Putting customer experience at the center of innovation
At a time when using information and communication technology to facilitate customer relations is an increasingly important factor in how well companies perform, the impact of new technologies is crucial. With the fashion industry’s current competitive climate only being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the only companies that will come out on top are those playing the innovation game.
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." - Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532 -
Customer Experience is a real must when it comes to innovation, especially in the fashion industry, where it really has to lead to brand loyalty. The sensory and emotional elements of a customer’s experience can be decisive: a satisfied customer is an opportunity, but an unsatisfied customer is a powerful threat, and can cause a devastating domino effect (just think of how it takes 12 positive experiences to repair the damage caused by a single unresolved negative one).
One of the hottest trend in the field of innovation is Artificial Intelligence (AI): according to a survey by Gartner, 59% of respondents said that they have AI deployed today, and 40% said that they use artificial intelligence as part of their customer experience.
Fashion and retail meet Artificial Intelligence
The fashion industry has also begun to move in this direction: the top 10 apparel companies according to Forbes are all AI pioneers, and have embraced the logic of using algorithmic support in a range of areas. From design to production, from marketing to customer care – data processing capacity, which has been greatly accelerated by adopting learning algorithms (machine and-deep learning), is becoming essential and has led to some notable investments.
In this industry, the need for artificial intelligence is largely linked to the need to offer customers an interesting, personalised experience at a sustainable cost. The goal is to use AI to contribute to organisational efficiency and become true lifestyle coaches that offer support and assistance quickly, efficiently and without a time limit.
As also highlighted by Apptus country manager Andrew Fowler in his introductory comment to a study on AI in fashion retailing, the inability to create experiences which satisfy each and every customer costs online fashion retailers time and money and has a direct impact on sales. Where does the problem lie? In the traditional, manual approach itself.
Chatbots, intelligent assistants for online business
In the fashion industry, chatbots, also known as intelligent assistants, represent one of the most important roles played by artificial intelligence today.
Chatbots are real computer programs able to conduct and manage a dialogue through the exchange of text or audio messages, simulating intelligent conversations with human beings.
On a basic level, there are two types of chatbot:
Intelligent bots: using artificial intelligence and machine learning, these bots learn over time, based on user searches.
For example, intelligent bots are used to help users through the buying process in online stores. In this case, it’s essential for chatbots to be integrated into e-commerce systems so as inventory, stock, and merchandise orders can be managed in the best way, therefore giving the user a smooth and satisfying online buying experience.
The complexity of these bots means they are currently still in the testing phase (imagine the problems that could arise if a bot automatically completed the buying process wrongly by itself, for example).
Simple bots: these bots are based on standard rules and are used to guide a straightforward conversation along a specific path.
In this case, the chatbot can be used to help businesses learn more about customers and prospects, such as frequently asked questions or additional data about tastes and buying habits. Once integrated into the messaging services of various brands of the fashion and retail world, this type of bot is able to respond to simple queries, carry out straightforward tasks, and even interact in more complex ways.
Chatbot popularity is surging: why?
Chatbot use is increasing exponentially, especially in the fashion and retail sector.
Beyond their affordability, there are at least two or three other elements that explain their success, whether we measure it in terms of adoption rates by companies or use by customers:
- Speed: chatbots are capable of providing information and assistance almost instantaneously.
- Assistance: chatbots are always ready to give you the right suggestion at the right moment, for example to find the nearest salespoint, to pick out the best item from a selection of garments, or the right accessory to complete a look.
- Curiosity: intelligent chatbots are still a novelty right now, and many are choosing to try them out, partly to test their efficiency, partly out of sheer curiosity.
5 tips for designing a good chatbot
If you are going to design a successful chatbot, there are several criteria and features to bear in mind, and you might want to rely on the support of expert consultants in the fashion and retail field, whether from the technical point of view, or that of processing.
So here are 5 tips for designing a chatbot add-on for a fashion company:
- It is important to set out the initial range of questions that the bot will be able to ask and therefore will be able to efficiently respond to, and this must be done during the design stage. From the very moment the chatbot opens a dialogue box, the user needs to be instantly made aware of what input the bot expects, and what the available options are.
- Coherence in the context of the industry, fashion and retail in this case, represents one of the winning features of a chatbot. It is best to set a high standard of linguistic accuracy and correctness, with the idea of reducing possible meaning misinterpretation to a minimum during user-bot interaction.
- Personalising and “humanising” conversations can make bots more believable for end users and makes it easier to foster an empathic human-machine connection. In this case, the bot instruction phase, which takes time, imagination and, more than anything, a well-defined process, is fundamental. For example, a bot can start asking a user questions relevant to their age, gender, preferences and clothing styles, all through a friendly conversation; this makes it easy to navigate the catalogue by suggesting a range of options based on the user’s tastes and progressively learning which products the user prefers, so as to offer an increasingly personalised process.
- In order to guarantee the best customer experience to the user, you will need to design user-friendly interfaces designed to reduce complexity and foster customer engagement.
- For fashion and retail companies, it is recommended to aim to integrate your own chatbot service into apps that are popular with users, without them having to download them all over again.
Towards omnichannel and personalized experiences
To become lifestyle coaches, companies in the fashion and retail industry will need to start a process of transformation that combines positive aspects gleaned from previous business experience on the one part, and elements derived from online buying experience on the other. The idea is to remain at people’s side throughout the process (both on and-offline) while simultaneously gathering data and providing ever more personalised experiences, kitting themselves out with the relevant skills in both the Artificial Intelligence and data processing and management fields.
The challenge for companies in this industry now is to find winning strategies that will allow them to reap all the benefits of digital technologies - with chatbots and AI being just a small part of that – in order to ensure the best customer journey possible. The ongoing technological revolution will require considerable flexibility but, if it is well designed, it will change the course of history: new challenges will arise, but more than anything, new opportunities will be created.
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