Every retailer has seen a massive surge in digital interactions over the last 18 months. The disruption of COVID-19 made even the most tech-shy consumers turn to digital channels — and they liked what they found. A recent international survey by OnePoll revealed that 58 percent of consumers say they’ll continue to have more digital interactions with brands than before the pandemic.
However, brands shouldn’t forget the human touch as they rush to provide digital self-service. Although 51 percent of consumers prefer to complete tasks in digital channels, 52 percent will still pick up the phone when they have a question.
The retailers that can combine artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital experiences with efficient and effective human-assisted service will build stronger, more valuable customer relationships — and significant competitive advantage.
That means having AI and human agents work together as one team. And this has become even more important now that customer service agents are mostly working from home. With an AI co-worker, help is always at hand.
AI Brings Intelligence to Digital Channels
Many retailers now use conversational AI to deliver smarter digital self-service options. They’ve deployed advanced natural language understanding technologies to identify common customer intents, provide rapid answers, and increase self-service containment by offering effective conversational experiences. With many stores closed during the pandemic, and the resulting surge in digital interactions, retailers relied on intelligent virtual assistants to greet customers at their digital storefront and deflect common inquires away from human agents.
But there’s an extra benefit for agents here too. With AI taking care of routine inquiries, agents can get away from ordinary tasks and focus on more meaningful interactions that require their expertise and empathy. And in an employment sector notorious for high churn rates, keeping agents happy (and keeping them for longer) can have a massive impact on customer service quality and contact-center costs.
Of course, when retailers rely on agents to handle high-value interactions and complex customer issues, they must give them the tools they need to succeed.
AI Guides Agents to the Fastest Path to Resolution
Anyone who has worked in a retail contact center will tell you it’s not easy. With vast product portfolios and numerous customer offers — all constantly changing — finding the right answer can be a Herculean challenge, even for experienced agents.
When AI is handling more ordinary tasks, human agents will spend their time dealing with more complex cases. In a work-from-home world, agents are pretty much on their own, trawling through multiple knowledgebases while an increasingly frustrated customer sits waiting.
This is where AI can really come into its own. Modern conversational AI solutions can monitor agent interactions and provide real-time support, including relevant insights into customer history and context, advice on best practices and next best actions, and targeted product and offer recommendations.
With AI in their corner, it doesn’t matter where agents are working — they always have the insights and tools needed to reach resolutions faster and handle complex customer inquiries confidently.
Better CX, Better Business Outcomes
In this article, I’ve only scratched the surface of how AI can help retailers — and their employees — deliver superior customer experiences. Retail customer engagement leaders should prioritize exploring all the ways that conversational AI can add value to their customer service programs. Tomorrow’s market leaders will be the retailers that use AI to deliver sensational self-service and empower agents to step up to the plate when they’re needed.
Tony Lorentzen is general manager and senior vice president, intelligent engagement at Nuance Communications, a technology pioneer with market leadership in conversational AI and ambient intelligence.
Tony Lorentzen has more than 25 years of experience in the technology sector, spending the last 17 with Nuance Communications where he is currently the GM and SVP of Intelligent Engagement Solutions within the Enterprise Division. A proven leader in working with the cross-functional teams, Tony 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.