It’s Elementary: IBM’s Watson Brings A.I. to Customer Experience

IBM and digital commerce firm Fluid are collaborating on Fluid Expert Shopper (XPS), an app made with the IBM Watson artificial intelligence platform. Fluid XPS lets consumers ask highly specific questions, as they would a sales associate in a store, and receive personalized advice. The app will take advantage of Watson’s abilities to understand and learn from natural language, meaning it will engage in human-like conversations and provide product recommendations that take the context of customer questions into account. It will also leverage data including the brand’s product information, user reviews and online expert publications.

When released, Fluid XPS will bring profound changes to the customer experience. And competing retail IT vendors will surely in time develop their own A.I.-based customer experience apps, devices and tools. Here are few ways A.I. stands poised to disrupt the customer experience.

Retailers Lose Control
The advent of social media and mobile devices has already greatly diminished the amount of control retailers have of the customer experience. Customers now come to retailers having already done exhaustive research on how friends, relatives and fellow consumers view their products and services, and mobile devices connect them to outside sources of information (including competitors) within the store.

A.I. will reduce the control retailers have of their customer experience even further. Apps like Fluid XPS will provide shoppers with a third-party sales associate (more on that in a moment) who serves them and not the retailer. Instead of having to conduct online searches, customers will be able to ask a few basic questions and get detailed answers and recommendations that may or may not match the information they would get had they asked an in-store sales associate.

Sales Associates Lose Importance
Human sales associates have been losing importance in recent years. In many cases their functions have been taken over by kiosks and other customer-facing devices. Also, higher efficiencies and capabilities of sales associates armed with tablets and smartphones have allowed retailers to reduce their in-store staffing levels.

However, once customers begin essentially coming into stores with their own personalized sales advisors (as described above), in-store sales associates will lose substantially more importance. In many cases, their role in advising customers on purchases will be eliminated entirely, reducing them to looking up item availability, checking customers out and stocking shelves, with two of those three functions easily duplicated through self-service devices.

Brand Reputation Gains Importance
Social media has given rise to a plethora of third-party sources of information and opinion about retail brands. Meanwhile, mobile devices allow consumers to readily consult these sources, as well as immediately consult one another and express their own opinions about retail brands in an open digital format. Establishing a good brand reputation that extends beyond their own marketing campaigns has thus become more important for retailers.

Fluid XPS magnifies the situation by automatically scanning mass amounts of third-party opinions about a retailer’s brand and offering consumers a metadata assessment of whether a brand reputation is solid or not. The importance of every individual tweet, blog post and Facebook comment about a retailer’s brand will become magnified. Retailers will need to pay more attention than ever to what people outside their marketing departments are saying about them, and quickly rectify any problems. 

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