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Should retailers fear AI or is it now essential?

Blog
23rd August 2017

For a long time, I have talked about artificial intelligence as an enabling tool that should help to improve the customer experience. It’s a technology that helps customer service advisors and retail associates do their job better, rather than a tool that removes the need for them to even be part of the customer relationship.

But AI has taken on something of a mythical quality. Leading executives such as Elon Musk of Tesla warn that systems may eventually run out of control and become more intelligent than humans. These warnings have also been echoed by scientists, such as the physicist Stephen Hawking, who once claimed that AI could be the end of mankind as we know it.

But executives in industries like retail don’t need to fear AI. Technology systems at present still focus on specific tasks. Even if they have the ability to learn and improve, a system designed to analyse customer behaviour in a supermarket will not attempt to form a new government!

This interesting article published in Retail Touchpoints analyses some of the areas where retail executives should be exploiting AI systems today:

  • AI is better than humans at ploughing through data and seeing patterns. This frees up people to actually be in stores meeting customers, not hidden away working on administrative and reporting tasks.
  • AI can examine years of data and determine spikes and trends better than the ‘gut instinct’ of store managers.
  • AI can connect several disparate data sources to help decision-making. For example, by connecting sales patterns to weather records, it is possible to see exactly what people buy when the sun shines or a storm hits town. Connect that to weather predictions and you have a powerful ordering assistant.
  • AI and machine learning systems can be used to capture all customer enquiries with the correct answers, so associates can access a highly powerful knowledge system that has the answer to every question a customer has ever asked – only a completely unique enquiry could beat the system.

There is still a lot of noise around the use of AI, but it is a maturing technology that can really help your team interact more effectively with customers. Combined with supply chain management in retail, it can become an essential tool for ensuring that stock levels are always maintained at a level that is just right, rather than too low or high.

What do you think of the potential of AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


David Turner
Article by: David Turner

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