For decades, people have fearfully imagined armies of hyper-efficient robots invading shops and factories, replacing jobs done by humans. This sentiment has largely shifted over the years as technology has proven to be more useful than daunting. We have now swiftly moved beyond worries of artificial intelligence replacing rank-and-file workers and looked toward the capacity of support automation to assist, not replace, customer service agents.

Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and conversational service are now part of retailers day to day — recent Zendesk data shows that over 75 percent of businesses are familiar with automated conversational services in 2022. Yet, 40 percent of small businesses reported that while they have the capacity to spend money on AI — they do not, leaving those who invest in automated solutions in a better position to succeed. 

Here’s why retailers should invest in customer service automation, and leverage the capabilities of AI to save up on mundane tasks and scale higher. 

Stand out from the crowd with personalisation, customer insights, and conversational support

Customers and retailers are becoming more familiar with artificial intelligence, and the technology behind artificial intelligence is only getting more impressive and easier to deploy as time goes by. 

Yet, some companies are still wary of the transformative power of customer service automation — in reality though, by not utilising automation capabilities effectively, they’re creating other less-than-ideal circumstances, with fragmented customer interactions that are slower and less insight-driven.

Whether you do your shopping online or in store, your retail experience is the latest endeavour for the AI and machine learning revolution.

Retailers looking to stay competitive need look no further than AI. Our research shows that 20 percent of customer service will be handled by conversational AI agents in 2022. Additionally, Juniper Research forecasts that approximately $12 billion in retail revenue will be driven by conversational AI in 2023.Great customer experience features fast, personalised and consistent interactions at each touchpoint of the consumer’s journey. 

Conversational AI chatbots are especially adept at providing personalised and insight-driven solutions. The bots can handle simple inquiries, freeing up live agents to focus their efforts on more complex (and less mundane) customer issues. 

Help customers help themselves 

Customers reach out for support in a variety of ways — like via email, calling over the phone or initiating a live chat. So, it makes sense for companies to invest in an omnichannel response system. Every customer is different, and each has their own preferred way of resolving an issue with customer support. 

Most customers prefer to solve issues on their own or want (and expect) immediate support. Artificial intelligence can lend a hand and help customers self-serve, even when they have different preferences for customer service. 

Chatbots have become a key component of any support strategy. They enable teams to scale their efforts and provide support around the clock while freeing agents to focus on conversations that truly need a human touch. 

Save time, increase customer satisfaction 

When bots are the first point of contact in a messaging conversation, customers have a chance to resolve their issues before needing human intervention, 24/7, even outside of business hours.

In growing retail companies, employees have to wear a lot of different hats. For small support teams dealing with a high volume of requests (or ‘tickets’), AI presents an opportunity to save time. Despite overall familiarity with messaging channels, only 17 percent of companies are set up with a unified platform that brings all their service channels together. Rather than having siloed conversations fall to the wayside, a unified agent workspace can bring these channels together.

For retailers trying to stay on top of customer conversations and DMs, investing in the right tools can be a key differentiator: only 50 percent of growing retail companies, for example, offer messaging as a support channel. 

While uptake of automated shopping technology has been slower than in other economically developed countries, like the UK, 2022 promises to be a more predictable year for Australian retailers (KPMG Australian Retail Outlook report). This creates a unique opportunity for businesses that choose to add layers of intelligent automation. 

Investment in standard CX functions and technology is no longer enough on its own, as customers are looking for new ways to engage with brands. There will always need to be a human element in customer service, but there is a huge growth opportunity – for retailers big and small – for those willing to invest in getting their AI strategy right.

Steve Bray is regional vice president for Australia & New Zealand at Zendesk.