While the idea of humanoid robots serving in restaurants might be the populist idea of Artificial Intelligence in customer experience, today’s reality is far tamer – and perhaps more useful. We live in a world where AI streamlines our day-to-day lives without us even realising, and uptake in the technology is more common than the ‘Bicentennial Man’ fantasiser might care to believe.
According to a new IBM report, some 51% of advanced users are using Artificial Intelligence in their customer service departments to improve customer experience. The application of cognitive technology to direct customer interactions is an indicator of the trust in innovation shown by forward-thinking brands, and those that have invested are reaping the benefits.
AI is providing powerful new methods of analysing customer interactions, providing insights and recognising trends in order to enhance retail experiences. Companies that have invested in the technology have seen benefits to both their sales staff and their customers, and ultimately experience superior engagement, brand loyalty and growth.
Identifying Customer Desire
Online retail, though improving, is in the most part still a long way from a perfected practice. Artificial Intelligence is providing numerous ways to streamline the process for consumers and retailers, perhaps the most helpful of all through the identification of customer desire. Shoppers can now simply state their needs, and be presented with a personalised selection of recommendations that match their request based on factors such a browsing behaviour, previous purchases and advanced search algorithms.
As well as presenting more relevant information at the point of product search, innovative retailers are using this data to better understand their customers’ relationships with their brand. Active wear retailer The North Face for example, asks their online customer, “How will you be using this jacket?” Through the analysis of this data, the retailer can align their service offering and product recommendations to the desires of the customer.
Becoming the Face of the Brand
In 2016, 20 percent of Google searches on mobile were made via voice command, and in only a few years, it’s likely that the use of the keyboard with decline further. While a balance needs to be struck between genuine customer value and gimmicks, the rise of voice instruction has created a demand for AI systems that can handle direct man-to-machine ‘conversation’.
Integration between brands and AI systems like Amazon’s Alexa is also becoming increasingly important, with the technology providing an ever-present accessibility of customer service in consumers homes. British Supermarket Chain, Tesco, recently announced its integration with Google Home’s AI, allowing customers to add items to their next pre-booked delivery slot using their voice alone. Google Home will also learn which items shoppers prefer based on previous orders on their account.
Providing Omni-Channel Relevancy
Not limited to just the virtual world, Artificial Intelligence has also found its way to the physical aisles of retailers. US Department Store Macy’s is a bold example of digital innovation present within a brick-and-mortar environment.
Using Watson’s Natural Language Classifier and Language Translation APIs, Macy’s customers can simply speak or type into their devices to ask questions that would normally be dealt with by humans, such as where to find particular items. This improves the in-store experience for customers, and also allows sales staff to engage in more valuable activities.
In another example, British Supermarket chain, Tesco, has been using image-recognition algorithms and in-store cameras to monitor item availability. This technology enables staff to react faster to empty shelves and limit customer frustrations.
Enhancing Operational Efficiency
As well as the additional employment AI creates, the technology has also enhanced our ability to carry out our work. A study of 1,874 companies of varying sizes across numerous industries and global markets, revealed that senior executives spent an average of 16 hours per week on administrative duties. The impact that automation could have on tasks such as these is hard to ignore, with the study concluding that By 2020, 86% of companies will need intelligent automation to remain competitive.
Japanese company, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, has developed a cognitive solution which analyzes the content of inbound calls with the view to make customer interactions more efficient. The technology recognises trends and sentiment, allowing MSI to react by providing more relevant front-end customer messaging on frequently asked questions pages and telephone voice recordings.
Similarly, BP Castrol developed a cognitive assistant to support a customer service line for technical requests, after finding that technical experts were being asked the same simple questions around 70% of the time. The cognitive assistant gives customers around the clock access to resolve these issues and allows the technical expert to focus on the remaining 30% of questions that for now, only a human can answer.
For many consumers, the potential is there for AI to improve their customer experience, but they’re not fully convinced it adds enough value today. On the other side of the coin, 68% of people would be more open to using AI if it helped them in their day-to-day lives. The irony of all of this is that 84% of people already see the benefits, they just don’t realise it. From predictive search terms to online shopping recommendations – it’s all AI, and it’s all useful.
34% of consumers would feel comfortable with online retailers using Artificial Intelligence to provide an enhanced customer experience. While this might seem low, this figure is higher than in any other industry, and will only grow in years to come.
The sophistication of Artificial Intelligence in our industry is increasing exponentially, and there are technologies that are being used today that didn’t even exist a few months ago. We’re in a shift, and the sooner brands realise this, the more opportunity they can create for themselves.
eWave are currently recruiting for an Artificial Intelligence Solutions Lead to work on various projects with our high-profile portfolio of iconic global brands. If you think this could be you, please get in touch.
Michael is a Digital Campaign Strategist at eWave. With a passion for connecting brands with innovation in the commerce space, he has a focus in AI, Omnichannel Strategy and Marketing Automation. Follow his work here or connect with him on LinkedIn.