Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has been around for several years, promising to advance business operations and increase performance. Recent technological breakthroughs and applications in tools and technology have brought it into everyday work use across every vertical. In fact, AI spending expected to reach $77.6 billion in 2022, according to IDC. In particular, direct to consumer businesses are on board with this new technology, which is being used to develop automated customer service agents and expert shopping advisors. This investment is largely motivated by companies’ interest in improving customer experience across all engagement points including marketing, buying and after sales service.
As customer experience evolves, AI is being adopted in the front office to help scale the optimisation of channels and pinpoint the best times to communicate with shoppers. As a result, AI is becoming pivotal for understanding the shopper and recommending products.
The key transformative aspect of the AI framework is end to end fulfilment. Retailers must be able to predict, analyse and ensure the consumer sees the right offer at the right time to drive the conversion and that the inventory is available to fulfil the sale.
Here are three ways in which AI can deliver great customer experiences for retailers and other types of organisations.
Providing hyper-personalised assistance
The use of messaging apps, speech-based assistants and chatbots is moving into the mainstream. Fuelled by the increased popularity of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 per cent of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.
In addition to the above, there are numerous examples illustrating how chatbots are paving a new way for businesses to communicate with the world. For instance, Météo France provides weather information to citizens across the country. But to reach more people, Météo decided to create a chatbot that allows people to ask about weather conditions via Facebook messenger and receive real-time responses.
This technology can help companies scale to deliver the one to one engagement and personalised service that customers want. In short, AI can act as a sort of virtual concierge for retailers. For example, a bot on the frontend of an eCommerce site can help provide customers with smart service. Say someone ordered a pair of jeans online that don’t fit. They can talk to a bot, which can access the customer’s order and profile, then offer a refund or a new item that’s tailored to that person’s style and purchase history. If the bot is connected to the operational backend, it can “know” which products are in stock and how long delivery will take.
For retailers in particular, chatbots enable a balanced experience of technology and humans in order to engage customers in the best moments and boost sales within a competitive landscape.
Ideally for businesses, bots can be up and running in as little as a few days, assisting customers across multiple languages and channels. This is a game changer for organisations looking to reach a broader range of audiences or increase their international reach.
Bringing customer engagement into the home
Systems like Alexa and Google Home are great if you want to control your smart devices, make phone calls, or even get cooking tips. However, these are relatively closed ecosystems. Commercial brands can’t use them effectively to access the home. Users can’t ask Alexa to add things to a specific retailer’s shopping cart.
The question is, are consumers proactively interacting with the technology to browse or purchase items? The simple answer is yes. Today’s consumers are wholly and undeniably in charge of their shopping experience. People expect to be able to control the information they receive, the choice of products they browse, which channels they shop on, and when. By leveraging data-driven insight, AI is at the forefront of facilitating this as a neat value exchange between brands and consumers.
As a result, the goal for vendors is to help retailers reach customers directly through voice-activated AI systems like Alexa or Google Home — and make it seamless for customers to buy products from their living room. The objective is to bring content marketing into those systems so that obtaining information about a particular brand is as easy as getting information about the weather or the latest news.
Empathising to improve communications
Emotional AI extracts sentiment from people’s vocal and facial expressions. It works like this: machine learning algorithms are trained to recognise what these expressions mean, and then trigger the appropriate action, all of which can be used by companies to provide a better customer experience.
Regarding voice for example, if someone calls into a customer service hotline and is angry because something arrived broken, the system can identify anger in the caller’s tone and alert service agents that there is a potential problem. If a customer service representative is already aware of the customer’s mood and sentiment before they get on the phone with them, they will know how to treat them from the start. In this case, they will know ahead of time that the customer in question probably won’t be receptive to upsell at that point in time.
Still in its early days, facial recognition helps retailers understand customers’ mood while visiting stores and their response to particular products. New technologies are able to recognise shoppers, and then send store associates their names and information about past purchases enabling them to make accurate, personalised recommendations. As a result, AI is enabling the evolution of customer service to an empathic, positive relationship between customers and agents, where customers feel understood.
AI is set to change the digital marketing landscape. It has the capacity to be the driving force behind consumer-centric campaigns, extreme personalisation, semantic research, and content generation. These applications of AI work best when all the critical layers – including raw data, marketing execution, attribution and analytics – are connected, so that businesses are able to influence the customer at the moment of interaction to deliver the ultimate personalised customer experience.
Both business owners and marketeers need to avoid creating more complexity with more technology and rather simplify the martech stack. Integrating AI with core business functions will improve the effectiveness of organisations’ everyday operations – and give them an incredible advantage over their competitors.
Roland Van Breukelen is Marketing Director SAP Customer Experience
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