ai and chatbots

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There’s a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) this week — several great sessions at Shop.org, countless blog posts. What’s behind the buzz? What does it mean for the future of ecommerce? And how can chatbots help you get there?

First, a little history…
AI and the customer experience it can enable is definitely a hot topic, but technologists have been working on creating a conversational computer program for decades. Did you know the first “chatterbot” appeared in 1966?

Fast forward to now, and we’ve seen consumers adopt personal computers, the Web, mobile, and apps for everything from information gathering to communication to shopping. Visual apps have ruled as screens have grown

, shrunk, and grown again, and for a time, mobile apps seemed the way to the future of consumer engagement.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to that future: people don’t really seem to use mobile apps. Instead, messaging has grown beyond all predictions, and enthusiasm for smart speakers such as Alexa and Google Home is driving retail innovation towards a truly conversational experience. Yet we’re just at the beginning.

Like site search in the 2000’s, many of these emerging customer touchpoints are being automated using a combination of simple keywords and rules-based logic. On one hand, these messaging bots can streamline the most common inquiries and route your customers’ requests quickly. On the other hand, the interactions often read more like scripted Q&A than conversations and bring your customer to a frustrating dead-end if the keywords don’t match the script.

 

This is where the promise of AI gets exciting…

With artificial intelligence, the bots begin to learn. In machine learning, those simple keywords, and the data behind the interactions, ‘train’ the technology to understand natural language, recognizing the context of the conversation, not just the exact-match content. Instead of an endless loop of “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize that entry,” an AI-powered chatbot might offer suggestions based on what it knows about each customer, has learned from similar interactions with others, and what it infers from the context of the current one. Add in some image recognition, or a voice interface, and imagine what this could mean for a shopper in the not too distant future!

Along with creating an engaging and responsive experience for your customers, these intelligent systems can help you, the retailer, identify new opportunities across your organization. Applying AI to your backend merchandising, order management, or sales data can streamline shared services and reveal valuable insights to drive your business forward.

If it all seems like a giant leap from where we are now, it is. The good news is that it’s not as far as you might think. In fact, if you’ve been on Amazon lately, or seen a demo of IBM Watson, you’ve seen AI in action. We believe that today’s chatbot interfaces are stepping stones that will get us there. Each store location, order status, or product search that a customer requests of a chatbot provides another data point that can train the AI, building a knowledge base that will enable the future of true conversational ecommerce.

More than just the buzzwords of the season, today’s chatbots and AI offer retailers an unprecedented opportunity to move into this future. Shopper expectations are evolving rapidly — your customers want to engage with you where and when they want, on any channel or all channels, and seamlessly to boot. Successful omnichannel retailers understand this, experimenting with messaging bots while looking ahead to voice. Welcome to the future!

If you’re ready to take the leap, or just wondering where the artificial intelligence future might take your business, we’d love to chat with you!

 


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