There have been dozens of articles in the last three years published by major media outlets proclaiming that customer service is dead. And some days, I really think it is. Companies are doing what they can to survive, often at the expense of their customers’ experience. And I get it. During Covid, we saw the rise of self-service, the lack of staff, and even physical barriers between customers and shoppers. All for good reason. That said, I don’t buy it. Customer service will always be important. In fact, I would argue these recent trends call for even more focus on customer service. Considering the slowdown in consumer spending, every customer interaction matters more than ever. Now, it’s about making the shopping experience personal, meeting customers when, where and how they shop, and leveraging technology, not as a replacement for service, but as an enhancement.
Don’t get me wrong, having spent so much of my career in retail, I don’t think a genuine greeting or speedy checkout will ever go out of style. This was a big focus during my time as President of Staples Retail when we relaunched customer service as an initiative to become central to everything we did. Having been on a meteoric growth trajectory, we became so intent on store expansion that we needed to sharpen our focus when it came to serving our customers.
We needed to get back to basics, and fast. We re-trained on our service model and boiled it down to four simple behaviors that our research showed were most important to shoppers at the time. We changed our recognition programs to be focused on service just as much as sales. We created a “voice of the customer” function that not only addressed customer complaints but worked quickly to fix the root cause of these issues.
And it paid off… we successfully increased customer satisfaction scores from 55% to 75% in just a few years, and more importantly, customer service had become part of our culture. But to me, these are just table stakes. And in today’s labor environment, it hasn’t gotten any easier to be “in the game” of customer service.
Fortunately, the power of artificial intelligence is emerging just in time to help combat these obstacles. There are numerous opportunities to leverage AI to optimize many aspects of the retail business, which should ultimately translate to improved customer experience. Here are some ideas:
AI for assortment and demand planning – always be in stock with what the customer wants, when they want it
In-store customer behavior analysis to optimize scheduling and train employees on customer engagement
Chatbots for sales support, troubleshooting, product and service recommendations, etc. to reduce staffing pressures
As much as customer service fundamentals still matter, machine learning is here not only to help mitigate operational challenges, but also to greatly enhance our ability to serve our customers in powerful new ways. Customer service is ready for a rebirth. How are you planning to use AI to improve your customer experience?
Blue Ocean Global Technology Interviews CEO Demos Parneros