Chatbots making their mark on retail staffing

Sprout Chatbot
Chatbots have traditionally been used for customer interactions but are also a tool for managing retail staffing.

Chatbots are being used more and more as a customer acquisition and communication tool. But the technology also has the ability to serve retailers as a staffing tool. Some of the internal uses of chatbots by today's retailers include training of existing staff; creating a centralized resource for common questions; managing the onboarding process and identifying potentials gaps; and ensuring that in-store assistants can access unique information on returning customers. 

FierceRetail spoke with Dave Campbell, vice president of customer engagement and support solutions at LogMeIn, to find out more about how retailers are using chatbots for staffing and what they are potentially missing out on for brand experiences. 

FierceRetail (FR): In 2017, what are chatbots being used for in retail?

Dave Campbell (DC): Chatbots are being used all over retail today. Some instances are consumer facing; i.e., helping customers get quick answers to simple, more frequently asked questions. These are the instances customers might be most familiar with: having a bot help them change their password, check a flight status or a balance on their bank account. But there are other instances of chatbot technologies that are used on the back end to help agents more effectively engage with their customers, such as prompting agents with information that may help create a more personalized engagement, including coupon offers, upsell items, etc. Regardless of the use case, the best implementations of chatbots are ones that are as easy and seamless as an agent experience.  

FR: How can retailers use chatbots for staffing?

DC: Chatbots can offer the same value they provide to customers to a retailer’s internal team. From a customer service perspective, chatbots can be used as a tool that ensures support agents are always on the same page with customers. Looking to drive the same kind of efficiency, chatbots empower agents not just to always have an answer, but the most up-to-date answer, helping to again mitigate the spread of misinformation. When it comes to personalization, chatbots can also help customer service agents to easily pull up information on a particular user or repeated customer issue, reducing the amount of information a consumer needs to share in order to get the answer they need.

What many retailers don’t realize, however, are the benefits chatbot technology can provide to internal teams outside of customer service. Going back to those same ideas of access and consistency, chatbots can help to create an efficient resource for internal documents and information regarding everything from HR policies, to IT how-tos. This empowers employees to stay informed and feel more connected to the company, driving employee engagement and loyalty.

Chatbot technology can also be applied to job training, optimizing the onboarding process. Instead of depending on the availability of other employees, new hires are empowered to seek out their own answers and work through minor challenges independently. This ensures that the onboarding process is not only efficient but effective. By allowing employees to work through various materials on their own, they are more likely to absorb information at their own pace and thereby retain it. In the same way chatbots free up time for quality conversations between live agents and customers, leveraging this technology internally can also free up managers’ time to have conversations on more strategic challenges rather than spending precious time on answering simple questions.  

FR: What percentage of retailers do you suspect are using this technology for HR and staffing?

DC: The HR use case for chatbots is still relatively new. Examining our own customer base, we find that while the use of chatbots for customer service has become a common strategy for retailers, there is still limited use for internal needs. As tools like Slack and Skype for Business become a more common workplace tool, it's expected that the use of chatbots for HR and staffing will also grow.

FR: What is holding some retailers back from integrating the technology?

DC: Anything new can be scary. Many retailers believe that chatbots need a lot of time and resources to get up and running, and they just don’t have the ability to embark on a long integration process. That may have been the case in the early days of the technology, but new AI solutions no longer require the mountains of data they once did. Instead, these new technologies are equipped to start with a small pool of information and be able to learn the rest as it’s being used. The integration process shrinks from months to weeks and has limited impact on employee productivity or potential frustrations.

FR: Does this technology at all take the place of human work, threatening retail jobs?

DC: Chatbots should not replace the work of a human agent but instead should be used to augment it. For the consumer-facing implementations, chatbots are designed to handle the lower value, less complex queries, which then frees up the human agent to dedicate more time to projects that require critical thinking and innovation. Additionally, as noted before, chatbots help human agents create more quality engagements that impact how loyal a customer feels to a brand, or how connected an employee feels to their place of work.

Further, while AI technology has come a long way in the last few years, it’s still not perfect. Human agents are still needed to monitor and manage any flaws or inaccuracies and to jump in and help with unprecedented scenarios. The best implementations of AI are ones that combine intelligent automation with human-assisted support.  

FR: Moving forward, do you think more retailers are going to implement chatbots?

DC: As big tech companies such as Facebook continue to find new ways to incorporate chatbots within their websites, the consumer demand for this technology will only grow. In the same way, employees will also be looking for automated resources that provide the same kind of access and empowerment. Tied with an expected increase in the number of use cases and understood value of chatbots both internally and externally, we can expect to see growing use of the technology for both purposes.

FR: Can you tell us about a retailer successfully using chatbots?

DC: Looking to improve how it supports its customers, Chegg implemented Nanorep’s chatbot solution for both external communications and internal needs. After implementing the chatbot solution, Chegg’s self-help scores (% of people not reaching out to our support team after viewing an article) increased from about 85% in 2015 to close about 90% in 2017. Broader than that, Chegg has also been able to derive valuable insights on where the customers are facing challenges in order to improve product and service offerings.