The future of retail: More tech and even more human

The future of retail: More tech and even more human

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By Matt Matsui, senior vice president of products and strategy at Calabrio

More and more retailers are experimenting with new and innovative technology and it's starting to net real business results. Companies, like Intel, are introducing in-store sensors that collect and process data and Samsung's Connected Spaces are making headway, indicating that digital transformation isn't just coming — it's finally here. While technology will be vital to retail digitization, retailers must be careful to not get swept up in the hype. To best serve customers, companies can't ignore the fact that shoppers still want a human connection, whether that's in-store or online.

As more technology is inserted into the customer journey, companies must implement new ideas while ensuring that customers receive the same level of empathy and human connection. With predicted job titles such as 'virtual store manager,' a person who will digitally connect with, and engage, customers the same way they would in a brick and mortar store, it's clear retailers are looking for ways to create a connected experience between the physical and digital worlds.

However, building those personal connections becomes more complicated when interactions take place over the phone or via web chat. But with the right technology and insight, retailers can give customers the human interaction they crave.

Here are three opportunities for retailers to connect with customers on a personal level in an increasingly digital world.

Mirror, mirror
During in-person conversations, mimicry is a powerful instrument that can increase rapport, accelerate trust and ultimately drive sales. Mimicry is a proven tool to influence and drive negotiations, and a recent study found that copying the gestures, and mannerisms of a negotiating partner resulted in five times more success than negotiations without mimicry. But how does that work in a world full of artificial intelligence and chatbots? The answer lies in lexical mimicry, a technique that allows brands to mirror customer digital mannerisms and build stronger relationships using traditional in-person methods. Some organizations are leveraging this method to better connect with customers and offer more personalized communications.

By 2020, it's projected 80 percent of companies will have chatbots ready and available on websites or social channels whenever customers want and need. However, the risk with chatbots is that conversations can be impersonal, leaving many customers feeling the cold shoulder. By mimicking a customer's use of emojis or text speak — think LOL, OMG, or IDK — chatbots can sound more authentically human and communicate with customers in the way they prefer and understand.

Use your voice
Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, or microexpressions are some of the most telling displays of a person's mood. In fact, body language can convey hidden meaning or the subtle nuances that can truly reveal what a person is thinking and feeling. A slight grimace can indicate inner panic, while a twinkle in the eye can be the ice breaker that can lead to an unguarded conversation.  

The contact center agents working with customers via phone may be unable to see a customer's impatient foot tap or angrily crossed arms, but they can hear vocal inflections, which often accompany physical action. With the right guidance, agents are learning to understand a customer's physical cues through listening. Not only that, highly-trained agents can radiate those same emotions simply by using their voices. Research suggests that humans can actually better detect emotion by listening to tone of voice than by reading a person's face, giving agents a great opportunity to create a connection over the phone.

What do you mean?
Customers say a lot, and it's important for companies to learn to understand the actual intention behind those words. A veiled threat, extended pause, or a subconscious change in the use of a functional words — the filler words like prepositions and pronouns that surround content words in a sentence — can indicate that a customer may be ready to sever the relationship with a once-loved brand. But, if companies can detect the hidden meaning and identify the warning signs, the right steps can be taken to rebuild customer trust before it's too late.

With the evolution of speech technology, it's possible. From sarcasm to changes in tone, companies are using analytics to find the words, phrases, and tendencies that are linked to action. For example, a customer may use the term 'we,' during the initial conversation, but a shift to the word 'I' may be a red flag highlighting the fact that the person is distancing him/herself from the brand. Or, when looking at the pauses and surrounding words, a simple 'I'm fine' may actually be a sarcastic affront that reveals a customer's true sentiment. As technology continues to advance, and when organizations use those insights to deploy appropriate customer service strategies to mitigate risk and build better relationships, more companies will find the human connection in speech analytics.

Believe it or not, the future of retail is already here, but this is just the beginning. Customers want human interaction, and smart brands are prepared to give it to them. Now, in an increasingly digital world, with the help of the right technology, companies are empowering humans to build better, stronger relationships with customers — no matter where they are.


Topics: Augmented Reality, Consumer Behavior, CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Technology

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