It’s no exaggeration to say that over the past two years, pretty much everything has changed: from the way we work, to the ways we keep in touch and shop, every aspect of our lives has been adapted to the reality of the pandemic.
One of the biggest changes that took place during 2021 was the evolution of how people interact with and buy from retailers. With brick-and-mortar stores closed, retail brands had to quickly pivot their efforts to improving online shopping experiences, since most everyone was doing their shopping from home. Now, as we approach 2022, we can see how retailers that prioritized creating 5-star ecommerce experiences for customers are reaping the rewards.
But the explosion of online shopping also created new challenges: retailers accustomed to handling a trickle of customer service requests through older channels—think emails and phone calls—suddenly found themselves flooded with inquiries via social media and even messaging apps.
So how did forward-thinking retailers handle the unprecedented crush of customer requests? Enter the chatbot!
Chatbots, especially those powered by AI, can be incredibly useful for automating repetitive customer inquiries and clearing the plates of customer support staff. By freeing up resources with AI chatbots, customer care associates can focus on higher value conversations (like upsells!) while automating the easy stuff.
But like any emerging technology, there are quite a few misconceptions about what AI chatbots can, and can’t, do. So, we’re going to take some time to dig into their capabilities to separate fact from fiction.
Ready? Let’s talk chatbots!
How will conversational AI shape the retail experience in 2022?
With 2022 on the horizon, retailers are looking for innovative ideas that will help them build a deeper connection with their customers while boosting sales and improving business efficiency.
It should come as no surprise, then, that conversational AI and chatbots are growing in popularity. (Back in 2020, Gartner predicted that by 2021 nearly one in six customer service interactions globally would be handled by AI.)
As retailers turn to conversational AI, however, there are some common misconceptions about what the technology can achieve.
Bursting the chatbot bubble
1) Myth: All bots use AI
Not all chatbots are AI-powered or leverage AI in any capacity. Some chatbots just use a simple flow-based approach. For example, if the customer chooses A in the scripted flow, route them to point B. On the other hand, we have chatbots that are built on poorly-trained AI models. In such cases, the AI can quickly get out of hand since there isn’t any way to verify the quality of data that’s being fed to the AI.
An ideal AI chatbot is one that guides the user through a conversational design experience, while leveraging the AI to identify different customer intents such as change in language from English to French.
2) Myth: Chatbots are quick and easy to develop
A quick search for chatbots on Google and you’ll see several “build a chatbot in 15 minutes” promises. The truth is that these promises are hollow and while some chatbots may be quick and easy to develop, those are usually unintelligent. Meaning, these bots are usually poorly trained and do not consider customer intent or sentiment into the conversational experience.
If you are looking to develop a sales and support chatbot exclusively for your ecommerce business, factor in the quality of your data sets and the amount of time needed to train and iterate a chatbot. Top AI chatbot providers work with you to create and amplify your conversational AI strategy.
3) Myth: AI chatbots program themselves
AI chatbots need data to “learn” and when the quality of data is not monitored, it might end up causing a PR disaster. For example, when Microsoft’s Tay—an AI chatbot—launched on Twitter, it started tweeting offensive and inflammatory content. Microsoft had to shut it down only 16 hours post-launch.
Chatbots that are brand-compliant i.e. adhere with your brand’s tone and voice, are trained and programmed by experienced engineers. In fact, even after chatbots are live, they need human intervention from time to time. That way, you ensure anomalies are fixed and the quality of the chatbot remains top-notch.
4) Myth: Chatbots are only available on Facebook Messenger
Today, chatbots live on multiple messaging and social channels like WhatsApp, Google’s Business Messages, Twitter, Instagram and more, Retailers and ecommerce merchants are using multichannel chatbots to build a cohesive customer experience strategy across their digital and physical stores.
For example, a quick search for Decathlon Brossard shows that I can interact with this retailer in one of four ways—call, message, find directions on maps, or visit their website. When I click on message, I am greeted with an AI assistant that can do any or all of the following:
- answer questions around return policies, store hours, click-and-collect options
- suggest products from the product catalogue based on my search preference
- connect me with a live agent
This is a stellar example of how businesses can reduce friction in the customer journey by staying at the ready. By integrating Google’s Business Messages with their chatbot, Decathlon successfully engages with buyers and drives last-mile shoppers to its brick-and-mortar store or online store.
5) Myth: It’s impossible to interact with both a chatbot and a human agent in one conversation
Modern chatbots, also known as hybrid chatbots, bring together the best of both worlds—AI and human—in the same conversation.
When chatbots are designed exclusively for conversational commerce, they factor in complex or sensitive queries that are best handled by humans. For example, a customer is tracking an order for black shoes. The AI can handle this query. One just had to key in the order number to view the status. However, if a customer received a black dress instead of black shoes, your human team needs to step in to explain what caused the error and how you’re going to resolve it.
To summarize, the AI handles the repetitive questions. In case of complex and sensitive queries, the chatbot pre-qualifies conversations before passing them onto your human customer support team. That way, your human team has all the contextual information they need to resolve the issue swiftly.
6) Myth: People are uncomfortable talking to chatbots
This survey revealed that 54 percent of respondents said they would always choose a chatbot over a human customer service rep. Customers clearly prefer this technology that makes their experience more convenient. Now, the onus is on brands to deliver. You can leverage chatbots to boost sales and customer support.
If at any time, you feel that your customers shy away from talking to the chatbot, take a step back and analyze the chatbot experience. The discomfort could be because the chatbot experience is not optimal. The core of any chatbot experience is conversational design i.e. the tone and manner of your chatbot and the customer journey once the conversational begins. This is where you look first.
Top quality chatbots are built on the back of conversational design and “speak” to a customer as a human would, i.e. the language is brand-specific, helpful, and tailored to guide the customer towards a sale or answer a question.
Here a couple of examples:
DAVIDsTEA’s chatbot—DAVI—answers frequently asked questions or FAQs on tea ingredients, products, popular tea-brewing techniques and more, while remaining conversational and on-brand.
The second example is the chatbot by MAKE UP FOR EVER’s—a popular cosmetics brand. The chatbot poses a series of questions to capture unique customer preferences to solve a number of key customer challenges. For this example, let me zero in on one—shade matching. After I choose my skin type and complexion, the chatbot recommends a perfect shade of foundation or concealer that will work for me, all under a minute!
These couple of examples are proof that by adding AI assistants on your online store, you can achieve the same level of personalization and service that you would normally offer in physical stores.
When chatbots are created with a holistic framework that has conversational design at its heart, customers enjoy communicating with the bot to get answers to their questions or even to narrow down their product choices. It’s not surprising that customers today choose to engage with chatbots over waiting for a human to talk to them.
Ready to get started?
Not all chatbots are created equal and, much like the businesses they serve, they have a wide range of uses and quality levels, so you’ll need to know what you’re looking for first.
Options range from straightforward workflow bots for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), to more robust conversational AI training for enterprise businesses. This broad spectrum is why you can find simple DIY solutions that cost as little as $15 a month, all the way up to Enterprise solutions that will run you a cool $10k monthly.
Though it might feel like a bit of an investment up-front, high-quality AI will quickly prove to be the right choice that will end up saving you money in the long run, while also helping you boost sales. Conversational AI solutions that are worth their salt can help you automate up to 80% of all customer conversations on average, leaving only essential and pre-qualified questions to a sales or customer support representative, which will allow your business to save in a big way.
Ready to learn more? Download this ebook and get started!