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Conversational AI coming to a store near you

The arrival of COVID-19 has forced companies to find innovative ways to connect with customers while socially distanced to thrive in a contactless world. Retailers, restaurants, and salons are just a few prominent examples of businesses that have been challenged to think differently and find more creative ways to communicate and serve their customers. AI statistics highlight how new technologies will change various aspects of consumer trends in the coming years.

Many retailers will be looking to rebound and recoup losses during the upcoming holiday season. But many of the Christmas Markets that attract huge crowds across Europe are already being cancelled. 

News from Scotland and England suggests that stores and shoppers need to prepare for a digital Christmas. 

On a positive note, conversational commerce appears to have found its voice as consumers turn to telephone calls, SMS messages, and social media platforms. According to Numa, there has been a 450% increase in customer calls, texts, and Facebook messages. There has also been an incredible 393% increase in contactless, text-to-order revenue.

Eliminating the frustration caused by traditional scripted chatbots

The problem with poorly implemented chatbots is that they pretend to be intelligent, but they seldom understand users. From the moment a customer arrives on your website, they will be motivated by a quick and easy solution to their need, desire or problem. But frustration quickly surfaces when greeted with a reply such as, "Sorry, I didn't get that. Could you ask me again?"

75% of users also want to know whether they are chatting with a chatbot or a human. 48% of shoppers also think chatbots that pretend to be human are creepy. The chatbots that promised to make our lives easier often ruin the customer experience when it misunderstands or misinterprets our intention as a customer. 

We have grown to expect more from our digital assistants than question and answer capabilities.

However, it's important to remember that there is much more to conversational AI than chatbots. The blurred lines between the physical and digital worlds have disappeared, and retail channels need to reflect across every channel. The current climate presents an opportunity to rethink how to manage conversations at scale in a digital-first economy.

The dark side of mobile sharing

More than 4 billion users have conversations across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat every month. These channels are often referred to by marketers as the dark social. Many businesses will determine their online ad spend by carefully monitoring and analysing social sharing stats through Google Analytics. But the reality is that an incredible 84% of consumers' outbound activity will come from the dark side of mobile sharing in their private chat groups.

Link shorteners such as Bitly are offering a slightly better understanding. But for the most part, it's difficult for marketers to find the source of their traffic quickly. As users retreat to private messaging platforms, companies such as Starbucks are exploring ways to have more in-depth conversations with their customers to understand what people really think about their brand.

When users leave their private chat group to reach out on social media, 79% will expect a response within 24 hours, and 40% will want you to respond within one hour. The good news is that next-generation conversational AI-enabled apps can bridge the communication gap and scale conversations across the messaging apps they use most.

The chatbots getting it right

The world of banking is often accused of being slow to adapt to its customers' digital lifestyle. Capital One set out to change this perception with a friendly banking chatbot called Eno. Users could even text Eno 24/7 via their website, mobile app, or SMS for information about any aspect of their account.

KLM logo on smartphone

Faced with a large volume of requests and across multiple channels, Dutch airline KLM created BB that could learn from customer conversations through natural language understanding. The tech is smart enough to know when it should escalate and immediately transfer the customer to a human agent. When BB sensed things were going particularly well, it could even showcase its comedic timing by telling a joke.

KLM wanted to think bigger than a chatbot and ensure that the brand was omnipresent in its customers' personal lives and the apps they use. BB added a warm personality to conversational AI from the planning stage of the trip to clothing suggestions based on the weather on the morning of the flight.

Conversational AI finds its voice

Many shoppers are also choosing to ask Siri, Google, or Alexa questions rather than type out their search requests. According to Voicebot, nearly 70% of smartphone users advised they had spoken with a digital assistant on their device. 58.9% also said they used their voice to communicate with their device daily.

When these trends are combined with a report which revealed 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience, every brand will need to up its game.

As shopping becomes even more conversational, chatbots will also need to evolve beyond just providing answers to a series of scripted questions.

Always-on consumers in a socially distanced digital world seamlessly communicate with friends and family via text or voice, depending on their situation. They bring this same expectation to their favourite brands, who they assume will be available on their chat platform of choice too. 

The retail world is at the fingertips of most consumers. Almost any item can be purchased without stepping away from their home or office. All of which is made possible by the formerly disconnected technologies that are beginning to converge and enhance customer experiences. Conversational AI and messaging will play a critical role in maximizing online sales and enhancing in-store experiences. Retailers that don't catch up will be in for a bleak mid-winter during the upcoming digital Christmas.

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