An industry leader is urging Australian retailers to brace themselves for a new era of AI this year.

Retailers need to be ready for the advent of a new phase of AI this year as smart technology moves from augmenting experiences to becoming a fully-fledged assistant, bringing in-person experiences online by predicting customer preferences.

But fear not, because AI is far from taking over at this stage, according to Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn.

These are the five ways AI will impact your retail strategy in 2019.

  1. Chatbots will be more proactive

2019 will be the year where AI will be able to proactively predict shopping behaviours, giving the technology the ability to operate as a fully-fledged shopping assistant.

While today chatbots predominantly respond to consumer enquiries when they are prompted, 2019 will see the rise of chatbots with highly complex functionalities and the ability to interpret patterns of consumer behaviours, and make predictions and recommendations based on these.

“No longer will chatbots sit on the sideline waiting to be asked a question, they will be able to anticipate the needs of customers and proactively offer them timely, tailored recommendations based on known information like location and past engagements,” he says.

“What we’re seeing with a lot of AI and chatbots is that as they become more intelligent and people put them out there they start seeing more frequent use cases where the technology goes beyond simple information sharing to actually helping people plan things out.”

As this technology is rolled out at a large scale, we will also start to see it integrating with other systems, allowing the AI access to a broad data set, he says.

  1. AI won’t takeover – yet

While AI is advancing more rapidly than ever before, transforming every aspect of the consumer, and retailer’s journey, it won’t take over existing retail jobs, at least not at this stage.

Rather, AI will be a “silent force,” Mr Lester says, operating in the background to help retailers work “smarter and faster.”

We are not even close to a point where AI can run on its own, Mr Lester says, and humans are still needed to train and manage bots.

“There are tasks that bots are good at and others that require a human touch.  In customer service, for example, chatbots are helping lighten the load of agents by taking on the simple, repetitive questions that plague their days, but human agents are still a crucial component for those complicated questions and more sensitive engagements will always need a human touch – that is not something that AI will be able to replace,” he says.

AI will continue to enrich the customer experience by freeing up humans to take control of the more complex customer service tasks.

“Now agents have time to do things like spend more time with customers and they’re worried less about metrics and more about starting conversation, average basket size or upsell or cross-sell opportunities,” he says.

  1. Digital will be humanised by AI

No longer will consumers trade off the convenience of doing their business online for the personalisation of an in-store experience, Mr Lester says.

This year, more than ever, bots will be able to connect with customers in an incredible personalised way online – allowing a seamless interaction that mirrors the in-store experience.

“2019 will be the year that consumers stop compromising.  AI will make it possible to bring that in-person experience to the digital world by leveraging customer preferences and behaviours to help agents (bots or humans) better understand needs and provide more personalised recommendations,” he says.

  1. Employee experience: the next frontier

This year will see companies implementing what they’ve learnt about CX internally, leveraging the capabilities of this intelligence to boost employee satisfaction.

“The old adage of happy employees make for happy customers is very true,” Mr Lester says.

Companies will be able to leverage AI to develop a profile of their employees, and the ability to tailor assistance specifically to them.

“If an employee is new, for example, AI can proactively serve them up with on boarding materials specific to their job and offer them an always-on partner for questions throughout their lifecycle,” he says.

  1. Traditional customer support will disappear

In five years’ time, customer service as we know it will completely disappear, Mr Lester argues.

As the roll out of technology accelerates, consumers will need IT experts more than ever. But how this assistance is deployed will look very different, he argues.

IT assistance is going to increasingly be in the form of AI, Mr Lester says, and this technology will become more and more proficient at solving IT problems.

“I don’t think email will totally go away but the more traditional forms of customer experience are going to become better or smarter through AI,” he says.

“The result will be that while the work L1 technicians do today may be handled by AI, but what it will do is open a tremendous opportunity for those agents elevate their role within the organisation and do more impactful and strategic work.”