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.
Kimberly-Clark leverages social media in integrated campaign
Kimberly-Clark has teamed up with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Christina Milian to launch an integrated Celebrate Family UNity ("FUN") platform that leverages social media to not only retain existing consumers but also to reach out to new ones.
An integral part of the program is the Family UNity ("FUN") Song web app where families can customize their own "FUN song," share it on social media and download it as a ringtone.
Now through July 20, people can visit www.TheFunSong.com to get their own custom FUN song by answering some questions to share about their family and picking a hip-hop, rock or Latin beat. The app then instantly composes a custom MP3 song about them to whichever beat they choose.
"The Kimberly-Clark Celebrate Family UNity program is a great way for all families to celebrate the unique bonds that only they share," said Milian. "Music is a universal language that connects families across all cultures, including my own, and it’s our goal to inspire more families to embrace their togetherness with the FUN program."
In California, residents who participate in the program by creating their own custom Family UNity (FUN) song will be entered for a chance to win a live recording session with Milian where she will record her version of their family song. California consumers will also receive coupons for Kimberly-Clark products such as Huggies, Pull-Ups, U by Kotex, Kleenex and Scott, which will escalate in value as their FUN song is shared with others in social media — more shares mean more value on the coupons.
The program is being activated in California at Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, Food4Less and Safeway stores.
"We’re excited to partner with Christina Milian to help elevate the Family UNity message through this new integrated program," said Lizette Williams, head of Kimberly-Clark’s multicultural strategy team and program lead. "The Celebrate FUN platform will truly allow Kimberly-Clark to be mom’s partner in her quest to keep her family together in a fun and innovative way. Our product portfolio has something for every member of the family — from Huggies diapers to Kleenex facial tissue."
Dodging Liability: Strategies for avoiding costly and consuming injury claims
By Amanda J. Podlucky, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin
High-quality products at competitive prices, promotional offers and exceptional customer service are likely among the top priorities for any retailer or restaurateur. What is not typically on the list is utilizing company resources to defend against premises liability claims.
Potential claims and lawsuits can hinder business operations and shift focus away from a company’s objectives. Avoiding costly litigation can be simple, yet many companies fail to implement policies that will save time and resources when faced with a claim.
The following four crucial steps will help alleviate headaches associated with premises liability claims:
Implement Risk Management Policies
Liability claims can arise in many ways, caused by everything from wet floors to debris in walkways to falling merchandise. Stores and restaurants should, at a minimum, have basic policies in place to keep entryways clean and dry, place mats in areas likely to get wet, and conduct periodic inspections throughout the premises.
It is also important to look at potentially dangerous conditions specific to your business. For example, a large home-improvement retailer may need to implement policies aimed at larger merchandise, such as providing assistance in lifting and carrying items or ensuring that heavier merchandise is displayed lower to the ground. Grocery retailers should focus on quickly identifying and cleaning spills, and restaurateurs should be diligent in cleaning walkways due to grease or spills.
Identifying possible causes of injury should be a careful process, and because some threats to customer safety may be hard to predict, it is important to periodically review and update risk management policies to reflect ongoing and newly identified problems that could cause injuries.
Educate … And Re-Educate
Simply having company-wide policies and procedures in place is not enough. Once policies are carefully drafted, employees should be educated. This should go beyond providing employees with a manual or showing instructional videos during orientation. Educating employees on the importance of policies should be an ongoing process, such as conducting routine meetings to address safety concerns and reinforce policies.
When defending against injury claims, the focus is typically on reasonableness of the company’s actions. Being able to show employees were properly trained, and providing the claimant or their attorney with a list of safety meetings held in the weeks or months leading up to the date of the incident helps support a reasonableness defense.
Follow the Rules
Once policies are in place and employees are properly informed, it is important to enforce and apply the policies regularly. If policies dictate that inspections be done throughout the day, ensure they are done. If the premises is to be swept or mopped at certain times or certain cleaning products used, these directives should be followed. Supervisors should ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities and adhering to applicable policies.
One of the most damaging aspects to the defense of any premises liability claim is a claimant’s demonstration that a company violated its own policies. Claims that otherwise have strong defenses can become an uphill battle once the claimant can establish that policies in place were not followed.
Document! Document! Document!
Even when businesses follow the rules, incidents will still likely occur. These occurrences do not necessarily mean policies are inadequate, as tort laws typically require "reasonableness," not absolute perfection. Documenting the steps taken before and after an incident, as well as details concerning the incident itself, become essential in demonstrating reasonableness.
As opposed to a "mom and pop" shop, national companies have hundreds (or thousands) of employees at various locations with varying job duties. The home office may be hundreds of miles away from the location where an incident occurs. Because there will often be multiple policies and employees involved, it is important to have a specific process, consistent across the organization, for investigating incidents, gathering information and maintaining a comprehensive file for any incident.
It is good practice to have a manager or supervisor create an incident report, documenting the location and nature of the incident and any claimed injuries, and a list of employees and witnesses present. Supervisors should be trained on completing incident reports in accordance with company policies and blank report forms should be available at all times. Separate from the incident report, the involved person (if he or she is able) and any witnesses should be required to complete statements, and contact information should be taken. This helps to prevent a claimant from changing their account of the incident, and protects against lost evidence. Creating incident reports separate from written statements also helps preserve work-product privileges in the event of litigation.
A digital or disposable camera should be available for employees after an incident is reported. Documenting a condition, or lack thereof, is important in defending against a claim. All reports, statements and photographs should be kept together for up to five years, or shorter, depending on a state’s specific statute of limitations. Each location’s general manager should be aware of the company’s policy on where to store such information, either by submitting the entire file to risk management, or maintaining it in-store. The bigger the company, the more potential for relevant documents and information to get lost or separated, which could become detrimental to the defense of a claim down the road. It is not uncommon for claims or lawsuits to be raised years after an incident, and preventing the need for back-tracking will save time and resources.
With the ease and capability to maintain electronic files, there should be little concern over having the space to keep employee files, records of safety meetings and incident files. Retaining these documents will ensure pertinent information is available to defend against any injury claims that may arise.
Following the above guidelines will help to both prevent and defend against liability claims that arise. Well-implemented and documented policies can shorten the lifespan of a claim and assist claims professionals and defense attorneys with sufficient information to defend the matter with little disruption to your business. While every company must tailor these steps to conform with their objectives, utilizing them will help keep your company out of the court room and focused on business as usual.
Amanda J. Podlucky is an attorney in the Orlando office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, a leading civil defense litigation law firm. A member of the firm’s casualty department, she represents hotels, restaurants, retailers, recreational facilities and other hospitality industry clients in the defense of personal injury, negligent security and related general liability claims. She may be contacted at [email protected].