a purchase.

Furthermore, AI technology can provide comprehensive insight to customer service or sales agents on past customer behavior and present predictive options on a customer’s best next purchase. In either case, these organisations evaluate their existing customer journeys and identify the spots where AI technology can fill an existing void (such as up-selling during self-service transactions) or enhance the experience with additional value (like intelligence driven recommendations for agent-customer interactions.) They didn’t re-invent the wheel and they certainly didn’t try to use artificial intelligence as a replacement for live agents in situations where humans are the best solution.

Where does AI in retail go from here?

On a much more progressive front, artificial intelligence and automation are projected to revolutionise many of the shipping dilemmas that retailers currently face. Amazon’s partnership with the UK government revealed a glimpse into the future of logistics and delivery with the offer of “Prime Air”. And while the days of drone delivery and autonomous trucks are still far from being common, it’s something that we can expect to see as an increasing reality of the not so distant future.  Until then, customer experience leaders in the retail sector should fix their eyes on using artificial intelligence to provide incremental improvements in the moments of truth across their customer journeys. It will be through these seemingly small innovations, implemented over time, that AI transforms the state of retail into something that provides incredible convenience, efficiency, and value to customers and organisations alike.

 

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