The idea that automation is going to be a key driver of transformation in the retail industry in 2019 isn’t a prediction, it’s a certainty.
From FedEx automating its sorting and distribution facilities, to Amazon Go putting pressure on retailers to reinvent the shopping experience by, as the New York Times reported, “testing robots that help keep shelves stocked, apps that let shoppers ring up items with a smartphone, and high-tech systems [that] completely automate the checkout process,” automation will be a fact of life that retailers simply can’t afford to ignore any longer.
Particularly when it comes to customer service.
Here are three ways AI and bots will fundamentally transform retail in the next year.
Messaging-based Bots Will Gain Wide Adoption for Customer Service
In 2019, rapid adoption of messaging-based bots will be the number one trend in customer service — in retail and across industries. You can expect at least 50% of the Fortune 5000 to begin experimenting with and testing out bots, while 5 to 10 percent will be rolling them out into full production.
Where does the retail industry stand on bots so far? As Shopify reports: “Many messaging bots can already be found in proprietary retail apps — like Subway and FreshDirect — and when you message branded Facebook Business Pages. Facebook recently confirmed that customers have already created 33,000 chatbots for its Messenger app thus far.”
As bots begin to improve the customer service experience across industries, it will be seen increasingly as an advantage both on the UX side and as a means to reduce costs.
Consumers and Brands Alike Will Finally Be Willing to Hang Up the Phone
2019 will bring the death of the phone as a primary customer service channel, as digital customer service gains ground.
I spoke with an analyst recently who told me that call volume at the average contact center currently makes up about 45 percent of interactions with customer service. This number is projected to decrease to 14% by 2022. The shift from voice-based customer service to digital is moving quicker than most realize, creating a space for asynchronous, messaging-based services to thrive — a form of customer service that consumers have long preferred.
Indeed, a 2016 study of 6,000 consumers in Europe, Asia and North America found that 9 of 10 consumers would like to be able to use messaging to talk to businesses.
AI and Bots Will Continue to Improve Pre- and Post-sales CX
AI and chatbots will also become even more integral to the online customer journey — from beginning to end.
During pre-sales, AI and bots will continue to improve customer experience and lower cart abandonment through personalized and predictive recommendations. Many retailers, including Staples, H&M, Sephora and Nordstrom’s, are already using chatbots for product discovery and purchase.
Post-sale, AI-powered bots will help customers self-serve and get their problems resolved faster. For example, bots can help with rescheduling deliveries and processing returns. Amazon is already doing this and is leading by example. The biggest benefits of AI for retailers are the ability to be both proactive and reactive in their interactions with customers.
This year, brands of all shapes and sizes will need to start thinking more strategically about how they can automate more of their customer service operations. In today’s digital world, automation in customer service is a necessary means to delivering an efficient experience for agents and customers alike.
Abinash Tripathy is Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Helpshift, Inc.