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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.”

Read Full Article: Can Artificial Intelligence Improve Customer Service?

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.

Retailers have a Renewed Focus on Customer Service

The minimum wage issue is a hot topic right now, with a lot of the focus around social and economic impacts for both retailers and employees.  While these are clearly important areas of discussion, there is another aspect to this – customer service.

As the ability to shop for virtually any item, at any time, in any place becomes mainstream, what will differentiate retailers and keep them successful if they’re not competing on price and product? Customer service!

Costco and Nordstrom are two examples that are cited frequently that show the link between higher pay and better service.  The theory goes that higher pay makes for happier and more engaged employees thus leading to better service and increased customer satisfaction (and of course, higher sales).

These retailers, among others, realize that investment in labor has some real benefits. They are running counter to the historical retail industry trend of reducing expenses by cutting people and/or paying them less.

Retailers are starting to realize that the place to save money is no longer in cutting staff.  It is smarter to invest in employees in order to make the connection with customers stronger.  And it’s more than just about raising pay.  JCPenney recently announced an initiative to reduce paperwork and communications from HQ in order to free up managers to spend more time focusing on the customer.

And the all-CAPS rant about customers being “on fire” by the CEO of Restoration Hardware shows the focus on customer service is a priority at the highest levels, even though it may be a little vague to simply say “The goal is delight.”

Retail still relies heavily on person-to-person interaction, both during and after the sale and by having the right number of employees who have the training, tools and appropriate level of pay needed to provide outstanding service will become more important than ever.

As always, I appreciate your insights and opinions.  Please share your comments below.

Todd

VIDEO: Customer-facing and Associate Mobile Apps

Retailers are using mobile apps to improve the customer experience, but the way they use the apps is different based on the retail segment.

Customer-facing mobile apps are a good fit for grocers and big box retailers and associate-facing apps are better for specialty retailers. We are seeing grocers like Stop & Shop effectively using customer apps for scanning and paying for products.  Specialty retailers are using associate apps for guided selling like identifying what is in the customer’s closet.

Watch this video to learn more.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.

Ken

Gaining Ground in the Retail Battle Against Amazon

When it comes to offering competitive prices, convenience, and a superior customer service experience, many traditional brick and mortar businesses are struggling to keep up with intermediating retailers like Amazon and Google. As these industry giants have drastically raised the bar in terms of customer expectations and satisfaction metrics, the remaining marketplace players are left strategizing on how to stay relevant to consumers.

AmazonUnder this industry backdrop, there are a few strategic elements for retailers to prioritize when fashioning their competitive approach to remain contenders in the retail game.

Marketing, Mindshare and Brand Awareness

Building top-of-mind awareness for the consumer is key, particularly in today’s vast e-commerce marketplace. Nearly every product imaginable is available for purchase on the web with a quick click of a mouse. Today’s retailers face unparalleled competition from intermediating retailers, who are remarketing product using browsing history and rapidly chipping away at the potential market share. Consequently, brand awareness is more critical than ever. To successfully compete, retailers need a clear, cohesive strategy to direct their online product offerings and brand experience in order to build lasting brand loyalty and affinity. Thinking outside of the box will allow retailers to craft creative and unique marketing initiatives to reinvigorate consumer affection. First and foremost, brand is king.

Fulfillment Experience

With Amazon now offering Sunday delivery via the U.S. Postal Service and expanding upon their existing 100 fulfillment centers, retailers are facing increased pressure to shave down delivery windows. Though most chain brick and mortar retailers operate largely from their legacy central distribution centers, they are nonetheless well positioned to offer same day and next day delivery utilizing ship from store services. Large store chains were built around servicing the surrounding population throughout the majority of the U.S., and as a result have great potential to compete in this arena. However, offering an improved fulfillment experience is contingent upon a retailer’s ability to expose actual store inventory to their customers across all channels in real-time and execute the last mile delivery, which takes us to the importance of unified commerce.

Unified Commerce

Hand in hand with offering all-star fulfillment comes the “Unified Commerce” model. To distribute goods as quickly and efficiently as possible, a retailer’s internal systems must fully support a real-time fulfillment strategy. By breaking down all of the traditional silos between store retail and online fulfillment and offering an “endless aisle” of goods, retailers provide consumers with a seamless purchasing channel between in-store, online, and mobile channels. Possessing unified commerce capabilities and executing strategic plans in conjunction with best in class fulfillment practices allow for enhanced supply chain efficiencies and customer satisfaction that significantly promotes industry advantage.

Posted by Laura Sossong

About Laura Sossong, Management Consultant
Laura is an experienced individual with core competencies in merchandising and retail strategy, product optimization, technological innovation, and team training and restructuring. Her efforts have been instrumental in the execution of various organizational strategies and solutions. She has effectively introduced and implemented initiatives for American Eagle Outfitters and MGM Resorts International, among others.

Tire Kingdom® – Customer Service on Steroids!

Imagine this experience at your local tire store…

You drive in with a problem with your tires or brakes or something else and when you are greeted by the salesperson, they can immediately show you what the good, better and best prices for the products you need based on your vehicle make, model and year – without even asking you any questions about your car.

How is this possible? TireKingdomApp

With a nifty POS application designed with the assistance of Boston Retail Partners, Tire Kingdom® staff scan your car’s VIN outside and upload it to the store’s POS system and then the sales associate pulls it up on the screen and can instantaneously identify the inventory and pricing of all products available within a specific radius. The systems not only identifies product availability, but it also categorizes the products into ranges of good, better and best based on price and quality to make the selection decision easier for the customer.

Now that’s customer service!