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2019 Holiday Survival Kit: Perfect Blended Human/AI Capabilities


As shoppers increasingly rely on digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and as merchants use AI to deliver personalized service for routine inquiries, synchronizing the work of automated tools and live human agents is more important than ever. 

Even as AI-driven shopper assistance becomes commonplace, merchants still need to demonstrate its effectiveness. Currently, shoppers still prioritize in-person service: 83% of consumers said interacting with real people will become more important -- not less -- as technology improves, according to consultancy PwC. Merchants must do their utmost to ensure automated services deliver true value, not waste time with meaningless responses or off-base recommendations. 

At any time of the year, inconsistent interactions can lead to the poor experiences that drive shoppers away. And with the high-stakes holiday season in the balance, the handoffs from AI to human help -- and back again -- can’t be tested rigorously enough. Among the best practices: 

  • Define what’s automated, and when humans step in. Merchants should clearly delineate the types of interactions AI-powered services can handle, and which are best routed to in-person help. Customer service inquiries easily addressed with information lookups such as order status or store hours are prime candidates for automation; even simple transactions -- ordering gift cards, for example -- can be handled by intelligent avatars. But alongside the use cases for automation, merchants should develop a comprehensive set of keywords and triggers that signal a complex situation is developing requiring human oversight, so that shoppers aren’t left stranded.
  • Label bots clearly. Shoppers react negatively to machines masquerading as humans, SAP found, so AI-driven chatbots and live chat avatars should be explicitly identified as such. Robot icons or non-human profile pictures instantly communicate to shoppers that they’re interacting with a machine, as do artificial-sounding names such as 1-800-Flowers’ GWYN (an acronym for Gifts When You Need them). Not only do such cues provide transparency; they also set expectations with shoppers, who are increasingly accustomed to automated services delivering information based on specific commands or keywords.
  • Stress time savings as an AI benefit. Efficiency and convenience top the list of elements important to a good customer experience, according to PwC -- so retailers can highlight response speed and 24/7 availability as reasons to give automated services a try, especially during the busy holiday season. 
  • Make transitions clear and seamless. If human help does take over from an automated interaction, the handoff should be flagged to shoppers. Customer service agents should have access to prior questions and responses to avoid repetitive information-gathering, which is customers’ top peeve, according to 
  • Let humans and machines learn from each other. Call center reps and store associates should have access not only to chat logs, but to personalized recommendations, abandoned cart reminders, and other AI-enhanced brand interactions. Similarly, AI chat tools should be populated with plenty of data from prior in-person conversations in order to shorten the learning curve for intelligent algorithms. This step is particularly important if merchants are heading into their first holiday season with AI-driven service offerings that have no prior “experience” with seasonal queries. 

You can learn more about the customer experience and how automating the shopper experience can engage your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, and others are using an automated shopper experience platform as part of their customer experience strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.

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