E-Commerce Retailers Turn to Automation to Keep Up With Demand
With more people shopping online, and with factors such as the global logistics crisis affecting the delivery of purchases, how can retailers ensure a smooth customer experience in 2022? With the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, retailers can rise to meet the moment. With technology taking over the repetitive processes behind each interaction, e-commerce companies can improve the online buying experience and create lasting customer relationships.
Automating Behind the Scenes
For every purchase a customer makes online, there are multiple processes that must happen behind the scenes before the purchased item reaches its destination. Unfortunately for the retailer and the customer, each process that’s manually completed during and after a customer purchase also presents a significant risk of human error. Many times, these inadvertent errors are the reason a shipment is delayed, causing customer disappointment.
But what if these back-office processes could be delegated to AI-powered bots that work behind the scenes? Automated bots improve efficiency, accuracy and speed. They're best-suited to highly repetitive processes and they remove the probability of error that comes from having a human input data into a system. AI has the power to improve the many processes involved in an online purchase, such as accepting various forms of payments, currency conversion, relevant shipping documentation, and issuing refunds. But that’s not all.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is a powerful tool that helps retailers plan and manage the manufacturing of goods (if they're makers and not just retailers), supply chain, and related central processes. ERP systems help manage all retail processes and keep them in one place. There are hundreds of micro-processes going on within each process and they consume a significant amount of time if managed manually.
With the help of AI, retailers can automate the whole ERP process and free their workers from hours of mundane data input. In addition, retailers can integrate their ERP with inventory and leverage AI so they always know the status of their resources in real time. This eliminates shipping delays or having to deliver the unpleasant news to a shopper that their item is sold out.
Connecting the Dots
Retailers can extend the many benefits of AI and automation beyond the back office to create a seamless customer experience. Bots can be integrated with front-end communications to keep customers updated on their purchases. Automation can even help customer service agents quickly gather relevant information about a customer while speaking with them on the phone or via chat, so agents can quickly get up to speed on the customer’s transaction. This helps retailers demonstrate that they care about the customer and helps the agent resolve problems more quickly.
AI-based bots can also be programmed to act on signals sent from back-end systems to anticipate any issues and trigger a message to a customer. Once triggered, bots can preemptively intervene with information or a solution to a delivery delay before customers are even aware.
For instance, if there hasn't been an update in shipping status in your back-office system in three days, your customer might assume that the package got lost. With automation, however, an AI agent can place a new order to be delivered, while also emailing the customer to explain what happened.
No Bottlenecks and a Better Work Environment
AI technology enables e-commerce merchants to identify and streamline manual, repetitive processes that are otherwise time-consuming bottlenecks. Getting rid of these bottlenecks ensures a better customer experience that keeps consumers coming back. In the future, we will see a workplace in which the customer service agent has a “digital twin” that watches how they work, identifies and learns repetitive processes, and offers to take over these tasks for the agent. And that’s only scratching the surface of what AI can do for human workers.
Automating, simplifying and removing as many low-value, manual processes as possible has another benefit: it helps lower retail employees’ workloads and frees up their time for more valuable tasks, such as customer service and creative problem-solving that have a better impact on the business. By delegating mundane processes to bots, retailers can create a better work environment for human employees, who can then focus on aspects of the job that they really enjoy and find more meaningful. In this age of worker shortages and the “Great Resignation,” that's a game-changer.
AI-powered automation vastly improves the workplace, but it also impacts the customer experience. In one example, customers are benefiting from AI-powered automation — as noted in a recent survey from salesforce.com — by experiencing deepening relationships with customer service representatives. The reps aren’t bogged down with meaningless tasks anymore. Chatbots have alleviated much of the burden and allowed customer service to actually serve customers, as customers expect due to the pandemic.
In e-commerce, automation has the potential to improve every phase of the retail journey. New technologies have forever changed the way consumers shop, forcing the retail industry to reconsider its business strategies. Now it’s time for the technology on the back-end of retail to catch up.
Harel Tayeb is the CEO of Kryon Systems, a leading AI and automation technology company.