Conversational technology and contextual commerce continue to gain momentum at retail as H&M has now added virtual assistant and live chat agents directly from services like Google Maps or Google Search. The integration of virtual assistant and live chat deployment is said to be the first of its kind in the retail industry and will allow customers more choice and flexibility when shopping online.
The integration shows the importance of customer service and commerce combinations as shoppers as well as retailers shift to the digital-first economy. It comes with technology from the Nuance Intelligent Engagement Platform for virtual and live chat, which is designed manage increasing contact center volumes, improve customer experience, and automate self-service options. For H&M it will provide real-time answers to inquiries such as item availability, online order tracking status, and store locations and hours.
“With the pandemic the entire concept of the contact center changes,” Nuance Communications Market Development VP Seb Reeve told PYMNTS. “All of those people are now working at home. So you’re basically talking to store staff who are either in physical stores or sitting at home and using a messaging platform or some kind of digital engagement platform. They’re basically talking to customers about some kind of issue or maybe some kind of item of clothing they want to buy and maybe can’t find. And this is sort of where the ability to use rich media, not just text based chat, all come into play. I think if it were a text only, and you’re trying to sell someone clothes, for example, you might have a hard time, right? Yeah. So this is where this sort of trend to messaging and conversational commerce is really winning big. It’s not a net loss in terms of the experience.”
Nuance has also integrated H&M into Google’s Business Messages, which allows the retailer to take advantage of new messaging channels while leveraging the same artificial intelligence (AI) engine core to its successful virtual assistant and live chat deployment. Online shoppers can engage with H&M through Google’s Business Messages initially in the U.S. market only.
Reeve and the Nuance team coined a phrase to describe this integration called the “engagement of things.” It’s applied to the progressing customer experience propelled by the Internet of Things, which Reeve said has brought about a need for retailers to engage with consumers in a more connected way than ever before.
“The engagement of things is where things begin,” he said. “So it’s the top of funnel, when a consumer is starting to think about browsing. They want to ask questions about a product or service, and maybe scout a location they can buy it from. But they’re actually unlikely to assess a product for a voice-based interface on a device. But they might use their iPad. So it’s really about integrating all the devices consumers are using today and taking the context allowing them to start the experience, and then using omnichannel engagement to get into the right place.”
The process takes a commitment to message and device orchestration that some retailers have excelled at and some retailers are just starting. For example, a contact center may handle a customer service issue and then follow up with a text, and follow that with a rich media offer that relates to the customer’s initial query or problem. It can also use the engagement of things to deliver messages on a proactive basis using AI-based technology. At its core is what Reeve calls one of the most important trends in the retail industry: personalization.
“A lot of time is being spent on trying to figure out how to recreate a hyper-personalized experience on digital channels,” Reeve said. “And it’s challenging. You’ve got to know who it is you’re dealing with and identify important customer elements.”
The next frontier in the identification is biometrics, or “voiceprints” that identify a customer. For example, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) offers multi‑channel voice biometrics, providing the ability to authenticate by voice within its call center and mobile application.
Prior to implementing Nuance’s voice biometric technologies, the ATO received approximately 8 million calls per year, with the majority requiring an ATO agent to verify the caller’s identity. The existing authentication process cost its agents a combined total of 75,000 hours annually. After the agency deployed voice-based biometrics, more than 4.2 million customers have enrolled their voiceprint since September 2014. It has led to reduction of up to 48 seconds for repeat caller handle times and surveyed callers indicate a faster, easier process.