How to Amplify 2022 Retail Operations With an AI-Powered Workforce
Off the heels of the busy holiday season, digital consumers are continuing to rewrite the rules of retail in 2022. To keep up with evolving demands, the industry will see the rise of a “digital workforce.” A digital workforce is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and can work alongside retailers’ sales and service reps to optimize the shopping experience across e-commerce channels and in customer contact centers. This can manifest itself in a multitude of ways, from immersive retail stores using virtual reality to engage customers to the more mainstream use of AI and automation in everyday operations to help achieve scale and increase overall operational efficiency.
With an AI-powered digital workforce, brands can address three big retail trends in 2022:
Virtual Assistance for Hybrid Shoppers
A recent survey by Five9 found that two out of three consumers who purchased items such as clothing, food supplies, and perishable groceries online for the first time during the pandemic plan to continue to do so as part of their “new normal.” Even as in-store traffic begins to pick up, 74 percent of consumers now do online research before visiting a physical store, according to a 2021 study by Google Think. With more consumers researching and making purchases online, the volume of calls or inbound inquiries via digital channels like chat and text to retailers’ contact centers is also increasing.
A digital workforce can help companies deal with increased demand and ramp up engagement with consumers in 2022 — wherever they choose to do their shopping. For example, retailers can use workflow automation (WFA) solutions to proactively engage customers based on their online shopping activity, including items they have added to their virtual shopping carts. If an item they’ve left in their cart is running out of stock or goes on sale in-store, WFA could trigger an email or text message to let the customer know.
Additionally, intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) can provide conversational, accurate self-service via phone, text and chat channels for hybrid shoppers who are browsing online but want to make an in-store appointment or ask a question about the local store.
Overcoming Supply Chain Struggles
Supply chain disruptions will continue to impact product availability and delivery times, driving more shoppers to engage with customer support.
Embracing a digital workforce can help retailers offset the surge of inbound interactions and provide more efficient and accurate status updates. In many cases, an IVA can completely automate status notifications. And when a customer needs live assistance, the IVA can intelligently route the call and interaction history to the service agent who can best help. It’s a vast improvement over traditional, error-prone phone trees. Better yet, IVAs and automation combined can provide proactive shipping updates to customers who opt into receiving texts or calls, resulting in a reduced need for customers needed to “call in.”
Flexible Fulfillment and Easier Returns
More shoppers than ever are choosing to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS) rather than waiting for a delivery. In fact, the number of online orders picked up at brick-and-mortar stores increased 208 percent during the pandemic. A digital workforce can help retailers provide a more seamless pickup experience. For example, when customers arrive at the store to pick up an order, they could engage with an IVA and provide their order number; the IVA could then alert a sales associate to bring the items right to the customer’s car.
However, customers aren’t always happy with their purchases. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers returned an estimated $428 billion in merchandise in 2020, which was approximately 10.6 percent of the total U.S. retail sales that year. This is why a smooth returns experience is also critical to retaining hybrid customers in 2022 — particularly during the early months of the post-holiday retail season. Retailers can use AI-enabled self-service to help customers learn about return policies and eligibility, find the nearest store to drop off return merchandise, or even process the refund payment itself.
Hybrid shopping, supply chain issues, and better returns and fulfillment are just three of the retail trends that can be addressed with AI and automation in the customer contact center. Retailers that embrace a digital workforce will be well positioned for success in 2022 and beyond.
Genefa Murphy is the chief marketing officer of Five9, provider of the intelligent cloud contact center.
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Genefa Murphy is the Chief Marketing Officer for Five9. With over 15 years of global experience in the field of technology from consulting, to product management, strategy and marketing, she is an accomplished leader and has led worldwide teams in creating and executing compelling and effective go-to-market strategies.
She is a passionate business executive, with experience across various IT domains. Always a technology enthusiast, she consistently looks for new opportunities to break the mold and push boundaries, to lift her teams to the next level – exemplified by her proven track record, ranging from execution of global product releases to building go-to-market strategies for both incubation solutions and established product lines, and driving hands on digital transformation.
Most recently, Genefa was the SVP and CMO for Micro Focus, a multi-billion dollar enterprise software company. In this role, she led her team through the separation from HPE, acquisition into Micro Focus and the subsequent transformation of the marketing and enablement teams. She also helped transform the underlying marketing tech stack, helping deliver scale and exceptional ROI for the company, its customers and partners. Genefa previously, held various global roles across products, marketing, enablement and communications at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP.
Genefa holds a BSc in Business IT and a PhD, which focused on the intersection of technology and sociology in determining technology adoption in the enterprise. Genefa has been recognized as a global CMO of the year and CRN Woman of the Channel for her contributions to the partner and channel eco-system.