We’ve been shopping online long before the pandemic caused businesses and stores to shut down for months at a time. There was, however, a huge gap in customer experience when businesses were forced to close their doors. The human elements of the retail industry—asking for recommendations, sharing advice on products, or discussing timelines for shipping—became faceless exchanges.
Consumer expectations around e-commerce have changed over the last few years. According to Accenture, 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with a brand that offers them a personalized experience. But when buyers are searching for items more significant than everyday pieces—perhaps luxury goods, furniture, occasionwear, or anything that requires an investment—the personalized experience must go beyond casual product suggestions at the foot of the webpage.
Customers are moving their shopping habits online, and e-commerce grew by 30% during the pandemic (according to eMarketer). But customers still want a human experience. Unlikely as it may sound, artificial intelligence may be the perfect human solution for brands and consumers alike.
Coronavirus brides and grooms likely suffered most of all retail shoppers in the last year as the bridalwear experience is usually marked by a personalized trip that includes the expert opinion of a salesperson. The wedding wear company David’s Bridal faced this challenge in a unique way. They used artificial intelligence to create a personalized, more human shopping experience for the brides and grooms forced to make their wedding decisions virtually.
The company’s tech partner, LivePerson, implemented a conversational AI approach that offered couples a way to communicate with the company about all of their wedding style concerns. The bot is named Zoey, adding to the human approach, and she offered a direct-to-consumer, front-end means for conversation.
For brides worried about finding the right dress, or worried about their order arriving on time, Zoey responded instantaneously and helped resolve the issues the client was facing. Think of it this way: the bot was created to serve the customer just like the customer service rep who says, “it’s no problem, we’ll get it taken care of for you”.
Experimenting with this humanlike approach during the pandemic acted as a crash course in conversational AI, and it proved successful. The company was able to determine common customer issues and resolve them promptly through Zoey’s technological capabilities. Instead of customers left waiting on a phone line, they interacted immediately through messaging, the same way most people communicate with family and friends on a daily basis.
The ROI on this investment in artificial intelligence was certainly well-worth it for David’s Bridal and by switching to an AI-driven messaging approach, the company watched 41% of customers choose to message over phone calls. customers, with 90% first call resolution via messaging, meaning 90% of incoming requests were resolved during the first conversation, compared to 73% via voice call.
The company also found that Zoey, which holds conversations on channels including Apple Business Chat, had a greater rate of customer engagement. Think about it: traditional customer service (when not in-store) requires a phone call, often with multiple menu options, considerable wait times, and frustrating exchanges. Couple that with younger generations’ aversion to phone conversations, and you’ll likely find a stressed-out customer who wants to minimize brand interactions.
The Zoey system took this into account and made the conversation more comfortable for customers. Text messaging is largely preferred by consumers, and it’s a less stressful way for people to interact with friends, family, and strangers alike.
Customers want a personalized touch in every shopping experience, but as e-commerce expands and consumers shift more readily to online retail, brands must figure out how to connect. Artificial intelligence is a somewhat surprising solution to adding a human touch to the virtual shopping experience. AI can help brands meet customers on a platform they prefer, and provide instant interaction. Ultimately, brands benefit from the prompt, efficient, and personalized interactions artificial intelligence offers customers.