Retailers are slowly but surely beginning to implement chatbot technology into their e-commerce sites. With new technology partners popping up — and Facebook adding chatbot tech to its Messenger app — retailers are able to offer consumers a higher quality customer experience and cut costs in the process.
Both these benefits should attract brands to chatbots. If still not sold, consider the following: 44 percent of consumers prefer to deal directly with a chatbot for customer service inquiries, according to the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index. In addition, chatbots can help to cut customer service costs by up to as much as 29 percent, according to Business Intelligence.
TechStyle, parent company to brands such as Fabletics, JustFab, ShoeDazzle and Fabkids, recently implemented chatbots using Linc, a company that helps retailers offer post-purchase customer service. In this interview with Anna Pettus, senior director of strategic operations at TechStyle, she gives more detail on why the company decided to start using chatbots, how its brands are leveraging the technology, and the results they're seeing.
Total Retail: Can you tell me about TechStyle — its brands, customers, products?
Anna Pettus: At TechStyle Fashion Group, we’ve set out to reimagine the fashion business by creating the world’s most innovative and admired fashion company. TechStyle is comprised of four high-value, membership-driven fashion brands supported (and adored) by a community of more than 4 million active members. Our members come back month-over-month to shop with us because we bring them the latest curated, on-trend style at a phenomenal value. We don't just sell great style, we live it and breathe it, in our vision, our voice and our daily member interactions.
TR: When and why did TechStyle's brands implement chatbot technology?
AP: We started the relationship building and initial discussions in late 2016. In business, it's imperative that you collaborate with leading innovators in the industry, which is why we decided to partner with Linc Global. It serves commerce use cases specifically and has built its platform to be fast. It’s compatible with our existing tech stack, it's ready to deliver tracking notifications, handle status inquiries, returns, exchanges and upsells too, using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language understanding.
In early 2017, we launched our Fast Fashion pilot to activating VIPs. Initial results from exposing FBM as a service channel to new VIPs has proven to be a success, with more than 10 percent of activating members opting and staying in. Our primary focus of the pilot was to obtain learnings, measure interaction behavior and develop the long-term strategy for our approach to new communication channels.
We made the decision to invest in new communication channels with a commitment to communicate with our members where they are, when they want us to, and on the channel they prefer — with a quest to lead the way and set the standard in the digital services category.
TR: How is TechStyle you using chatbot technology?
AP: Currently, for our shipping and tracking notifications and real-time queries. A bot handles more than 60 percent of interactions, with 75 percent of the shoppers asking a question or making a comment. Members have the ability to speak to an agent with real-time support when a bot cannot support the question that's being asked. We're actively looking ahead, and are in the exploratory stages of investing in returns and exchanges, SMS and WhatsApp to enhance our digital service strategy.
TR: What feedback are you getting from customers after they use a chatbot? What are the business benefits TechStyle is seeing from implementing chatbots?
AP: Our members love it! Once our members opt in, they stay opted in. We have a minimal opt-out rate at less than 1 percent, with feedback pointing to the value and convenience we're providing by communicating [with customers] on their channel of choice. From a strategic perspective, our goal is to mitigate the volume from crossing over into our traditional service channels such as voice and chat. Neutral contacts (shipping/tracking/returns/exchanges) can be handled with a similar approach that we've taken to e-commerce self-service. Transferring this contact volume to a bot is a win-win for the consumer and TechStyle. Quick, efficient, real-time support, 24/7.
TR: Why should retailers be thinking about incorporating chatbots into their customer service operations?
AP: Our goal in the fashion industry is to become a game changer and shake things up a bit. We want to re-imagine the fashion business in ways that enhance the lives and interactions of our members. As we all look ahead to the future of digital service, it's imperative that we're re-imagining how we communicate with our members. I challenge companies to not be afraid to explore and test new communication channels as a way to deliver on-demand services. Chatbots are here to stay and are an invaluable asset to our strategic communication growth strategy. It's only a matter of time before the consumer shows up. At TechStyle, we will be ready, waiting and prepared to deliver the world-class service our members expect.