AI is coming – but human-centric customer service will not go away


Across the three Connected Retail webinars we ran with research specialists, Planet Retail, one theme dominated: what’s the balance between the online and real worlds. How important are bricks-and-mortar stores at a time when online sales are rising almost exponentially?

In our last webinar, we spoke about how Amazon has changed the landscape of competition. It’s new AI driven tool – the Echo – is making it easier than ever before to think of something you want, say it out loud, and then find it turning up on your doorstep within two days… or the next day… or within two hours depending on where you live. That’s amazing. And frightening. The gap between desire and fulfilment is getting ever narrower.

But useful as Alexa (the voice within the Echo) is, the retail environment is, as ever, much more complex than some technology enthusiasts claim. In fact, there’s a renaissance going on in physical stores – the analogue world in which humans still make personal connections. A recent book by journalist David Sax, The Revenge of Analog[1] describes how there’s a move back to good, old fashioned person-to-person customer service. But importantly, it’s integral to the success of the digital world too. AI is helping retailers connect with shoppers, draw them to their brand, make sales, and encourage them to venture into bricks-and-mortar stores. That’s why Amazon is launching real-world bookstores and even grocery stores (hence Amazon Go).

Sax quotes one bookstore owner from New York: “The world isn’t so much a competitive war of distribution between bricks-and-mortar stores and online retailers, but a war of brands.” It’s a very good point. Amazon’s brand means you trust Alexa. It also means you might visit their store. When you’re in the store you might order something, buy something off a shelf, or just browse. You’ll connect with the staff, who will embody the brand. Then you’ll go home liking the brand just a little bit more than you did before. The technology isn’t the point. The brand experience is.

So AI, whether it’s used in the back office, the store or in the home is merely an extension of that quintessentially analogue thing: customer service. You must balance the technology with the real-life interaction, but never lose sight of what matters most: a human connection to your brand. That’s why, at Fujitsu, we always start with the human and build from there.

Read the whitepaper based on the Webinar here.

[1] Public Affairs Books, New York 2016

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