As we near a holiday season like none before it, retailers must be proactive in addressing the ways in which COVID-19 has changed typical shopping behaviors and expectations. According to a new survey from RetailMeNot, 75 percent of Americans say they’ll prefer to shop online this year, and the same amount will aim to complete their holiday shopping as early as possible. Having a basic online platform won’t be enough for retailers to deftly handle this uptick in e-commerce, however. New technologies have made consumers more demanding than ever, meaning that retailers have the choice to either digitally transform their operations or fall behind competitors.
To stay competitive with market giants like Amazon.com — for whom convenient and high-quality online experiences are a cornerstone of business — retailers can turn to enterprise automation software, like robotic process automation (RPA). With increasing pressure on companies in the industry to work more efficiently and with better cost margins, RPA can deliver value to brands by streamlining time-intensive processes related to managing customer data and contact-center interactions, allowing sales and customer service reps to create more personal experiences that ultimately increase conversion rates and build and maintain customer loyalty.
Retail Applications for Automation
The influx of online orders that retailers will receive this holiday season will inevitably be accompanied by ample service requests and paperwork, like invoice drafting and return processing. When processed by hand, these forms can become overwhelming and amount to hours — if not days — of work, which increases the odds of employees making errors that could complicate matters further.
Instead of burdening employees with the tedious task of parsing through customer requests manually, retailers can deploy software robots to do the job. Capable of intaking data and organizing it into pre-determined locations — while also verifying its accuracy — these robots can process data requests in a fraction of the time it would take an employee to execute, with increased accuracy as well.
Simple customer communications that would otherwise inundate call-center employees can also be automated. For more straightforward requests like return processing, a bot can compile customer information and issue a return label, eliminating the need for the customer and an employee going back and forth to confirm order details. Advanced RPA solutions can also assist with more nuanced interactions. For example, when a customer calls into a contact center, software can work in the background to source any information needed for employees to hold a much more thoughtful conversation instead of spending time pulling data themselves.
Far-Reaching Benefits to Both Employees and Customers
With bots supporting their daily responsibilities, retail employees’ workloads become much more manageable, and as a result, employees are less likely to feel burnt out from the volume and repetitive nature of their work. They can instead focus more on customer requests that benefit from human interaction, like making personalized recommendations or talking through individual account details.
Having increased employee availability naturally benefits consumers as well, since they can access real people when they need to and then otherwise have their inquiries quickly resolved through automated processes. With so many consumers turning to e-commerce for their holiday shopping this year, retailers can expect their contact centers to be bombarded with requests — leading to long wait times if they don’t have a system in place for addressing routine customer needs when an employee isn’t immediately available. Fortunately for retailers, many customers enjoy using automation software to fulfill certain processes. According to Windstream Enterprise, 68 percent of surveyed customers held a favorable view of companies that implemented an automated return system.
The importance of a streamlined shopping experience can’t be overstated, particularly this holiday season. With some customers willing to pay a higher price for convenience and efficiency, retailers need to invest in tools like automation software that will enable them to deliver high-quality service even amid high-stress holiday demands. By delivering enhanced customer experiences that drive sales and loyalty, as well as alleviating burdensome tasks from employees to prevent burnout, retailers that leverage RPA will set themselves up for success now and well beyond the holiday season.
Venu Kannan is global vice president, domain and applications practice, UiPath, a leading robotic process automation vendor providing a complete software platform to help organizations efficiently automate business processes.