With unprecedented worker shortages coupled with a surplus of inventory, retailers are bracing for a challenging start to the new year. While Black Friday discounts (that seem to creep earlier and earlier before Thanksgiving every year) incentivize consumers to a certain extent, many retailers are finding themselves strapped for customer service and sales staff — which can significantly dampen the customer experience. What are retailers to do to stay in customers’ good graces? This is where the cutting edge field of artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.
AI With a Human Touch
Leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, AI equipped with natural language processing (NLP) is capable of understanding language (hundreds of them) in a way that’s almost human — except it’s not learning language like you or I. This advanced AI attaches code to words based on meaning, so language is more of a finishing touch than the crux of a conversation or search query. As a result, NLP models aren’t tripped up by misspelled or misused words, or when a consumer doesn’t even know the exact name of a product or service they’re looking for.
Chatbots or voicebots equipped with NLP can carry on conversations just as well as live customer service agents. Whereas a misspelled or misused word could derail a conversation with a standard chatbot, NLP bots can connect the dots of what a customer was trying to convey in order to keep the chat moving forward, much like a live agent would do. They can also understand customer sentiment, and adjust their tone as needed to keep customers happy.
For retailers, this means that NLP chatbots can handle the bulk of customer inquiries — anything from “I’d like to track my order” to “Is this item in stock at my local store?” and so on — freeing up live agents to deal with more complicated customer interactions. According to a recent Sinch survey, a resounding 92 percent of consumers would message a chatbot to check if a product is in stock before making a trip to the store, evidence that AI can play a crucial role in easing strain on customer service agents and in-store sales associates. If a customer is particularly frustrated, or they explicitly tell the bot they’d like to speak to a live agent, the bot can easily pass the conversation — along with customer context and purchase history — to one of their human counterparts via a conversation API.
NLP can also power intelligent search engines to better support live or AI agents. For retailers, NLP search engines can be used to help consumers search through product catalogs for exactly what they’re looking for, or to help customer service agents find information within external (e.g., company website or social media channels) or internal (e.g., employee resource hubs) databases, and form helpful responses to customer inquiries. NLP search engines can even enable retail websites to provide more relevant product suggestions to customers when their favorite item is unavailable.
Adding NLP to Cart
While NLP bots and search engines are top-of-the-line AI applications, this doesn’t mean that they’re reserved only for the biggest retailers. Chatbot and CPaaS platforms enable brands of all sizes to activate their customers’ preferred messaging channels — including SMS, WhatsApp, Instagram DMs and more — with NLP, even if they don’t have a team of developers on deck. While the retail staffing shortage will, hopefully, be short lived, AI is a powerful tool to augment human staffers, saving customers and employees alike time and resources. The enhanced customer experience NLP can provide will be sure to keep your brand on the nice list this year and beyond.
Pieter Buteneers is director of Sinch Labs, an innovation team dedicated to inventing and building the blockbuster products for Sinch.
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