Retail brands are grappling with new consumer expectations in the looming post-COVID age, and meeting demands for personalized communication may be the most baffling challenge. According to new research from CX leader Talkdesk, AI is the critical tool to achieve it.
The firm’s new research report, Powering Retail Growth: The Next Generation of Contact Centers, reveals a critical gap between the high availability of solutions capable of exceeding customer expectations and their low adoption levels within the retail industry.
While retail is rallying around the importance of elevating customer experience, many retailers have yet to seize the potential of using their contact centers to scale personalized service. In fact, only 30 percent of retail contact centers are using artificial intelligence tools at scale to deliver the personalized experiences customers expect.
CX as a key business driver and the slow implementation of AI
The research finds a majority of retailers are prioritizing improvements to CX and initiatives aimed at building customer loyalty. Fifty-four percent of CX professionals cite it as a top priority, and 87 percent clearly understand how their CX strategy fits into their organizations’ broader business goals. Retailers that have seen a significant increase in their customer satisfaction over the past two years also experienced a sizable increase in revenue during the same time period and expect revenue gains in the next year as well.
Yet despite a clear connection between CX and business performance, retailers struggle with the unpredictable variety and volume of customer needs (50 percent) and high CX operational costs (44 percent). Data will be key to overcoming these challenges. Indeed, almost half of retailers surveyed say that better management of customer data across all relevant channels is a top component of their CX strategy.
AI represents a key area of opportunity for retailers to use customer data to fulfill personalization expectations at scale, but only a third of survey respondents are using AI capabilities such as intelligent knowledge bases, virtual agents, and chatbots. Looking ahead, more than half say they plan to increase investments in these areas.
“CX professionals in retail understand that today’s customers expect highly personalized interactions whenever, and however, they may engage with a brand. They also understand that the AI tools required to meet and exceed those evolving preferences are available, yet most haven’t implemented them at the necessary scale,” said David Gardner, vice president of research & insights at Talkdesk, in a news release. “This disconnect shows how critical AI can be as an investment for contact centers. Looking forward, our research indicates that CX leaders must find ways to address customer needs, while mapping out the future of the contact center in a way that leverages AI at scale and still keeps costs in check.”
The evolving role of agents
Agents are increasingly instrumental to retailers’ business outcomes beyond customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. The study additionally shows that over 80 percent of retailers currently hold agents accountable to key performance indicators (KPIs), which includes new revenue generated. Nearly 90 percent of CX professionals further anticipate that customer relationship growth will be part of agent KPIs within the next five years.
When asked about the top challenges they face today, 42 percent of CX professionals equally cited: 1) consistently engaging across channels, 2) lack of capacity, and 3) effectively tailoring interactions. To overcome these obstacles and enable agents to rise to their potential as customer relationship stewards, retailers need to explore contact center technologies, including digital channels, speech analytics, and AI-enabled next-best-action tools.
“The key to unlocking the potential of agents in the new ‘agent+AI’ paradigm will ultimately be the level of support from executive leadership,” said Shannon Colquhoun, vice president of industry strategy, retail and e-commerce at Talkdesk, in the release. “The entire organization should align around the role contact centers play in business growth, with investments in technologies like AI taking into account the input from agents who are in direct connection with customers and understand their needs. This healthy paradigm can elevate contact center technologies as drivers of better outcomes from the agents, customers, and the entire business.”
In June 2021, Talkdesk Research conducted an online survey of qualified retail CX professionals across different global markets, including: the U.S., Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.K., and Brazil. A total of 200 survey respondents were involved in the research, consisting of CX professionals representing retail and ecommerce companies with more than 200 full-time employees. CX professionals included leadership and management for customer experience, customer service, CX operations, contact center, and IT, as well as contact center agents.