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Robots vs. Humans & the Shopper Experience


Jasmine Williams
Guest Contributor

There is no doubt the future will see an increase in automation and robotics in all industries, and current trends are leaning towards a future where robots and humans work together to provide the ultimate shopper and customer support experience.

Gen Y is the first generation born into a fully connected world. This means they may actually be more comfortable talking to their digital assistant than to other humans. Whatever the social ramifications of this may be, it presents a golden opportunity for retailers.

While humans will always be superior to robots, robots can actually enhance the shopper experience and offer significant cost savings for retail businesses. Here are four ways robots and AI are poised to improve the shopper experience and how smart retailers can take advantage.

1. Better phone customer service

One of the biggest frustrations for both businesses and consumers alike is phone customer service.

Phone trees definitely help to direct and route traffic, cut down on wait times and distribute resources more evenly, but they are highly annoying to customers. In addition, customer service reps often speak in dialects and accents that make them difficult to understand. Businesses know this, but at the moment, phone trees and overseas call centers are the most economical options.

AI and customer service 4.0 is poised to change all this. 

Untrained staff, endless waiting and no flexibility are some of the most common complaints about customer service. Today, customers are better informed and expect more. Customer service 4.0 is about to change all that. The “4.0” refers to a fundamentally new approach that includes highly personalized interactions that span over all channels a service provider has. Part of the customer service 4.0 includes having an omnichannel experience, and AI can help achieve it.

As an example, when a customer calls, they can immediately be greeted by a “live” voice – or a bot that is capable of understanding and responding to natural language. The bot can also immediately respond in the caller’s language and even with their same accent or dialect.

The bot can ask callers about their issues and immediately help them with many common problems. If the bot cannot understand or handle the issue, it can route the customer to a human customer service rep for further assistance. In addition to this, every time the customer calls, automated systems can log their inquiries or issues and help their fellow human customer service reps have a clear overview of the issue and what has been done to solve it until that point. This brings customer service to a whole new level – no more endless explaining of one and the same issue every time you call customer service.

2. Better retail experience

One of the most common complaints consumers have about brick-and-mortar stores continues to be the amount of time it takes to check out. Last year, however, saw the unveiling of Amazon Go – the world’s first cashierless (and checkout-less) convenience store.

In Japan, a company called Standard Cognition is set to bring the same technology to over 3,000 stores by 2020. Soon, technology may make checkout lines a thing of the past.

Some people may still want to speak to a live human, and you can provide employees to do that. Others just want to be assisted quickly and that’s where robots come in.

A robot can make purchase suggestions, offer the shopper specs about a product or use image recognition technology to recommend a size or style of clothing that should fit their body type well. Some shoppers might seek out and accept this information far more readily from a robot than a live salesperson they might feel may be judging them.

3. AI in Manufacturing Influences Retail

While many claim that the time of brick-and-mortar stores is over, they still have one superior benefit that online retail doesn’t offer: the ability to walk into a store and immediately walk out with a purchased item or product. While it makes sense that items purchased online can’t magically materialize in your home as soon as the transaction is complete (most of them, actually), AI, data and automation are helping everyone get closer to it.

Changes in manufacturing are helping narrow this gap. IoT is already employed in many manufacturing plants, turning them into smart factories that can be connected with the whole supply chain. Because the shop floor can get instant input from retailers on how many units are needed – it can produce the exact number, which brings the costs down for everyone – the retailer, the manufacturer, and ultimately, the consumer, while providing a fully personalized approach thanks to fully new customization options.

4. Full scale service in a smaller space

Although online shopping is becoming more common even for buying cars, many people still want to actually see, touch and feel something as expensive as a car before buying it. The cost of maintaining the acreage necessary to offer a full selection of inventory for display – not to mention the cost of maintaining inventory – tacks on a pretty healthy chunk of change for consumers who buy from dealerships.

This too may soon be a thing of the past. Audi recently opened their entirely VR showroom in London. Rather than housing acres of cars, they instead give consumers a fully realistic experience of driving their cars through VR technology.

Imagine walking into a clothing store and being able to try on dozens of different outfits with just a few swipes and taps. Instead of stores needing space for hundreds of racks of clothing – which need constant tending and maintenance – they just need seating and a few pairs of VR goggles.

They can keep all their inventory in back and only bring it out when the customer is ready to purchase. They don’t even have to steam it or hang it until someone is ready to buy. Online shoppers can also benefit by seeing a 3D rendering of a garment on an avatar created with their realistic measurements before buying.

One thing to keep in mind about AI and robotics is that not everyone is comfortable interacting with such advanced solutions. Some might not see any benefits to such technology, or even see it as disruptive to economics and politics.

There is no doubt that the future will see an increase in automation and robotics in all industries, which includes customer service of each. The way such changes are implemented will influence how they are perceived by the general public. Implementation should always be in sync with what customers are expecting from service reps. Current trends are leaning towards a future where robots and humans are working together to provide the ultimate customer support experience.

About the writer: Jasmine Williams covers the good and the bad of today’s business and marketing. When she’s not being all serious and busy, she’s usually hunched over a book or dancing in the kitchen, trying hard to maintain rhythm, and delivering some fine cooking (her family says so). Tweet her @JazzyWilliams88.

Join the #retail, #inspiringretail and #SmartStore conversations on Twitter @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.

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