In January, at the height of the Omicron surge and in the midst of pandemic-driven supply chain woes, McKinsey & Company published an exploration of the ways in which companies are “vulnerable” to supply chain disruption. Likewise, Deloitte shared its perspective on the evolving employment landscape and how retailers are working to “convert pandemic struggles into strengths.”
From cost increases to logistics bottlenecks to staffing challenges, there seems to be no end to the list of obstacles to efficient, profitable retail operations.
In short, building in greater operational resilience remains a priority, and doing so often means ramping up investments in digital transformation. Indeed, many companies find that when they rely on technology — especially AI — they get nearly immediate relief for their most pressing challenges, while building in the wherewithal necessary to weather any storm in the future.
AI as Your First Line of Defense
Consider how consumers have shifted their shopping and purchasing habits in recent years. For many, shopping is now a hybrid experience in which they pre-order groceries, retail items and/or takeout online for curbside, touchless pickup. In other cases, consumers may visit a brick-and-mortar store to check out a new item in person, only to order it from a competing ecommerce site, possibly while still standing in your store.
But when retailers adopt conversational AI platforms, they can unlock new ways to enhance both customer and employee experiences, whether that’s online, in-store or through those hybrid shopping experiences. For retailers, this means depending on AI-powered virtual assistants as a first line of defense for the contact center, relieving caller volume while offering personalized, innovative shopping experiences, or routing to the most appropriate agent when necessary. This also means leveraging conversational AI to empower the consumer and in-store associate to drive a real-time hybrid experience.
Real-Time Support for Employees – Online and In-Store
For others, that means empowering employees with predictive analytics in real time to boost sales and increase loyalty. Let’s say, for example, that a customer is on your website searching for a pair of shoes that is listed as out of stock. They can engage the live chat function on the site to talk to a salesperson and find out when the shoes might be available.
With a conversational AI platform deployed, the agent has that information readily available to answer the customer’s question right away, correctly and confidently. Moreover, with predictive analytics, the AI can serve up a range of alternative shoes — based on the customer’s past purchases and store browsing history — that can create a sale in the moment.
The value of conversational AI doesn’t end with the contact center, however. In-store associates can also take advantage of these solutions in ways that enable both online and in-person shopping experiences to mirror each other. For example, a customer visits your store to shop for a new gaming platform, but the specific item is not available on the shelves. Rather than walking out empty handed, imagine if the employees had access to the same predictive analytics to suggest an alternative system or even to pre-order it, based on future availability.
Now imagine this same experience, where the consumer is talking to the in-store associate who has a tablet powered with a conversational AI virtual assistant. The in-store associate can look up the customer’s account, be prompted with suggestions promoting alternatives, including shipping the product directly to her home or sending the customer to another store close to her home that might have the product she is looking for.
Now, not only has the store secured a sale in the moment, but it can also effectively hand off that customer to digital channels, enhancing the experience with messaging that sends alerts about order status, shipping notifications and so on. Because customers can also engage with and respond to these messages, brands have enabled a two-way conversation that ultimately leads to better service and increased satisfaction.
It’s these types of interactions that make conversational AI an ideal partner for retailers across all channels, helping brands deliver consistent, delightful customer and employee experiences while increasing conversion rates and creating customer lifetime value.
Tony Laurentzen has more than 25 years of experience in the technology sector, spending the last 17 with Nuance where he is currently the SVP of Intelligent Engagement Solutions within the Enterprise Division. Before that he served as the leader of several teams at Nuance including Sales Engineering, Business Consulting, and Product Management. A proven leader in working with cross-functional teams, Laurentzen blends his in-depth knowledge of business management, technology and vertical domain expertise to bring Nuance’s solutions to the enterprise market, partnering with customers to ensure implementations drive true ROI. Laurentzen received a B.S. from Villanova University and an MBA from Dowling College.