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Along with many other things, the last two years of the pandemic have changed our consumption patterns, with 89% of shoppers expressing concern about shopping in stores and being close to other people.
Suddenly, retailers were reduced to digital for one channel of customer interaction, and while online retailers barely felt the change, for offline retailers it was a new reality to adapt to – if This led to a technological breakthrough, which would normally have taken years to happen, and the e-commerce sector grew by more than 30% in 2020.
It’s been over two years and the digitization of retail is gaining momentum, with AI-powered conversational agents being a big part of it. Chatbots interact with customers online, provide information and answer questions, among other things. Juniper Research expects chatbots to save retailers worldwide $439 million annually by 2023 compared to $7 billion in 2019. In this piece, I’ll discuss the efficiencies that conversational AI can create for retailers and the common obstacles that stand in the way of chatbot projects.
Related: 4 Ways to Use AI to Improve Customer Experience
Conversational AI meets retail
According to Accenture, chatbots are expected to reduce time to process requests and increase employee productivity. Here are some examples of how conversational AI can help retailers meet the challenges of digitization:
AI-powered chatbots allow businesses to provide excellent customer service without increasing headcount. The technology allows companies to make a call the moment the customer receives an order and still remembers the entire communication history with the company. The results of a smart call will show whether customers are willing to recommend the company to others and help companies adjust their strategy, loyalty program and rewards system.
Improvement of service quality
Chatbots and voice assistants can answer consumer questions day and night, holidays and weekends, 365 days a year. Unlike human agents, AI assistants do not need to sleep and can help customers even after business hours. Naturally, when customers receive immediate help, their satisfaction with the services increases.
Higher response rates
The bots respond instantly, consistently and specifically, without giving any unimportant information to the customer. When integrated with CRM systems, they can access order history and customers don’t have to repeat basic information about themselves.
Chatbots and voice assistants allow businesses to stay in touch with customers and inform them about new products, promotions and discounts. Customers regularly see information about the company; when they need to make a purchase, they know exactly where to go.
The consumer sees that their requests are understood. This attitude is the basis for generating trust and loyalty to the company. Brand advocates are important in competitive industries such as retail because it costs much more to attract a new customer than to keep one.
Faster customer feedback
Personalization in marketing has been around for a long time: around 75% of consumers are “willing to buy from brands that offer personalized digital experiences”. To deliver this hyper-personalization, companies need specific data, and chatbots can easily handle data collection faster than a call center and at lower costs.
Automation of HR processes
Large retail chains employ thousands of different professionals. They must find and hire the right candidates and train new employees to company standards. Bots can take care of the initial screening of candidates, setting the date and time of the interview, as well as the training programs.
Related: What small retailers can learn from the industry’s push into AI and Big Data
Retail digitization: things to consider
Despite an extensive list of business processes that conversational AI can help automate, there are reasons why some retailers are in no rush to start adopting the technology.
Legacy CRM platforms
Among the things that hinder the adoption of conversational AI is the fact that retail companies often use legacy CRMs and highly customized invoicing systems. There are so many different technologies, products and systems “under the hood”, that business processes are very difficult to digitize. Sometimes, to change an order, it is necessary to use two to five systems to obtain the necessary data.
So, if a business wants a voice bot that answers incoming calls and informs customers about order status, it needs to have all the necessary integrations and ensure that the voice bot has instant access to the systems and appropriate data.
However, it is also important to say that upgrading systems or transitioning to a new retail CRM platform is extremely expensive and time-consuming.
Apart from expensive upgrades, there are other reasons behind the high costs of retail conversational AI projects: from a wide variety of products to large volumes of data and customization needs.
This is why large retail chains are embracing conversational AI more eagerly; they have a sufficient volume of inquiry topics and automation results in reduced contact center load, reduced time to provide information and ultimately customer service costs.
However, today’s more conversational AI tools allow even small businesses to build basic chat and voice bots, thereby starting contact center automation. With visual bot builders like ManyChat, Voiceflow, or DialogStudio, little coding skills are needed to create a bot that helps reduce the load on your contact center during seasonal sales.
In addition, there are ready-to-use AI-based conversational solutions that address the particular needs that retailers have. So a smart Shop Assistant, for example, helps customers easily navigate a mobile app, place orders using voice commands and check shipping information, as well as ask users for feedback after purchase.
Related: How AI Simplifies the Retail Shopping Experience for E-Commerce Consumers
Those venturing into an AI bot project should remember that the work doesn’t end there. It involves continuous training, adding seasonal items to the catalog, refining bot scenarios and promoting new specials. Here the retailer has a choice: hand over management to a salesperson or invest in a strong in-house team.
There are many ways conversational AI technologies can benefit retail, but what worked for one company may not apply to another. For example, a voice bot for outbound communication that acts as a consultant and salesperson would be suitable for products that people buy regularly: contact lenses, pet food, etc. But that technology is unlikely to work for a retailer selling refrigerators, here. , a voice bot for NPS surveys would work much better.
Digital transformation is not something companies can shy away from, while the growing market for conversational AI technologies and successful implementation cases show that retail chatbots and virtual assistants will soon become a part of integral part of our lives. Fortunately, as technologies evolve, the adoption of conversational AI is no longer the prerogative of large retail chains, small and medium-sized businesses can start with basic conversational solutions, but no change is too small.