- U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer is replacing its entire call center staff with an artificial intelligence (AI) system that will displace over 100 switchboard employees, according to a press release from cloud communications company Twilio, which is providing the system.
- The workers will be reassigned to customer-facing duties in stores, an M&S spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive by email. The AI system will handle calls for 640 stores from 13 U.K. contact center hubs. It will be fully deployed by the end of September, according to The Telegraph.
- The technology routes voice calls to the correct department, store or contact center agent within seconds with over 90% accuracy, according to the press release. It also enables M&S to resolve inquiries more effectively, while analyzing 12 million customer interactions annually for customer intent in real time, the company said.
A common theme in the news coverage of robotics is companies saying they will use the labor savings to better serve customers. While it is too early to assess the viability of those predictions, one retailer, Marks & Spencer, says it's following through.
M&S has a total of 959 stores in the U.K, including 615 that sell only food, BBC News reported last year. It plans to close 100 stores by 2022, said MSN Money. According to the company, M&S had a legacy patchwork of switchboard systems that could not support its digital strategy. That's where the chatbots come in.
A recent study found that by 2023, the use of chatbots will bring $11 billion in combined cost savings for the retail, banking and healthcare business sectors as a replacement for customer service representatives. This savings will increase from about $6 billion in 2018. Another report predicted that the global chatbot market will grow 24.4% in the next four years, according to Research and Markets.
"The transition of our store switchboards to a new technology system is part of our 5-year transformation programme to create an agile, Digital First M&S that offers the best value and service for our customers," an M&S spokesperson told Retail Dive in an email. "Investing in a technology that helps our customers get what they want faster and easier is that ambition in action."
With Twilio, M&S ran a successful trial on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, the retailer's busiest days of the year, and the system handled 20,000 customer calls, according to the press release. Then, working with software firm DVELP, the retailer extended the natural language routing solution across the U.K. Besides handling over 1 million inbound calls per month, the new system can transcribe the customer's speech into text, determine caller intent through an integration with Google DialogFlow, and quickly and correctly route the calls.
Twilio last month also announced a collaboration with Google Cloud to integrate Contact Center AI into the Twilio Flex platform, reported MarketWatch. In June, M&S announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft to integrate AI into the customer experience, according to IT Pro.
"We know that M&S needs to modernise," Chris McGrath, IT programme manager at M&S told The Telegraph. "We have a lot of backstage resources sitting in switchboards that manually handle these calls ... we're getting them away from that backstage onto the shop floor, talking to the customers, as they should be."