Successfully Harnessing AI: Q&A with Freespee

While AI is expanding across all industries, retailers seeking to adopt it still risk failure, by falling short on customer experience and missing the mark in making transactions immersive and entirely seamless. Only data-driven insights will be able to facilitate this process, with AI and machine learning moving in tandem with purchasing habits and instantly identifying, anticipating, and meeting consumers’ needs. In this Q&A with RetailTechNews, Anne De Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee, tells us how to avoid such pitfalls. 

RetailTechNews: How can AI help retailers improve customer service?

Anne De Kerckhove: Interactions and conversations between humans and brands become more productive, for both parties, when using artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies. This is because these technologies combine AI and data to provide analytics – learning from and responding to a slew of data points in a way that no human ever could. With this analytical insight available, a call centre agent can provide the empathetic, responsive service that customers appreciate – and, increasingly, require.

For example, it is relatively straightforward for a good AI application to analyse the past and recent purchasing behaviours of individual clients, combine this understanding with wider machine learning in various data sets, and come up with rational predictions of future behaviours. This lets businesses plan, make investment decisions, build marketing plans, and generally arrange their business in response to these insights.

Where are retailers currently falling short when it comes to customer service?

Where businesses are falling short is on customer experience. Consumers, in an increasingly digital and saturated marketplace, have an increasing expectation for their transactions to be instantaneous, immersive, and entirely seamless.

As this becomes the norm, consumers’ needs will continue to evolve – the next holy grail is great customer service that not only meets, but also predicts, their needs and responds accordingly. Only data-driven insights will be able to facilitate this process, with AI and machine learning moving in tandem with purchasing habits, and instantly identifying – better yet, anticipating – and meeting consumers’ needs.

How can successful adoption of AI technologies help traditional retailers avoid store closures?

We have all been surprised at how quickly long-standing, established high street retailers – such as WHSmith, House of Fraser, and M&S – have come under existential threat by the rise of more agile e-commerce players. At the heart of their woes lies a failure to provide customers with the experience they want – and need. And that is just as much a threat to online businesses as it is to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

What are the challenges retailers are facing when it comes to the successful adoption of AI?

One of the biggest challenges retailers are facing when implementing AI is ensuring that their customers are ready to talk to robots. Brands must convince customers that they are authentic and caring in order to thrive – and though it may seem counterintuitive, AI could lie at the heart of this. AI can increase the human element to customer service – allowing businesses to offer the very best of human one-to-one service, in an online space. In fact, 60% of respondents in a pwc survey about AI agreed that it can reduce the time it takes to get answers, while being highly tailored to their preferences.

What AI technologies will become increasingly common among retailers as we see adoption continue to increase?

As technology develops, it seems inevitable that AI will become part of everyday business in much the same way as a telephone or desktop computer. With many traditional retailers transferring their stores online, we will see an increase in the adoption of online chatbots, as retailers attempt to engage with their customers more and look to provide a seamless customer journey.