Will AI really move the needle for retailers?
Imagine this: A customer needs something to wear for a special occasion, so they come into your store. You’ve hired plenty of associates, but they just stand there, waiting for the customer to come to them. The customer has a question about sizing and finally seek out an associate who then provides the response “Sure! Wait time is approximately ten minutes”. The customer is left alone again.
As a retail owner or manager, you’d be completely bewildered, right? Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens every day to customers who shop online. We go on a website in search of something, but often struggle to find what we need and either move on or end up ordering the wrong item. AI-powered chatbots have made this experience better, offering answers to frequently asked questions and helping route customers to the right agent when necessary. These bots are helping save the customer from walking away, but yet the shopping experience is still pretty impersonal.
So while AI is making the customer experience better by offering 24/7 support, the thing that is really going to help transform the customer experience is more of a proactive approach. Leveraging AI across the entire customer journey – not just for customer support – will marry the convenience of online shopping with the personalization of being in-store. Proactive AI doesn’t wait for the customer to engage, but helps guide them through their entire journey by offering relevant and timely content that can help make purchasing decisions or simply get more information on a product. With proactive AI, retailers can actively engage customers, providing that warm, “how can we help you today” experience without a car ride to the store.
In fact, AI can actually help make the online shopping process even more personalized. While a brick-and-mortar associate isn’t likely to know every repeat customer’s purchase history or preferences when they enter the store, proactive bots do—and can take action accordingly. If, for example, a particular online shoe shopper goes looking for a new pair of boots every fall like clockwork, a proactive AI chatbot could greet that person by name when they come to the site, ask if they’re in the market for boots again this fall, and offer up items they might like, maybe even with a special offer just for them. If at some point in the interaction a human agent is needed, the bot can hand the customer over to a live agent seamlessly, with the full context of the interaction intact.
So why is this important? According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of marketers surveyed in 2017 say their companies compete mostly on the basis of CX. Of those, 81% expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of CX by 2020. With proactive AI, brands have the opportunity to provide more meaningful, personal, and relevant interactions for customers that drive repeat visits and brand loyalty. Retailers that get on board with the new generation of AI chatbots early will be more likely to stand out in the jam-packed ecommerce marketplace with customer experience that brings the humanity back to the digital world.