Using AI to Support Customers and Agents in E-Commerce

Over the last 3 years, the Artificial Intelligence market has grown at an average of 150% per year. Today, we are exposed to AI (Artificial Intelligence) on a daily basis without realizing it. Whether we’re planning a route on Google Maps or watching videos on YouTube, AI helps us to live and create personalized experiences adapted to everyone's needs.

Artificial Intelligence plays a central role in personalizing and optimizing both customer service and customer experience. In fact, according to Microsoft, by 2025, 95% of all customer interactions will take place through channels that use artificial intelligence. 

E-commerce companies rely on various different applications of AI, ‘Virtual Agents’ and other AI-Powered Tools to make more sales, reduce costs and - most importantly - provide a better customer experience to their customer base. 

In this article, we will discuss the most relevant applications of artificial intelligence for e-commerce companies wanting to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Instant Communication 

Between 2015 and 2020, conversational channels have experienced a real boom. In 2020, 5 billion people used messaging apps: direct and instant communication has become the norm. According to a recent study, 67% of consumers expect to use messaging applications when talking to a company

The successful implementation of live chat and the use of AI (via virtual agents) is, therefore, one of the major challenges in e-commerce. Virtual agents use AI to interact with customers and provide them with automated yet personalized responses through a chat channel. When they can’t solve a need, or when a customer wants to speak to a human, they are backed up by support agents.

Virtual agents will be available 24/7 so that you can continue to advise potential customers, even when your team is offline, through the buyer’s journey. Let’s have a look at how they work.   

Pre-Qualifying Incoming Requests

Virtual agents use NLP (Natural Language Processing) - a brick of artificial intelligence - to understand human language and consumer requests. 

Understanding customers’ needs and qualifying their requests accordingly is one of the major advantages of using AI via the chat channel in e-commerce. It is easy for the virtual agent to settle simple and repetitive requests, but also to redirect complex requests to the appropriate team. For example: if one of your prospects wants to have a personalized quote for a very large order, the virtual agent can redirect them to the sales team in charge of these issues. 

This saves your  physical agents and teams valuable time. They can thus concentrate on complex and high value requests. It’s what they enjoy doing: according to a recent study, 68% of agents are more satisfied if they help customers with complex problems.

Aside from live chat, there are other technologies that can qualify incoming requests for email and contact forms too. This has multiple benefits. If you are able to scan the contents of a ticket as it arrives, you can make sure it gets assigned to the right queue. Some customers may not categorize their requests correctly and send a ’delivery’ problem to the ‘refund’ queue by accident. It happens! 

However, if you have AI that can read the ticket and send it to the right queue as soon as it comes in, you can save any time that manual re-routing takes up. When dealing with thousands of tickets, this can really add up. In some cases, a smarter re-routing of tickets can reduce First Reply Time by 50%. We all know how important fast resolution of problems is for customer retention

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Guiding Customers through the Buying Process with AI

You can use Artificial Intelligence to guide your customers through the buying process with personalized advice, tailored to their needs. Constant interaction with your customers is one of the key points for building long-term sustainable relationships

These efforts will have an undeniable impact on your operations and your performance indicators, allowing you to have a better engagement rate, boost your conversion rate and therefore your sales. This use of AI allows you to have a better return on investment. 

Supercharging Agents with AI

Successful companies are the ones that put technology in the hands of the right people. Since agents will always be needed (at some point) to provide that personal touch, anything you can do to help them focus on the customer is a win.   

Automating their manual tasks, such as categorizing tickets and recommending responses, can boost your productivity significantly. Again using NLP, suggesting the most relevant answers to your agents will take away the need for them to have to go through a list of responses to find the right one - they can have the top 3 or 5 at a click.  

These simple automations can reduce handling times by a huge 40%. Gains like this will make you delight customers with faster responses, whilst lowering your operational costs. 

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Unlocking Valuable Opportunities to Delight Customers

Aside from the financials, we believe that getting rid of these manual tasks opens up much more interesting possibilities for e-commerce support teams. E-commerce customers expect personalization at scale. When you free up some of their time, agents can be more focused on the customer and can take more time to personalize their responses.

If you want to build a great customer experience and to improve customer loyalty, you should take every opportunity to personalize and delight customers. 

Collecting & Using Data

Artificial intelligence offers many possibilities for collecting and accessing data. For example, through the interactions with your customers, you can collect a large amount of data that allows you to calculate and track key performance indicators (KPIs), for example: the number of monthly interactions, customer satisfaction rate, engagement rate, yearly activity peaks, detection of problems related to certain pages of your e-commerce website, etc. 

At the metadata level, you can identify the hours in which you have more traffic in a given language, for example. This will allow you to adjust the presence of your respective support teams accordingly. At the managerial level, all of this data will enrich your customer relationship management (CRM) tools and play a major role in optimizing and personalizing the customer experience in the long term.

This data unlocks the opportunity to see which strategies are the most effective from a "conversion" point of view (campaign, purchase path, messages, etc.) and from a "support" point of view (friction points that need to be corrected, information to be clarified, etc.).  Examples include detecting a recurring problem with a delivery method, realizing that your product sheets are not detailed enough, or learning that visitors want to use a payment method that you do not yet have. There is so much to be discovered that you can leverage to improve your conversion rate, average shopping basket and customer loyalty.

Template Performance

That includes data related to your templates or canned responses. Templates are bread and butter for e-commerce support teams. They’re essential for giving complete answers to customers and boosting productivity. With NLP, you can analyse the content of outgoing messages to see when templates were used, when they were sent out without being changed and when they were modified. This will allow you to see how personalization is affecting customer satisfaction as well as any other key metrics.

Having the right templates is key and, if you can carry out an analysis on which templates are effective, you can also find out which ones need to be scrapped, improved or re-worked so that customers get the best possible answers.   

Sentiment Analysis

One of the most practical uses of AI is on the analytical side. Using sentiment analysis, you can detect whether a customer is happy or unhappy after an interaction with your support team when you wouldn’t usually be able to. Customers don’t always return CSAT surveys, so you need a way of analysing what all your customers are feeling - especially the ones that aren’t giving feedback. 

To Sum Up

The key to e-commerce success in 2021 is providing support to customers at every stage of their buyer’s journey. There are many ways of applying AI to customer service, but really think about how you can get the most out of it to benefit your business - and your customers.

Think about what you want to achieve: what problem will automation of AI solve for you (or your customers)? What is it that you want to improve? Once you know this, all you need to do is work out how to implement it!

Jonathan Kam is the COO and Co-Founder of Botmind. Botmind is a company that provides e-merchants with a SaaS solution allowing them to automate their customer support and shopping experience via live chat.