Recently, I overheard my roommate ordering things on Amazon. Now I know she is expecting a floral one-piece bathing suit with “Chill” written on the front because she told her speaker, Alexa, while I was cooking breakfast. It’s a strange experience, hearing someone tell a portable speaker what they want to show up on their doorstep. It’s even stranger hearing the speaker respond using their name. However, we must all come to terms with it eventually, this new wave of retail. Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows computers to carry out tasks previously accomplished only by humans. And this is affecting every aspect of retail. An industry built off customer service is changing rapidly. Businesses, big and small, need to start asking the hard questions: – How do we stay up-to-date? – Are we arranging the right kind of team? – Are our customers’ needs changing? How? – What new technologies can we utilize best? In a recent Google interview, Amit Shah, the CMO of pioneer retailer, 1 800 Flowers, explains how emerging technology (like Alexa) and new strategies only enhance the customer experience. Shah’s skilled perspective acts as a progressive guide for anyone involved in a retail or eCommerce business. Shah’s experiments in customer service are cutting edge and worth exploring. 1 800 Flowers has been innovative among rising tech and customer service for over 40 years. Shah explains that the company was built on personal relationships. The original premise hasn’t changed. “Mobile, voice assistants, machine learning, AI ¬– it’s all taking us right back to our DNA of having one-on-one relationships with customers,” says Shah. But how?
Voice AssistantsConversational commerce is not a futuristic possibility; it is happening now. The way people are shopping is completely changing. “Nuances are especially important in voice commerce,” says Shah. Voice platforms like Amazon’s Alexa develop an understanding of what you like, how you like to voice shop, and how you want to be greeted. Shah believes that these platforms help because it’s not easy for a human to copy that learned experience. Especially on such a large scale. Shah wants 1 800 Flowers to be available on whatever platform a customer chooses. “We are focused on making it a one-stop shopping experience, whenever, wherever, however the customer decides.” They use this example: On Shopping Actions using Google Express, you can buy something from Costco while simultaneously using voice actions to deliver a gift from 1 800 Flowers.com. Shah believes the future of retail is a seamless multichannel, multi-mindset experience.
A New Hiring ProcessShah’s overall goal is to understand what customers need and then deliver it to them as quickly as possible. Therefore, 1 800 Flowers needs a cross-functional team who are willing to learn and adapt to the task at hand. To erase typical disruptions in efficiency, Shah’s company hires people by looking at LQ (learning quotient), not IQ. He argues that by being able to understand how to motivate his employees, 1 800 Flowers will have a massive advantage over their competitors.
Artificial IntelligenceAI helps his employees at 1 800 Flowers understand the complexities of gift-giving. It is difficult to predict outcomes when a buyer and a recipient are involved. Shah uses AI to age meta-signals versus personalized signals. Shah acknowledges how much energy and money Google is putting into making AI accessible to everyone and is therefore proud to be partnered with them. Amit Shah and his work with 1 800 Flowers exemplifies many things for retail companies. First off, the industry is changing and so are the customers’ demands. With technological advances, people expect a faster, more efficient shopping experience. If your company can’t measure up to the customers’ needs, it’s over. I never imagined a world in my twenties where my peer would be talking to a speaker instilled with computational psychology – with the ability to respond and learn. Especially about a swimsuit (in my living room!). It still sounds crazy to me. But it’s happening. And in the marketing world, we are constantly trying to persuade, sell, and satisfy. Shah shows that there is help out there. We just need to be creative about it in our approach. In large numbers, people will always do what is easiest for them. In this business you not only have to meet their expectations, you must predict their expectations.
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