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Humanizing ecommerce with Conversational AI
 — November 3, 2020

The year 2020 has seen the retail industry undergo a dramatic shift. While there has been a steady trend towards online shopping in recent years, the growth of ecommerce has accelerated at an unprecedented rate since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Today, many consumers are looking for contactless shopping. In fact, Google Trends shows that searches for the word “contactless” have spiked since the pandemic hit.

But while customers want to safely shop from a distance, they still expect the same level of personalization and care that they’d receive shopping in-store. And personalization, care and empathy are three surefire ways to turn your business into a sought-after brand.

This presents a unique challenge for retailers who have had to get creative both in terms of rethinking their brick-and-mortar experience, as well as how they approach ecommerce.

In the case of the latter, chatbots present a compelling solution. Ready to go 24/7, 365 days a year, chatbots are redefining how and when consumers interact with brands and are boosting retailers’ online customer service with round-the-clock, contextually relevant communication.

However, many chatbots on the market are still mostly underwhelming, with the bulk of vendors selling basic automated workflows that aren’t powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

What’s also lacking in their equation is the uniqueness of a human touch. At Heyday, we take a human-first approach ringing them together to create a well-rounded product that enables retailers to flourish online: A live chat platform that combines AI-powered assistance with the know-how of human sales and support teams.

We designed our solution in a way that thinks of the uniqueness of the retail experience. Retail brands have the opportunity to tell a compelling story. At the heart of that storytelling is meaningful dialogue and conversation fueled by curiosity and empathy.  

Just recently, I was shopping with my daughter for her downhill skis and boots and took her to a small local shop where I knew that we could get 1:1 service. The owner of the store, who doubled as our sales associate, sold my daughter on the excitement of getting the four buckle boots this year in lieu of her trusty three buckle boots, as she was growing older and he knew she wanted to ski fast this year.

She was sold not on the boot itself, but the potential it offered her: with a pair of four buckle boots, she is now a “ski racer” like the older girls and can schuss down the mountain at top speed all winter long!

That’s the difference between selling a story grounded in human connection, rather than just recommending a product.

Humanizing commerce one conversation at a time

Technology should enable, empower, and support human interactions rather than replace them.

Though there is a lot of public reticence towards AI, the team at Heyday believes that this technology actually has the power to help humanize cCommerce, rather than turn it into an alienating experience. There are four key shifts in the way retail businesses operate that can make this happen:

  1. Delivering personalized service to every customer
  2. Talking less, listening more
  3. Creating value for customers with data
  4. Transitioning from customer service customer advocates

1. From one-size-fits-all to one-on-one

Though it may win the medal for efficiency, ecommerce is still beaten out by in-store shopping when it comes to personalization. However, that dynamic is changing rapidly, especially as ecommerce comes to represent a growing piece of the retail pie.

This shift, from in-person shopping to online shopping, has been accelerated dramatically over the course of 2020 due to physical distancing measures and the economic impact of COVID-19. Some brick and mortar locations have shuttered and transitioned online to lower their fixed business costs and make up for lost revenue as a result of declining foot traffic. For retailers today, having an end-to-end omnichannel experience and round-the-clock online support isn’t just an added bonus—it’s necessary for survival.

No longer do customers have to scroll through pages of products to find what they are looking for: they can ask for help through chat, similar to how a customer might ask a salesperson to show them to the right aisle for a particular product.

2. From talking to listening

After decades of advertising, brands are used to being the ones to do all the talking. Since the golden age of ad men in the 1950s and 60s, companies have been paying millions in ad dollars to talk at consumers rather than conversing with them, but this paradigm is shifting dramatically.

The advent of live chat and messaging apps are finally making the conversation a two-way street. Since AI-powered chatbots can answer a lot of simple, repetitive questions on first contact (including order queries and FAQs) they effectively lower the volume of queries that need intervention from a support agent and free up time for brands to actively listen to their customers.

Canadian tea specialist DAVIDsTEA has successfully automated up to 88% of its customer service requests using Heyday’s AI chatbot, which has given its customer support team more time and freedom to address high-value customer questions.

The shift from talking to listening is also allowing companies to remain attuned to the needs and wants of their clients, which they can use to improve their user experience and even the products and services they offer.

This is especially valuable today, as customers expect a high degree of personalization from brands—80% of shoppers are more likely to purchase from a company that has personalized experiences—and brand transparency. Looking to the fashion industry, for example, many brands are listening to their customers, a growing number of which are aiming to spend and consume more ethically, by increasing transparency of how clothes are made.

Collecting insights and input from customers on a daily basis through chatbots can help brands stay in sync with their customers, their wants, and their values.

3. From data collection to value creation

For years, businesses have been gathering personal information online without the ability to leverage it properly or create a more egalitarian value exchange for their customers.

AI has come along to throw a wrench into this one-sided model.

Now, businesses can use the customer data at their disposal to make real-time contextual recommendations, creating a more personal and human customer experience.

Stockpiling data is all fine and good, but it’s not all that helpful if the information isn’t used to improve connections with clients. In the increasingly customer-first world of commerce, it’s all about leveraging that precious data to humanize interactions, which means anticipating needs and going above and beyond when it comes to service to create value for customers.

Brands that are able to successfully combine their data and human teams are a step ahead in terms of showing customers the products they want to buy at the right time, leading to purchase.

Leveraging AI in tandem with pre-existing human teams is a fast-growing trend, exemplified by Australian supermarket giant Coles. The brand is quickly transforming its data-driven solutions, like improving online grocery delivery services, by pairing AI with its human resources—a move they say will save them a whopping $1 billion in the next four years.

4. From customer service to customer ally

Though some may think AI is going to make them obsolete in the workplace, the goal isn’t to remove people from the equation at all. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

When used properly, AI can empower sales and support teams to put their best selves forward and prioritize the customer. Chatbots can handle the repetitive minutiae while they focus on what they do best: serving customers and providing a human touch.

In the end, it’s all about strategically using AI behind the scenes to support your customer service team and sales associates so that they can shine and put the customer in the spotlight. With a little extra help, people can transcend their job descriptions and deliver a top-of-the-line service that truly sets their brand apart in the current consumer landscape.

Instead of spending hours responding to order tracking enquiries or answering FAQs, your customer service team can focus on sharing their product knowledge with customers, fostering a personalized experience, and securing sales. In a brick-and-mortar store you would always leverage the selling power of your staff, and we believe the online customer experience should provide the same opportunity for sales associates.

When provided with the right data set, the power of customer support and live chat personnel can be boundless. In the end, winning brands will be those that empower their teams to become the customer’s ally throughout the shopping journey, from first click to final purchase.

Heyday’s framework for human online shopping experiences

Building the most human artificial intelligence out there is certainly a lofty goal, but it is one that we take to heart. Here’s how we’re able to be at the forefront of AI-powered chatbot technology:

Step 1

We pair AI with human teams so that the sales and support staff can use chatbots as their personal sidekicks, automating the bulk of repetitive, low-value customer questions and using our bot-to-human handoff and our agent interface to connect with and serve high-value customers.

Step 2

We help sales and support agents connect with customers on their terms. Whether they’re browsing your online store or starting a conversation via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Google Business Messages, brands can add a human touch to their customer experience online.

Step 3

Our AI learns from these human interactions every step of the way, becoming more effective with each customer interaction. This learning allows us to feed sales and support agents with quick-reply recommendations that make their job easier. When combined with AI that can mimic human tone, manner, and intelligence, the result is a seamless service.

The future of commerce is human

Though technology is always an extension of people, the line between humans and machines is slowly being blurred.

After millennia of using conversation to communicate and connect with each other, these exchanges have become the building blocks of our humanity, with or without AI. However, we could all use a helping hand to facilitate connection at times, especially when we are faced with increasingly virtual interactions. Here’s to a more human and personalized future.

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