This piece follows an earlier story about artificial intelligence in retail.
Meet Chad. Yesterday, he was your typical helpful retail employee. Tomorrow, he may be John Henry.
Henry is the American legend who, with his bare hands, outperformed a steam-powered railroad drill in a contest that pitted man against machine. Today that drill is artificial intelligence, and instead of digging, it’s selling.
Whether Chad and artificial intelligence (AI) have to compete, however, is a question for retail.
And the retail industry will have to address that question quickly. The artificial intelligence industry is expected to grow by more than 20-fold over the next seven years, to $3 trillion in 2024 from $126 billion in 2015. Much of that expansion is rolling out now in the physical and virtual aisles of retail, and with it comes questions about job security.
Workers have some reasons to be concerned. Artificial intelligence is capable of efficiently and inexpensively managing important tasks that require intense human commitment. The digital questionnaires that parlay consumer feedback into detailed product recommendations come first to mind.
Still, I believe the most relevant consumer experiences, the ones that leave an imprint, involve the human touch. A retailer’s AI software might advise an online shopper to buy what will be the very best coat for his needs, but can it tell him how it looks? Regardless of how the sale is made, the shopper is likely to prefer that a real person be on hand during the transaction.
And there should be. Because when it’s time to troubleshoot, to answer an unscripted question or to simply advise whether the red dress fits better than the blue one, consumers typically want to call in the humans.
Maximum Mind-Meld: 4 Ways
This is why artificial intelligence and organic intelligence should mind-meld, not compete.
It’s a classic “The sum is greater than its parts” formula: Retail workers and AI could more effectively improve the customer experience collaboratively, by borrowing and maximizing on each other’s skills. Here are four ways to do that.
- To hire the best: More than half (52%) of job recruiters say the hardest part of their job is identifying the right candidates from a large applicant pool, according to com, which makes talent acquisition software. This is largely due to the time-consuming task of culling through résumés and applications. An AI recruiting system could automate that review process while integrating it into the existing recruiting database to avoid workflow disruption. This would sharply reduce hiring time and give retailers a better chance of winning the best talent. Ongoing AI surveying can provide employees with instant feedback and progress reports.
- To improve operations: Just as AI applications can help mobile-toting consumers locate specific brands on the shelf, the technology can provide employees with on-the-spot product availability. With voice-recognizing software, for example, employees can determine swiftly if a particular item is in stock or, if not, when it will be. Such interactions are crucial for impulse purchases, and if the shopper’s whim is not immediately addressed, then we may miss that magic opportunity. The voice-controlled wearable technology called Theatro connects retail employees directly to point-of-sale software that provides not only availability, but also product information. It also enables employees to communicate more efficiently with each other.
- To advocate for shoppers: The best data for a retailer is that which is released from its silos and set free — with discretion. AI consumes information and converts it into insights, and those insights, if shared, can empower employees to become customer advocates. Many AI apps serve as questionnaires, narrowing down consumer product preferences, for example. If in-store associates are briefed on the brands and items most popular through these AI interactions, they can apply that knowledge to in-store displays and recommendations. They can further use post-purchase feedback (again through AI survey applications) to share approval ratings with prospective shoppers in-store.
- To say thank you: A digital concierge or bot might make a smashing recommendation to the hapless guy seeking a Valentine’s Day gift, but a digital thank-you just sounds canned. A follow-up call from a human is more likely to leave a lasting impression, particularly if that worker has the basic AI-gathered insights from the purchase. A special offer along with a personal thank-you will likely make that shopper feel especially privileged, and eager to shop that retailer again. The employee, meanwhile, could ask if it is OK to follow up in a month or so (either personally or by AI) to see how the product is working out.
Artificial intelligence is drilling deep into the retail industry, but its capabilities are far from the enduring nature and deftness of the human touch. The challenge for retailers is to ensure their human touch, or experience, is not outdone by machines.
This article was written by Bryan Pearson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.