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Responding to COVID, the role of ecommerce and chatbots

Throughout the COVID pandemic, business owners globally have had to scramble and innovate to stop the bottom dropping out of their business. Many brick and mortar retailers have seen their foot traffic drop to zero. Those who are able to move to an ecommerce will be the most likely to survive. Although ecommerce may help to support SMEs through the times of reduced in-store foot traffic, what happens when the level of online customers becomes greater than they could ever fit into their store? There is a huge opportunity for SMEs to embrace AI technology and to use the power of conversational AI/machine learning to help scale their customer service and sales force without drastically increasing their operating costs. It takes time, energy, and money to hire effective employees to help manage a large number of customers. Using chatbot technology, SMEs can scale their workforce while maintaining a low level of overhead to manage their risk in these difficult times. Chatbot developers such as Google DialogFlow and IBM Watson Assistant allow users to create chatbots from scratch and to customize the dialogue to match their specific user needs. Unfortunately, these tools are not user-friendly unless you have a background in AI and NLP, and the skills to integrate these into the existing digital channels. This creates a barrier for non-technical users. There is definitely a gap in the marketplace for semi-technical data scientists to begin building customized chatbots to help support small-business — assisting them in a similar way to a web development partner.

Meanwhile, Amazon has announced the launch of AWS Contact Center Intelligence (CCI) solutions, a combination of services that enables customers to integrate contact centres with AI through partners in the AWS Partner Network. Amazon says that CCI, which has solutions for things like self-service, live call analytics, and agent assist, is designed to make it easier for companies to apply AI to existing and new systems. As customer representatives are increasingly working from home, some companies are turning to AI to bridge the resulting gaps in service. The solutions are not perfect — there’s always going to be a need for human teams, even where chatbots are deployed — but COVID-19 has accelerated the need for AI-powered contact centre messaging.

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Alastair Tempest

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