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Can Artificial Intelligence Improve Customer Service?

The Motley Fool – Customer service isn’t just about having a pleasant attitude or adopting a “the customer is always right” policy. Those things are important, but they’re only a few of the things a company needs to do to meet the needs of its patrons. Attitude and a willingness to serve become almost irrelevant if a store’s shelves don’t have the right merchandise, or a retailer does not offer the delivery or pickup model that meets a customer’s needs.

Currently, most retailers try to figure out the right mix to keep their customers happy using old-school techniques like observation and satisfaction surveys. Only 7% of retailers currently use artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance customer service. But that’s going to change: Another 48% plan to start using artificial intelligence technologies with 3 years according to the 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey.

“The convergence of AI with traditional customer service has the ability to transform the shopping experience,” said BRP President Perry Kramer in a press release. “AI offers the ability to exploit the vast amounts of customer preference and transaction data gathered and reach a much larger group of consumers on a personal level to enhance the customer experience.”

The challenge — and it’s a line that has not been fully fleshed out yet — is that consumers may not know they are interacting with an AI. Some may not be happy to find out that the helpful “person” on the other end of their conversation is actually a robot/AI.

“Transparency is a big discussion for AI. Do you want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or should you disclose that this is a conversation with Watson or some other AI technology,” said BRP Senior Vice President Jeffrey Neville in the press release. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now, as AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

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Three Years Out: That’s When Shoppers Can Expect To See Great, AI-Driven Service

Email Insider – Retailers are embracing a new model, using AI, breaking down internal channel silos and fielding single-order management systems to deliver a superior customer experience. At least that’s the dream. In reality, almost half are plagued by budget constraints and/or disparate systems, according to the 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey by BRP, retail consulting firm.

And this apparently is having an impact. For instance, 48% plan to deploy AI to fuel their customer service within three years, but only 7% are doing so now. In addition, 31% plan to use augmented reality within three years, and 21% virtual reality — again, within three years.

And email? The study shows that 81% are using personal email as a means of customer interaction with the brand. But only 36% say it is working well, and 45% feel they need improvement.

Social media is utilized by 94%, with 36% saying it works well and 48% saying they need improvement. And 81% are using call centers, with 36% saying they need improvement.

Read Full Article: Three Years Out: That’s When Shoppers Can Expect To See Great, AI-Driven Service

More retailers use AI to improve customer service

Chain Store Age – Retailers are increasingly applying artificial intelligence (AI) to better personalize customer service initiatives, and momentum is increasing. Fifty five percent of retailers plan to leverage AI technology within three years, and applications will vary, according to the “2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey,” from Boston Retail Partners (BRP) retail consulting firm.

AI’s ability to learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention makes it a credible option to improve customer service. Some retailers use it to offer purchasing suggestions based on customer responses to a series of questions. Others use it to pinpoint the most convenient time of day to reach out to consumers with product suggestions, which are also based on past clicks and website visit data.

While chatbots can be a useful customer service tool, some consumers may not know if they are talking to a real person or a bot until they’ve already entered the interaction. Without transparency, that lack of clarity may also turn off some consumers.

“Transparency is a big discussion for AI. Do you want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or should you disclose that this is a conversation with Watson or some other AI technology,” said Jeffrey Neville, senior VP and practice lead, BRP. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now, as AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

Read Full Article: More retailers use AI to improve customer service

Retailers Plan to Add Artificial Intelligence

Convenience Store Decisions – Retailers are watching technology trends, especially artificial intelligence and deciding how they might best implement it to serve their customer base.

Retailers recognize the value of using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance customer service, as 55% plan to leverage this technology within three years. According to the 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey, 7% of retailers are currently using AI as digital assistants and chatbots, and another 48% plan to implement this capability within three years.

Artificial intelligence is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building to learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. Some retailers are experimenting with AI to offer purchasing suggestions based on customer responses to a series of questions or to pinpoint the most convenient time of day to reach out to consumers with products they would be willing to purchase based on past clicks and website visit data.

“The convergence of AI with traditional customer service has the ability to transform the shopping experience,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP Retail Consulting Firm. “AI offers the ability to exploit the vast amounts of customer preference and transaction data gathered and reach a much larger group of consumers on a personal level to enhance the customer experience.”

Read Full Article: Retailers Plan to Add Artificial Intelligence

55% of Retailers Plan to Utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Improve Customer Service within Three Years

BRP’s Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey Addresses the Customer Experience of the Future

Boston, MA – September 27, 2018– Retailers recognize the value of using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance customer service, as 55% plan to leverage this technology within three years. According to the 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey, 7% of retailers are currently using AI as digital assistants and chatbots, and another 48% plan to implement this capability within three years.

Artificial intelligence is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building to learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. Some retailers are experimenting with AI to offer purchasing suggestions based on customer responses to a series of questions or to pinpoint the most convenient time of day to reach out to consumers with products they would be willing to purchase based on past clicks and website visit data.

“The convergence of AI with traditional customer service has the ability to transform the shopping experience,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP. “AI offers the ability to exploit the vast amounts of customer preference and transaction data gathered and reach a much larger group of consumers on a personal level to enhance the customer experience.”

Amazon and other multi-channel retailers are currently experimenting with AI to offer purchasing suggestions based on responses to a series of questions and past purchase history. Sephora, using a Kik chatbot, offers customers “conversational commerce” by offering a one-on-one mobile chat experience to offer ideas on new makeup looks and identify products in tutorials to offer customers a better shopping experience. In-store, the chatbot is becoming a personal shopping assistant by offering product recommendations, reviews and ratings.

While chatbots can be a useful customer service tool, some consumers may not know if they are talking to a real person or a bot until they’ve already entered the interaction. That lack of clarity may turn off some consumers, which can negatively impact your brand.

“Transparency is a big discussion for AI. Do you want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or should you disclose that this is a conversation with Watson or some other AI technology,” said Jeffrey Neville, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now, as AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

For more details and other retail insights, download the complete 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey:

https://brpconsulting.com/download/2018-unified-commerce-survey/.

The 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey platinum sponsors are Aptos and Manhattan Associates, gold sponsors are CayanECRS, enVista and PCMS, and the silver sponsor is STORIS.

About BRP

BRP is an innovative retail consulting firm dedicated to providing superior service and enduring value to our clients. BRP combines its consultants’ deep retail business knowledge and cross-functional capabilities to deliver superior design and implementation of strategy, technology, and process solutions. The firm’s unique combination of industry focus, knowledge-based approach, and rapid, end-to-end solution deployment helps clients to achieve their business potential. BRP’s consulting services include:

Strategy | Business Intelligence | Business Process Optimization | Point of Sale (POS)
Mobile POS | Payment Security | E-Commerce | Store Systems and Operations | CRM
Unified Commerce | Customer Experience | Order Management | Networks
Merchandise Management | Supply Chain | Private Equity

For more information on BRP, visit http://www.brpconsulting.com.

Can Conversational Commerce Fulfill Its Potential In Retail?

Retail TouchPoints – The remarkable growth of voice-assisted devices over the past year has expanded what “conversational commerce” truly means for retailers. While the term had largely been used to describe chatbot activity just a few years ago, voice now gives retailers yet another shiny toy to fulfill consumer needs — and hopefully create a new shopping channel. As such, there are high expectations around the technology: voice shopping is expected to account for $40 billion in U.S. consumer spending by 2022, according to a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants. However, for such a figure to be achieved, retailers must still surmount some high barriers.

It’s true that enthusiasm for the technology itself is high— voice-activated devices are set for 50% U.S. sales growth from the 2016-2017 period to the 2018-2019 span, according to NPD Group. Yet despite this popularity, interest in — or even awareness of — their commerce functionalities remains low.

“As much as retailers have made great strides over the past couple of years in being nimbler and more agile, this is such a unique technology that they will still struggle with,” said Jeffrey Neville, Senior VP and Practice Lead at BRP Consulting in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The thought of doing a pilot of a customer service/voice commerce program is going to be difficult because it’s so different. There’s a tendency to overthink the impact of something like this on their customers. As far as the base technology goes, you can get partners or cloud-based third-party applications to do a lot of the groundwork, but from a data integration standpoint and from an understanding of how you build and manage these tools — that’s going to be a struggle.”

“A big discussion in this space is: ‘Do we want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or do we want the customer to realize that this is convenience with Watson or some other AI technology?’” said BRP’s Neville. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now. Any AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

“If you look at apparel or luxury, you’re seeing companies like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger use chatbots to be able to play the role of a stylist and provide fashion advice,” said Neville. “That’s where you may start seeing that relationship building through a chatbot, versus the stylist you’re used to going to at Polo Ralph Lauren. Not to bring this back to Amazon, but the Echo Look can take a picture of you in an outfit, and the long-term theory is to be able to combine this conversational commerce and voice shopping with image recognition. As you start to mix the concepts of being able to have a conversation with a computer-based stylist, and then having that computer-based stylist also be able to recognize patterns and colors, and making recommendations out of the existing retailer’s catalog, there’s some cool opportunities that retailers can tap into.”

Read Full Article: Can Conversational Commerce Fulfill Its Potential In Retail?  

Retailers’ Tech Capabilities Still Fall Short

eMarketer – Today’s consumers are open to various types of retail technologies, and they are even warming up to others that were once seen as too creepy.

A recent study by BRP (Boston Retail Partners) and Windstream Enterprise found that many consumers would be more likely to shop at a retailer that offered tech capabilities like automated returns, as well as augmented and virtual reality experiences. But while interest is there—and retailers are aware of the impact it could have if offered—a good number of them don’t offer such capabilities yet.

In fact, while 68% of US shoppers surveyed by BRP and Windstream said they would be more likely to shop at a retailer that offered automated returns capability, just 8% of retailers said they offer this feature.

Read Full Article: Retailers’ Tech Capabilities Still Fall Short

Retailers can’t keep pace with consumers’ digital preferences

Chain Store Age – Consumers said digital influences up to 75% of their pre-store visits, and it’s leveraged in 46% of in-store shopping experiences. Yet, less than half of retailers deliver on the most important digital capabilities that customers desire, according to “Retail’s Digital Crossroads: The Race to Meet Shopper Expectations,” a report from Boston Retail Partners.

According to data, consumers are more likely to shop at retailers that align next-generation technologies to their digital preferences, and understand the impact. These customers are after more frictionless and relevant shopping experiences, however, in many cases, retailers still don’t offer the capabilities that impact consumers’ shopping preferences.

For example, 68% of consumers are more likely to shop a retailer that offers automated returns capability versus one that doesn’t. Yet, only 8% of retailers offer this service. Similarly, 65% of consumers want to use proximity-triggered mobile coupons, but only 8% of companies offer them. Smart fitting rooms appeal to 53% of shoppers, but only 18% of retailers feature them.

Read Full Article: Retailers can’t keep pace with consumers’ digital preferences

BRP Report Shows How Digital Influences Shopping

Convenience Store Decisions – Consumers expect greater convenience and empowerment to shop the way they want and where they want. According to a new report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP) and Windstream Enterprise, rapidly evolving customer expectations and digital technologies are driving a major transformation in the retail industry.

“The Retail’s Digital Crossroads: The Race to Meet Shopper Expectations” report, based on research conducted by Incisiv, combines findings from surveys of 1,212 retail consumers and 60 retail executives to understand the effect digital has on the shopping experience.

“The digital divide in retail is growing, as over 75% of retail shopping traverses the digital realm, but less than half of retailers deliver on the most important digital capabilities that customers desire,” said Brian Brunk, principal, BRP. “Further, very few retailers offer the next generation digital technologies, like automated returns and proximity-triggered mobile coupons, that could significantly influence future purchase decisions. Retailers must transform and quickly close the digital gap to remain relevant with their customer.”

“Mobile devices and the capabilities they enable are the primary catalyst for the continued evolution of the customer experience,” said Ryan Grogman, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP. “The majority of today’s consumers research products and brands digitally prior to visiting a physical store and, once they are in the store, about half of them use their mobile devices to perform price comparisons, read product reviews, and even validate inventory.”

Read Full Article: BRP Report Shows How Digital Influences Shopping

Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences

Luxury Daily – Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has opened a concept store that offers shoppers and luxury retailers a look at a new frontier for fashion retail digitization.

Dubbed “FashionAI,” the pilot boutique harnesses artificial intelligence capabilities for a stress-free shopping experience. While it is only open for a few days, the store will act as a temporary testing ground for innovative retail formats.

“AI-assisted shopping brings the compelling elements of online purchasing to the physical store, creating a truly unique, personalized customer experience,” Laura Sossong, consulting manager at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “Consumers who desire a meaningful in-store experience but want the added benefits of styling tips, convenience and individualized customer service are sure to embrace this hybrid offering.”

Ms. Sossong is not affiliated with Alibaba but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

“Predicting fashion trends is imperative for the success of luxury retailers, and in-store AI technology will allow retailers to glean invaluable insight into marketplace preferences and trends,” Ms. Sossong said. “By gathering rich reportable data on customer shopping choices, retailers can then predict trends, demand and inventory needs and shape assortment direction and strategy based on findings.”

“The plethora of insights created by AI will enable luxury retailers to make smarter merchandise planning and assortment decisions,” BRP’s Ms. Sossong said. “We are bound to see elements of AI technology being incorporated into the luxury space, particularly in high end markets where implementing AI will bring ROI by inducing further purchases.”

Read Full Article: Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences