New Survey Data Highlights How AI is Poised to Conquer Retailers’ Toughest CX Challenges in 2024
Nearly one year has passed since new generative artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities burst onto the scene and sparked the latest AI hype wave. Since then, businesses have envisioned how AI could help them cut costs, increase efficiency, and improve experiences for customers and employees. Yet, the palpable excitement for AI’s potential has been tempered by uncertainty about how to turn it into reality.
As the AI hype train enters its second year in 2024, it finds itself at a critical crossroads. In late August, Gartner placed generative AI at the very top of its hype cycle for artificial intelligence, suggesting that expectations have already reached their peak and will soon dip down to the trough of disillusionment.
While this prediction may prove to be true, there’s reason to believe this won’t be the case across the board. In retail customer service, for example, the vision for AI is particularly compelling. Given its unique ability to engage in human-like dialogue, generative AI is primed to transform today’s customer experiences by delivering more informative, helpful conversations across channels.
So, which is it? Is AI just hype for now or can it deliver on high expectations?
A recent TTEC Digital survey offers a bit more clarity into how customer service organizations are navigating the AI hype. Let’s take a look at three stats from the survey that can help illustrate what AI investment might actually look like in retail in the short term.
56 percent of respondents believe AI can improve associate efficiency.
This was the top anticipated outcome by respondents, across industries. Although, if the survey had been focused exclusively on retail organizations, this percentage could likely have been even higher. Improving associate efficiency and performance takes on added importance in retail, where seasonality and the cyclical nature of holiday surges mean new associates are constantly ramping up to help meet fluctuating demand.
It also happens to be one of the challenges AI is most equipped to solve right now. According to one MIT study from May, AI-enabled agent assist models were found to decrease inequality in customer support agent productivity — helping associates with lower skills to close the gap on their high-performing peers.
AI-enabled knowledge management tools are relatively low-hanging fruit for customer service operations that wish to improve chat resolution efficiency. AI empowers traditional knowledge assist solutions to quickly sort, find and craft accessible solutions to critical customer service questions, turning even the most inexperienced associates into productive contributors.
48 percent of respondents believe AI can increase customer satisfaction.
Much like associate efficiency, businesses also remain confident that AI is good for customer experiences, too. Retail organizations, especially those with a global footprint, contend with an expansive set of customer queries every single day. These queries can be made more complicated by different languages, different products, regional policies and offers, and more. While focusing on decreasing resolution times will go a long way to improving customer satisfaction, each of these external factors can bring those resolution times right back up again.
For example, one of our global retail clients noticed during periods of high demand that customer wait times soared because it was more difficult to pair customers with an agent who spoke their language. With the help of a few different AI solutions, this particular client deployed a real-time translator that would allow customers and agents to easily communicate in different languages, resulting in a 20 percent decrease in average handle time.
Respondents estimate 36 percent of customer interactions are currently digital — but hope to grow that to 62 percent soon.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, 81 percent of customers start their experience with a self-service option before reaching out to a live agent. That means every time one of those customers ends up pivoting to a live agent, they’re not receiving the customer experience they expected and they may even feel like they’re starting over.
Retailers know this, and it’s likely a big reason why they’re aiming to double their percentage of digital customer interactions with the help of AI. There are two primary ways AI can help alleviate this challenge. First, generative AI can transform chatbots to solve increasingly complex problems and answer a wider range of open-ended questions than ever before. Second, AI can create a smoother handoff process to agents when the request necessitates a live interaction. Conversation summarization, intelligent routing, and next-best-action recommendations can all help select the right agent and get them up-to-speed quickly, resulting in faster resolutions and a less disjointed customer experience.
The AI Hype is Real — You Just Need to Know Where to Start
The benefits of AI in the retail customer experience are clear. Reduced costs, improved productivity, and enhanced customer satisfaction are three outcomes retailers can unlock right now.
The challenge for retailers that want to invest in AI becomes finding the practical, proven use cases they can start using today to achieve their most critical customer experience goals rather than aiming for theoretical AI capabilities that might still be two years to five years from maturity.
It’s important to think about AI as an ongoing journey rather than a one-off project. Your AI investments today can and will lead to immediate improvements. But to reach your final destination, you’ll need to keep pushing forward and fine-tuning your AI strategies over time. With plenty of proven customer experience use cases already in flight across retail, 2024 seems as good a time as any to take the first step.
Interested in exploring the full State of AI in the Contact Center Report? Download the report here.
Aaron Schroeder is director of analytics and insights at TTEC Digital, one of the largest global CX technology and services innovators.
Aaron Schroeder is director of analytics and insights at TTEC Digital, one of the largest global CX technology and services innovators. The company delivers leading CX technology and operational CX orchestration at scale. TTEC Digital’s 60,000 employees operate on six continents and bring technology and humanity together to deliver happy customers and differentiated business results.