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Real Truths for AI in Retail Contact Centers

7 real truths for the impact of AI on customer engagement in retail contact centers

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As technology advances, AI is beginning to show some promise in almost every sector. The retail sector is no exception. Many companies have already begun to implement AI systems for tasks like ad targeting and customer support. Retail contact centers are one place where AI has already begun to change the nature of the job. However, not all strategies for AI adoption in retail contact centers are created equal. There are still limitations on what AI can do for customers, and relying too heavily on this technology can actually hurt companies if AI adoption comes at the expense of customer satisfaction. Let’s dive right in.

Good service means customer loyalty

Customers are loyal to companies and brands that they see as responsive to their needs. In many cases, good service is just as important as price or product quality to customers. It is especially important when there is an issue or problem. So it is important for contact center managers to ask themselves, “how is this new technology going to affect our customers’ experiences?” If automation leads to shorter hold times and better service, it can be a powerful tool in building trust between customers and the brand. Conversely, if customers see it as an obstacle to good service, automation can hurt the relationship, causing customers to feel frustrated and ignored. 

Automation can damage loyalty

As was previously mentioned, in spite of rapid advances, AI’s ability to interact with customers in a complex or nuanced way is still highly limited. When interactions become difficult for customers because of a problem like, for example, poor voice recognition software. This can lead to worse interactions with representatives when they do get through to one, or to a lowered confidence in the company or brand as a whole. Caution should be used, as it is still possible to over-automate, with negative results. 

Confidence in AI is still low

Even as AI becomes more adaptive, public opinion about AI remains doubtful. A majority of people are still skeptical about the capabilities of AI. They do not believe that it will improve their lives in the future. Certain elements of AI are highly unwanted by most consumers. Automated calls lack the personal touch that many customers prefer when calling about an issue. This can lead them to feel like no one is listening to them. Chatbots can fail to understand even the basic needs of customers. Targeted ads that use customers’ personal data—or even appear to—can cause them to feel as if their privacy has been violated. Doing this also diminishes loyalty. So because confidence in AI is low, even when the technology is doing what it is supposed to, customer predispositions and skepticism can make it a bad thing. 

Callers like options

One situation that makes AI more palatable for customers is when it is offered as an option. Customers who are able to choose between live agents and automated systems tend to have a better experience with AI. This is because they do not feel like they are being made to use it unwillingly. Evidence shows that very few people are ready for entirely automated systems that do not allow for any person-to-person interaction. 

Eliminating hold times

So what is AI good for? One of the biggest ways that AI can actually improve customer loyalty is by reducing or eliminating long hold times. Automated systems that can redirect those with the simplest problems away from live agents, while speeding up the process for those with more complex needs, improve the customer experience for both groups. This proves that in some cases, AI and customer engagement are complimentary. Helping customers wait for less also improves their interactions with live agents. This allows them to take their time and add a personal, friendly touch to their assistance.

AI assistance for live agents

AI’s value does not, however, lie solely in what it can do for callers. Another way that AI can improve the customer experience and build loyalty in retail contact centers is by automating or simplifying some of the administrative tasks done by employees. This once again frees up live agents to pay more attention to the complicated work of navigating relationships with customers in order to produce the desired results. 

Cautious optimism about AI

Ultimately, AI is not objectively a good thing or a bad thing. How it is implemented, how it is perceived by and marketed to customers, how it increases efficiency, how it builds or deteriorates trust—these are all important elements in the contact center industry that influence the overall value of AI in retail contact centers. There is no reason to believe that AI can’t help your company succeed—it definitely can. However, a thoughtful approach to AI with emphasis on the customer experience is definitely a must. This is if you are looking to adopt these new technologies. If you are interested in knowing more about customer readiness for artificial intelligence you can find the study by Fidelum Partners here.


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