With many of us interacting with artificial intelligence (AI) on a daily basis, the power of AI, once only imagined in sci-fi shows such as Star Trek, is finally in the palms of our hands.   

While Generative AI applications such as ChatGPT or Bard have captured most of the attention, it is adaptive AI – computer vision, machine learning, demand forecasting and more – that is changing businesses. AI can benefit businesses in a multitude of ways, and its ability to help elevate customer experiences is revolutionising the relationship between retailers and their customers.

With a little help from AI, businesses are optimising inventory and keeping associates engaged in front-line support, which in turn results in happier customers. Let’s take a look at all the different ways AI is helping improve customer experience.

Better engaged associates means better customer service

Prioritising customer satisfaction is paramount in the retail industry. And with customer expectations constantly evolving in the era of omnichannel sales, retailers feel the pressure to innovate and evolve their strategies to ensure customer retention. Leveraging the capabilities of AI through advanced algorithms presents a compelling avenue to optimise customer experiences and foster loyalty.

For instance, the integration of AI within the retail landscape enables entities to streamline customer interactions through virtual assistants, virtual stylists, and even virtual makeup artists tailored for the fashion and cosmetic retail sectors.  However, in instances where AI encounters more intricate inquiries or when customers express a preference for human interaction, it can also direct them to the appropriate personnel, ensuring uninterrupted support and engagement for a fortified, customer-centric service delivery.    

AI can also support teams by facilitating automated decision-making processes and streamlining the management of employee schedules and assignments. With roots deeply entrenched in AI technology, workforce and task scheduling software tools harness its analytical prowess to assess organisational requirements and execute optimal strategies that are aligned with a company’s unique needs.

By streamlining workforce management, managers can accurately forecast workforce needs, matched with appropriate skills and tenure to optimise schedules for employees and apply easy mechanisms for time off, shift swaps, etc. This also ensures the right number of employees will be available to serve customers at all times. Enhancing communication task management can also improve overall efficiency by optimising and simplifying task execution for workers. By looking at visuals and data based on signals, AI can help generate associate-targeted tasks such as “restocking shelf X with Y” or “helping a customer with Z.”

But where AI can really bring customer satisfaction to the next level is through its ability to forecast what merchandise consumers will demand. With advanced analytics, AI considers seasonality, promotions, sales history, and other variables into an accurate, yet agile, forecast. This helps ensure that the right volume of merchandise is available for customers at the right time.

Give customers what they want – Optimise inventory everywhere

Unsurprisingly, having the products or services a customer wants is core to what a business is about. In fact, Zebra’s Global Shopper Study found that both in-store and digital customers rated product availability and product selection as the top two reasons they chose to shop in a particular physical or digital location.

The omnichannel world has made managing inventory a tricky business. The traditional methods used to manage inventory no longer works. But, with AI’s powerful demand planning and machine learning abilities, businesses can proactively optimise inventory so customers can get what they want, whenever they want it.

Demand intelligence anticipates consumer demand to inform inventory decisions and plans to meet the expected demands. Take retailers and consumer packaged goods companies (CPG), for example. If they apply demand forecasting solutions then they can analyse the relevant “who, what, where, when, and why” variables at a granular level, even down to things like the weather or world events.

Humans do not have the ability to “see” trends and patterns with the precision AI does. These insights allow businesses to optimise inventory, aligning with trends, reducing waste, and consistently delivering what customers want.

AI makes business basics better

Some things in business will never change. Customers are the top priority and keeping them satisfied comes down to the experiences an organisation provides from customer service to the availability of goods. It is how those experiences are delivered that changes – and today, it is changing at the same pace of AI adoption.        

Darren Bretherton is regional sales lead software solutions for ANZ at Zebra Technologies.