Can Bots Bring Humanity Back to Black Friday?

Black Friday is the UK’s new favourite retail event; and although shoppers this side of the pond were initially slow to be convinced, the American import is continuing to grow in popularity. Here, Ryan Lester, director of customer engagement technologies, LogMeIn, explains that, whether we like it or not, Black Friday now represents an integral part of the UK shopping calendar.

Official reports are indicating that more and more people are doing their Christmas shopping in November, dragging out seasonal shopping for longer than ever. And while it can be easy to get caught up in the sales and allure of trying to find that perfect present for everyone on your list, it can also be an extremely stressful experience.  

In fact, it’s almost taken as a given that holiday shopping is somehow meant to be stressful. A study by eBay showed that heart rates tend to increase by 33% while Christmas shopping – which is almost as much as running a marathon. You would think that the increased popularity of online shopping should remedy these holiday headaches, but online retail often creates as many problems as it solves. Whether it’s late deliveries or damaged goods, nearly half of consumers who bought goods online over the past two years had some type of problem with their purchase. And when there is a problem, customer service doesn’t always ease the pain. A recent study found that less than half of customer enquiries are resolved during the first interaction. This back and forth basically removes the convenience of online shopping altogether and could be enough to send customers to competitor brands.  

With the holiday shopping season upon us, retailers – online or otherwise – have a serious job on their hands when it comes to keeping customers satisfied and loyal.

Catering to demand spikes

Arguably, the biggest challenge for brands when it comes to Christmas shopping is dealing with a boom in demand. While a lot of the bigger brands can hire more help for the holiday season, it’s not feasible for everyone. In fact, 68% of businesses admit that their agents struggle with the volume of customer enquiries – and the issue is only compounded with the inevitable holiday rush. What’s more, less than half (49%) of customer problems are solved on the first interaction, further adding to call volumes.

How are brands to keep up? This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing a huge role in modern shopping. AI is helping companies deliver always-on worldwide support – even for those companies that may not have 24/7 operations around the globe. For customers who are worried about packages arriving on time, or choosing the right sizing for that perfect holiday sweater, bots are there to help get those simple – yet important – questions answered, no matter what time of day you’re shopping. Not only is AI helping customers get that concierge-level support, but it is also taking some of the burden off of over-stretched customer service teams, so they are free and available to help customers who really need that human touch. 

Bringing humanity back to holiday shopping

But won’t customer service being handled by robots take some of the warmth out of customer support – dehumanising the experience? I would argue that it’s actually bringing some of the humanity back into online shopping. Chatbots that are being used throughout the customer journey are helping to not only handle customer service enquiries in a quicker and more efficient manner, but also help customers proactively find what they are looking for. By anticipating needs and understanding the customer history, bots can offer a breadth of personalisation at scale that simply wouldn’t otherwise be possible. In addition, bots are also freeing up human agents to spend more time on the engagements that really need them and take some of the stress off of their jobs during the holidays, thereby making everyone a little bit ‘merrier’. All holiday shoppers really want is a good deal and an easy and seamless experience – and AI is helping make the latter happen.

So, whether you’re an anxiety-prone holiday shopper, or a retailer who is looking to get an edge over the competition, AI is proving to be the tool that can help turn a stressful holiday shopping season into a joyful one.