Retailers face significant challenges today as they strive to remain competitive. They are grappling with macroeconomic forces such as inflation, labour shortages, rising wages, and the cost-of-living crisis. These pressures are compounded by the decline in brick-and-mortar operations and the increasing digitisation of shopping. With rising consumer expectations, retailers must find ways to adapt to the evolving retail landscape to stay ahead.

One major challenge that retailers face is the ever-expanding list of potential technology-related customer experience challenges. The explosion of 24/7 interactions across voice and digital channels, increased demand for self-service, new online experiences such as live streaming fashion shows, and the demand for digital spaces in-store, such as interactive fitting room mirrors, present an overwhelming array of options for retailers. It can be difficult to know where to focus, but finding the right balance is crucial.

To meet these challenges, retailers must strike a balance between providing an optimal customer experience and preserving their current tech stack while minimising costs. Automation provides a significant opportunity to achieve this balance. By automating certain processes, retailers can reduce operational costs and offer personalised, contextual, omnichannel, and multi-lingual conversational experiences for customers, employees, and contact centre agents.

The recent use of chatbots in CX

The 2023 Gartner CIO and Technology Executives Survey found that 94% of retail CIOs plan to invest in machine learning (ML) and/or artificial intelligence (AI) technologies by 2025. This trend is driven in part by the proliferation of ChatGPT and similar technology. This has led many organisations to explore how chatbots can be utilised to better aid their business.

One promising area for retailers to invest in is Conversational AI (CAI) technology. CAI can enable retailers to reposition business models through AI-driven automation without the need for a complete infrastructure overhaul. With CAI, retailers can drive e-commerce interactions, store digitalisation, build customer loyalty, retain talent, and more. As Large Language Models and Generative AI like GPT3, Bloom continue to advance, the future of CAI is further enhanced, offering even more human-like digital assistants for retailers to leverage.

Overall, retailers must remain agile and adaptable in the face of the complex challenges they face. By leveraging automation and investing in the right technologies, such as CAI, retailers can improve the customer experience, streamline operations, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market.

What makes Conversational AI different?

While every retailer has a traditional chatbot 1.0, the majority are simple, menu driven, unintelligent, and inadequate for today’s digital environment. Retailers didn’t know how to best help their customers when first implementing this type of technology and most prevailing technologies cannot understand context nor respond conversationally to customers or employees. Legacy chatbots are often seen as a nuisance and don’t set the right example for what’s possible as a result.

CAI overcomes robotic, sometimes frustrating transactions, or people skipping these procedures altogether to speak to a human directly – increasing operational costs immediately. Instead, CAI takes into consideration the complexities of human language such as slang, multiple word meanings and interruptions, and goes beyond linear resolution paths. Its strengths include:

Large Language Models and Generative AI technology

New Large language models are able to provide customer centric responses with generative AI making the personalisation at scale possible when you marry withcustomer 360 data.

Dynamic dialogue

Developers can create complex, fluid dialogues that take multiple natural conversation factors such as pausing, re-starting a sentence or a quick change of subject into account. 

Context management 

Relationships and past interactions matter. Conversational AI enables virtual assistants to remember key details from past conversations, user information, preferences, and more.

Sentiment intelligence 

Emotion and tone can significantly change the meaning of a word or sentence and virtual assistants can be empowered to identify key triggers such as connotation and word placement to signal the type and intensity of emotion and customise user inputs or bring in human agents.

Multi-lingual support 

Organisations can build virtual assistants in nearly every major language of the world and define parameters for each one. This leads to easier expansion to new markets and the ability to serve more customers in their native dialogue.

Multiple channel support 

Enabling new channels to cater to various demographics, which includes social channels (Tiktok, Snapchat, Facebook, Whatsapp), live streaming (Tiktok, Youtube) and business chat messaging (Google and Apple) to serve customers quickly. 

For retailers, CAI powered digital assistants can act as automated shopping assistants for customers, improve and personalise service experiences, streamline retail operations, and simplify existing back-office workflows. Let’s delve into a couple of examples.

Redefining the shopping experience for customers

CAI digital assistants can personalise customers’ experiences like never before and create multiple new opportunities. For retailers, rewards include increased web traffic, store conversions and brand loyalty by improving customer experience. 

Powered with knowledge of a customer’s previous interactions with a brand based on their spending profile, demographics, geography, and social profiles, as well as intel of inventory availability and promotions. 

Digital assistants also have subject matter expertise, so they can provide quick, accurate contextual answers in multiple languages to the likes of a refund status or product compatibility questions. Access to more information upfront helps to reduce returns too, as customers can gather more information about what they’re buying, and receive recommendations based on products they’ve kept before so they don’t have to guess and end up sending an item back.

Personalisation can also lead to the benefits of increased basket size and up-selling as CAI can promote other items a person likes or has searched/purchased before. CAI bots can also drive traffic to physical stores with the use of push notifications and coupons, and drive more sales when customers are in-store through self-service customer support, item location assistance, or right-time, right-fit offers at the point of sale.

Empowering employees to deliver smarter experiences

CAI digital assistants can enhance the employee experience in multiple ways, from aiding them on the shopfloor and in contact centres to handle customer queries, to training, handling HR requests and informing marketing strategies. 

  • Optimising in-store interactions – bots can help and inform workers about live customer needs. If a customer is looking for expert help, checking stock from the shopfloor, or arrives to pick up their click and collect items – associates will be up to date. Upselling and cross selling of products and services can also be optimised in-store with digital assistants for sales associates via shopfloor mobile devices.
  • Increasing contact centre efficiency  firstly, contact centre agents can be alleviated thanks to most customers going through effective self-service automated voice and digital interactions. Then, if customers require or prefer the human touch, agents are aided by their own intelligent digital assistant for suggested customer responses for enquiries, next best actions, integrated customer intel from every channel, action fulfilment, and post-interaction summaries.
  • Speeding up admin-intensive tasks  virtual assistants can provide a single service window of company information for retail employees so they can make HR, administrative, IT and operations requests and access documents as required. As retail frontline worker turnover continues to increase, companies can also train and onboard employees quickly and efficiently via digital assistants.
  • Elevating marketing methods – instead of sending promotional emails and nurturing customers through pre-defined, impersonalised paths, brands can use chatbots to promote products in real-time in a way that is more trend-led, casual and conversational.

Driving AI-optimised customer and employee experiences

The age retailers find themselves is highly complex and competitive with rising customer expectations day by day. To stay ahead in the race, retailers need to innovate and use technology to disrupt the experiences they provide.

It’s time that every retailer provides digital assistants powered by AI that actually help customers and employees. Large retailers in the early stages of implementing CAI solutions today are achieving greater efficiencies and the highest customer, store employee and contact centre agent experiences.

The future is CAI that leverages next generation language models and generative AI. Are you ready to join?

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