The COVID-19 pandemic has changed retail forever, with massive shifts in consumer behaviors and preferences leaving a long-lasting impact. We believe the next three to five years will be critical in the evolution of retail, with technology and intelligent automation in particular playing a significant role in this transformation.
But how will intelligent automation (IA) and additional functionality such as artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) be applied to optimize the future shopping experience?
Take the example of a runner. Serious runners know they should change their shoes every 500 miles to avoid injury, but how often is this advice followed? Fitness apps today can track a runner’s distance and remind them to order new shoes, even providing them a quick link to online retailers in the process, and this is great.
Powering this interaction is intelligent automation. Using pre-defined rules, IA automated the entire process of ordering new running shoes by delivering timely and relevant alerts and managing the authorization activities for the retailer’s website. No humans were involved in this customer interaction.
Or picture someone who’s been waiting for weeks on the delivery of a fitness watch. She visits the retailer’s website and uses the chat function to discover what happened. Informed the item is out of stock, she’s disappointed and says so. The retailer offers another watch option that’s more expensive but can be delivered tomorrow. On top of that, the retailer offers a 15% discount to make up for the error. The customer agrees, and the new watch is delivered the next day.
This was all done via intelligent automation. Chatbots and virtual agents prompt a bot to get the order status and consult various IT systems to confirm the out-of-stock status. NLP and sentiment analysis of the customer’s messages reveal her displeasure, and the decision is automatically made to transfer her to a human worker. Digital experts with access to the retailer’s financials and inventory recommend another product and a 15% discount, which the human worker presents to the customer.
The result? A satisfied customer, greater brand loyalty, and no negative reviews on Yelp.
That’s how IA can personalize the retail experience and increase its value to both customers and retailers. All of this happens behind the scenes, with the customer never knowing they’re mainly dealing with bots instead of humans. Simple transactions and problems are solved at the algorithmic level, while higher-level functions—things that require a human touch—can be handled by customer relations specialists.
But that’s just the beginning. Each customer interaction with IA generates data. When enough is collected, it can be analyzed to accelerate growth and optimize every customer touch point across all channels, especially in messaging, personalization and delivery of the user experience. That iteration becomes a virtuous circle, generating more data and allowing even more customization for customers.
Brinks Home, a sister company to the company known for its fleet of armored trucks, used IA and AI to do just that. The sister company, which specializes in home security, has struggled against brands like Google Nest, Ring and ADT. But it used data it had collected since 1994 to test thousands of message combinations and offers and vary the creative content, channel, and delivery times. During the first half of 2021, overall revenue increased 9.5% compared with the same period in 2020.
IA and accompanying technologies will revolutionize retail. It’s only a matter of how soon and which companies are poised to take the best advantage of these new methods of customer acquisition and personalization. The aim should be to meet customers on their terms and deliver a highly personalized experience that delights customers and keeps them returning again and again.
Beth Homer is the SVP Sales of the Americas at Blue Prism.