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Conversational AI: The key to digital customer service this holiday shopping season

by uma

By Christine Dupuis, Senior Director of Product and Conversational AI, Heyday by Hootsuite

Each year the holiday season sees organisations facing a monumental increase in customer interactions and spending. In the UK alone, consumers are expected to spend an impressive £8.71 billion over the course of the Black Friday weekend this year – one of the key drivers to holiday sales. 

If there is one thing that will set retailers apart during what is likely to be one of the busiest holiday seasons, it’s their focus on digital customer service. But with many shoppers expected to return to in-store shopping this year, you may be wondering why. 

While it’s true that many customers have returned to in-person shopping, retailers need to consider that a large proportion of holiday purchases will still be made via digital channels. Consumers continue to have an expectation that digital services will be available to them – with the same level of service as during the pandemic. 

What’s clear in all of this is that social commerce – the process of selling products and services directly through social media – needs to be at the top of businesses’ priority list, and consumers need to be met with a superior digital customer experience (CX) on the digital channels they frequent most.

The power of conversational AI: personalised, always-on support for your customers

Striking a balance between offline and online channels isn’t easy, but there are innovative technologies at retailers’ disposal to help automate and personalise at scale. 

With the holiday season on the horizon, one of the most powerful tools that will set the ‘good’ retailers apart from the ‘great’ retailers is the adoption of automated chatbots backed by conversational artificial intelligence (AI) – which have proven to drive e-commerce sales, deliver five-star customer service and deepen customer relationships. 

The benefits of utilising automated customer service chatbots are many; to start, chatbots work 24/7, meaning customers can get an immediate response to their enquiries at any time of day, from anywhere in the world. Second, chatbots have built-in responses to simpler queries – such as traditional FAQs including store hours and locations, return policies and promotion overviews – eliminating the need for a brand’s human staff to respond and instead, focus their time on high-value customer interactions or more complex inquiries.

Additionally, chatbots have been proven to drive cost and time savings for retailers. Leveraging data from its top 11 retail clients, Heyday by Hootsuite found that retailers using Heyday’s conversational AI chatbot during the 2021 Black Friday season saved an average of 672 hours (28 days) from 26-29th November 2021, equating to £10,253.78 on average per organisation*.

However, despite these obvious benefits, conversational AI has not been fully embraced, even amongst organisations that already prioritise social customer service. In fact, Hootsuite’s latest Social Trends 2023 report found that only 26% of organisations that said they use social media as a primary customer service channel also said that they use chatbots on social and messaging apps – presenting a huge opportunity for the brands that can get it right.

Focus on social customer service

Consumers’ rapid shift to digital channels during the pandemic was not limited to e-commerce alone. In fact, there was still heightened demand for the two-way communication that the in-person shopping experience provided, with many consumers more willing than ever to engage with brands over social and messaging channels. 

But with that shift came new expectations, requiring businesses to lean into social customer service to keep consumers engaged (or risk being abandoned), while also creating a seamless experience that feels similar to messaging a friend on a channel like Instagram or WhatsApp – a new reality that many consumers began to expect and demand.

While striking a balance between a strong digital commerce strategy and in-store experience have become increasingly important, organisations have been slow to adapt. In fact, the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index found that in July 2022, 17.3% of customers experienced a problem with an organisation – the highest level ever recorded in the UKCSI. And when looking at social CX specifically, only 21% of customers feel that organisations are doing a good job of servicing customers on social channels, according to a survey by the CMO Council and IBM.

This makes it evident that consumers are feeling neglected – but they don’t have to be. Brands need to remember that having a strong brand goes beyond a logo or promise. Brand loyalty is earned through the ability to spur emotion around a brand’s product or service — and the most powerful way to achieve that is through consistent quality interactions, at every step of the customer journey. 

Take the chatbot advantage this holiday season and beyond

Looking beyond this holiday period and into 2023, it’s evident that businesses that keep their focus on digital customer service stand to win against those that don’t – and it’s as easy as integrating a chatbot into social and messaging platforms. 

Chatbots present marketers with an unparalleled opportunity to provide top-tier social customer service – even during the busy holiday season. Thanks to advancements in conversational AI, chatbots can provide personalised, quality responses to customers (in multiple languages!) while also helping organisations save big on customer support costs. 

The time is now to stop leaving customers in the lurch. By leveraging conversational AI, organisations will undoubtedly improve the digital and social customer experience – improving vital customer relationships in the long term and, ultimately, ensuring business success.

*Based on data pulled from Heyday’s top 11 retail clients which had the highest conversation volume between 26-29th November 2021, as well as an average estimated salary for sales representatives of $18/hour in Canada, under the assumption that agents worked 8 hours per day.


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