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This post was contributed by Shail Gupta, Netomi
The upcoming holiday season is just around the corner and it’s expected to be the biggest one yet. It’s estimated that US holiday retail sales in 2021 will rise 2.7% to $1.1 trillion, while the season’s eCommerce sales will rise 11.3% to $206.9 billion. And the extended holiday shopping season is starting earlier than ever–nearly 2 in 5 shoppers (38%) start their shopping in October.
While many retailers hire seasonal workers during this period of peak demand, artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being deployed alongside human agents and associates to automate many customer-facing and operational tasks. AI can help retailers maintain customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and unlock revenue during this make-or-break time. Here are a few fascinating ways that retailers are using AI.
The 4 best ways retailers can leverage AI this holiday season
- Ultra personalized gift recommendations: A staggering 84% of people report that gift-giving causes stress. Leveraging conversational AI chatbots, retailers can provide personal shopping assistants at scale, essentially replicating the in-store associate experience. Deployed on a website or within a retailer’s app, these automated personal shoppers can ask about the gift recipient’s interests to predict preferences and provide highly personalized gift ideas. Retailers can unlock even more revenue through precision cross-sell and up-sell based on the shopper’s real-time sentiment and context.
- Respond instantly to customer service inquiries: More shoppers lead to an inevitable uptick in customer service tickets. Providing quick, effortless and convenient customer service has never been more important than it is today. That’s because even one bad experience can deter a person from ever doing business with a company again. During the holidays, people often shop with new brands (a shift that was accelerated during the Pandemic with 36% of people trying a new brand). To turn seasonal demand into long-term, profitable relationships, retailers need to ensure every customer support interaction is superior.
And this is why we see seasonal customer service jobs as one of the most in-demand hires for retailers. In the 2020 holiday season, retailers added 788,600 jobs, a 17% increase from 2019, many of which were customer service agents. Hiring and training an army of seasonal support agents is very costly though. AI-powered customer service chatbots can be the first line of defense when a shopper reaches out with a question on a product, return policy, shipping availability or other FAQ. AI-powered virtual agents can automatically resolve 80% of routine questions, letting human agents focus on more complex issues. This can help to decrease costs associated with short-term hires.
- Anticipate customer issues before they happen: Studies reveal that 87% of customers want to be proactively reached out to by a company for customer service-related issues. The best AI chatbots can act on signals from back-end systems to predict issues and customer contacts to preemptively intervene with information or a solution before customers are even aware. For instance, if there has not been an update in shipping status in your system in three days, you might assume that the package got lost. An AI agent can place a new order to be delivered, while also emailing the customer what’s happened.
- Mitigate and even prevent returns: It’s estimated that over 30% of all online purchases are returned. In 2020, $428 billion in merchandise was returned according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). A lot of this occurs during the holiday season: over half (51%) of U.S. consumers returned a gift they’d bought for someone before even wrapping it.
AI-powered virtual agents can anticipate returns and reach out to prevent them from ever happening. Seventy percent of returns are due to a sizing issue. If a shopper has checked the size chart multiple times for a single item or has added two of the same item to a cart in multiple sizes, an AI Agent can preemptively intervene to help them find the right size or even offer a discount if a person only purchases the item in one size. Even with mitigation tactics like this, returns are inevitable. AI agents can make the returns process as seamless as possible by automatically informing the customer about a status change, refund, etc.
Compete on CX: Now is the time to adopt AI
Going into fall is the perfect time for retailers to adopt AI before the busy holiday season. Contrary to what one might expect, sophisticated AI initiatives can be trained and launched in a matter of a few weeks.
Netomi, the world’s most accurate AI-first customer service platform, integrates natively within Gladly. Netomi virtual agents work alongside human agents to communicate directly to customers, seamlessly escalate to human agents when necessary and recommend prescriptive actions. With AI automating the repeatable tasks, your human agents can focus on higher-level work. It’s a win for your customers and your agents.
With new customers, pent-up demand and an increase in sales, the most customer-centric retailers are leveraging AI this holiday season.
Learn more about what your customers expect from your brand by downloading the 2021 Customer Expectations Report.