Provide Holiday Shoppers with Better Service, with Automation, AI, and Bots

Lauren Kindzierski, Vice President, Solutions and Capabilities, HGS

This week’s blog is an excerpt of “Provide Holiday Shoppers with Better Service, with Automation, AI, and Bots,” written by Lauren Kindzierski, HGS Vice President, Solutions and Capabilities and published in Internet Retailer. In this published piece, Lauren explores how retailers can prepare for holiday retail sales, taking steps like updating FAQs and adding proactive chat. More extensive projects should wait until after peak season.


Peak season is upon us, and contact center managers across North America are preparing for the busiest time in retail.  Traditionally, much of this preparation has focused around staffing up to manage peak volume, strategizing to hit KPIs, hardening websites and IT infrastructure, and optimizing inventory and fulfillment. But, as a result of the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and chatbots, tides are turning in retail. What can retailers do – and learn – now and during the holiday rush to prepare for the next generation of customer experience (CX)?

Reduce Contact Center Chaos During the Peak Season with Automation, AI, & Digital

Technology has long been an enabler in enhancing customer satisfaction and addressing peak season challenges. In the contact center environment, it has always been the job of customer service professionals to work with IT to find new ways to efficiently connect with customers. A pending peak season is a good time to tweak channels and evaluate options. For example, many customer care professionals in retail have opted to automate (e.g., using IVR, scripts, email reminders, and alerts) some customer interactions – limited-time offer and warranty expiries, product and store locators, gift card balances and so on – to reduce the number of calls and agents in their centers.

Forward-thinking companies are already using a combination of bots and brains to deliver next-generation customer experiences and optimize operations.

In addition to staffing efficiencies, automation can positively affect revenues. In one successful e-commerce operation, a name-brand manufacturer and online retailer of camping equipment improved conversion rates by 40% by devising and embracing an abandoned shopping cart strategy. When a customer removed an item from his/her online shopping cart, a 10%-off promotion popped up. If the customer accepted the 10% discount, a live chat agent appeared to close the transaction.

Using automation to complete routine tasks, such as answering common questions, checking order status, resetting passwords, etc. can bolster customer and employee satisfaction. Even for those retailers reluctant to automate customer-facing processes, there are opportunities to automate back-office agent screen transitions and lookups to respond to incoming requests faster.

What You Can Do This Holiday Season to Prepare for Automation

While the holidays are not the best time for piloting something entirely new like AI, making small changes now can improve peak manageability and prepare your organization for later automation projects.

When measured, straightforward tweaks can fuel your automation business case. Updating your help center and FAQ web pages to feature your return policy prominently, for example, can have a dramatic impact on volumes this season and beyond. Using IVR channel pivoting and proactive chat during checkout, on support pages or for visitors shopping for more than 20 minutes can retain customers. Adopting an SMS/text notification strategy for order status updates, shipping alerts and returns confirmations is entirely feasible within the weeks leading up to Black Friday.

Indeed, if your organization has not yet embraced AI, bots, or automation, actions you take prior to and during the holiday rush can better position you for the next contact center peak season. These include:

  • Capturing data on everything and employing a data analyst.
  • Mapping the actual customer’s omnichannel journey to purchase and return products.
  • Documenting the most frequently asked questions and well-received answers.
  • Surveying agents for frontline insights.
  • Mystery-shopping the competition for inspiration.
  • Scanning social media for customer opinions.
  • Implementing a 1-to-2 question, after-engagement customer survey for each digital channel.

Forward-thinking companies are already using a combination of bots and brains to deliver next-generation customer experiences and optimize operations. Even with the 2017 holiday season looming, it’s a good time to start preparing for next year’s continuous improvement projects to remain competitive.