Retail Applications for Conversational AI

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As commerce has increasingly moved online, retailers are finding new ways to meet the customer service needs of their customers remotely, including conversational commerce. Conversational commerce, which incorporates conversational artificial intelligence (“AI”) via messaging and voice to respond to consumer inquiries, is becoming increasingly common. In fact, many consumers interact with one of these AI bots every day. Think of your Google Home or Amazon Alexa—conversational bots that enable you to make grocery lists, turn on electronics in your home, answer basic questions, or order a pizza and more toothpaste.  And online, you’re likely to encounter a pop up messaging application, known as a chatbot, which can answer questions about products and even make recommendations.

Chatbots are popular because they allow customers to find information quickly; they are almost always faster than searching all over a website or waiting on hold for a customer service representative. Retailers like them, too. Chatbots help filter requests, sending only complicated requests to human customer service representatives. This means retailers can spend less time on the phone answering the same frequently-asked questions (“When will my stuff arrive?” “What are your hours?” “Do you have this item in stock?”) and prioritize customers with bigger problems—freeing up time and money. Ideally, customers get better and faster service at a substantially cheaper cost to retailers.

While chatbots have the potential to be influential and beneficial in the retail space, retailers should proceed with caution when implementing conversational commerce. To successfully use chatbots or other customer-facing AI, retailers should keep a few things in mind: (1) Always disclose that customers are interacting with a bot and not a real human being; (2) Allow customers a way to opt out of the bot experience and interact or speak with a human representative, especially in the current early-stages when bots have limited capabilities; and (3) Continue to train high-quality human customer service representatives to work in conjunction with bots.

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