Chatbot, Please Expedite My Shipping

  • Written by  Anil Gandharve, Mindtree

0aaaAnil Gandharve MindtreeIn the world of online shopping, things are specifically tailored to appease the customer and ensure efficiency — click, select, pay, done, delivered — it’s that easy. However, what is meant to improve efficiency has created a new set of challenges as customers continue to want more out of their shopping experience. Chatbots have been introduced as a way to address certain challenges, but how much do people really want to interact with chatbots?

What Exactly Is A Chatbot?

Chatbots are computer programs designed to simulate conversation with human users and automate simple administrative tasks. When implemented correctly, a chatbot can become an extension of your team; a well-trained store associate that can enhance your shopping experience. Chatbots are enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and are programmed to simulate human conversations. Varying in complexity, the technology automates various business processes that used to be performed by humans. Basic chatbots respond to specific inputs with predefined replies, as determined by rules-based logic. More advanced chatbots leverage AI, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and possess audio and video processing capabilities to learn actively from previous interactions and replicate life-like conversations.

Retail brands are increasingly using chatbots to engage online customers due to their ability to offer 24/7 support, send tailored messages about specific products based on individual preferences, offer localized promotions/events and more. Chatbots have tremendous potential, but brands must learn to strike a balance between humans and technology to fully meet the needs of the modern shopper. 

The Drawbacks

Personalization is critical for engagement and loyalty to brands throughout the entire purchasing process. While there has been hype around virtual reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, these technologies cannot be incorporated into retail operations without addressing the needs and preferences of consumers.

In a recent study from Mindtree, the vast majority (78%) of respondents over 55 said they wouldn’t be happy to visit a store run entirely by robots/tech. While incorporating AI technologies is important to helping retail organizations improve, it is clear that today’s existing customer base still requires some level of interaction with human employees. Creating a chatbot without a thoughtful strategy and careful planning will result in an ineffective platform, leading to bad experiences that customers fear with robots. Instead, it is important for retailers to look carefully at building an e-Commerce strategy that seamlessly enhances the benefits of a traditional “human” store experience with relevant technology.

The Benefits

Some call centers use interactive voice response (IVRs) that can often be frustrating for users, as they’re forced to listen to lengthy recordings, making their seemingly simple problem time-consuming. When human agents are involved, they often lack efficiency and knowledge to solve the problem at hand. Chatbots, on the other hand, engage consumers quickly in personalized and relevant conversations rather than presenting a list of predefined options. With connections to various systems at the backend, chatbots offer consumers customized interactions across various communication channels, and also maintain conversation history.

Chatbots handle customers’ problems and requests efficiently, and as a bonus, inexpensively! Rather than scrolling through lists and small images of products, customers can place orders or get their issues resolved by someone who listens to them. Chatbots and conversational commerce — the intersection of messaging apps and shopping — offer a great opportunity to improve customer experience. It is all about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support, allowing brands to differentiate their experience from their competitors.

Conversational commerce gives customers the ability to converse with a bot to shop for things, rather than going through the process of searching, add to their shopping cart, checking out and paying.Just a nudge from a bot can help boost the conversion of searches to sales and build a rapport with people who might not know what they want.

Striking A Balance

When designing chatbots to strike a balance between technology’s advancements and the human touch, the flow of conversation plays a crucial role in a good user experience. Conversations need to be designed to give a natural and enjoyable experience to the user, enabling users to feel like they are talking to a human. In order to maintain a proper flow of conversation, it is key to anticipate what the user is going to ask next, and then design conversations that would trigger an appropriate reaction from the user. Retail customers prefer to speak with humans over computers, but the use of natural language and expressions in conversations helps users feel that they are talking to a human.

The retail industry has an exciting future ahead, but the difference between success and failure will be determined in the balance between humans and technology.


Anil Gandharve is the VP and Head of Retail, CPG & Manufacturing at Mindtree, a global technology services and digital transformation company. He has more than 17 years of experience in business development, operations and consulting. He joined Mindtree in 2010 and has been instrumental in growing Mindtree’s European business since then. Prior to joining Mindtree, Gandharve spent a decade with Infosys leading several areas of responsibility. Gandharve holds a mechanical degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India.

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