The ecommerce world is extremely competitive and, in the interest of saving both time and resources, it’s no surprise to see a growing trend towards AI-powered product recommendations. Generative AI, in particular, has been noted for its potential to create dynamic marketing campaigns and even streamline customer service. The ability to dive deep into customer loyalty and behaviour patterns can provide businesses with invaluable insights. However, while AI has its merits, human curation has proven to be particularly effective, especially for businesses with a limited product range. If you’re considering integrating AI into your ecommerce operations, it’s vital to recognise AI’s limitations. I firmly believe customer experience is one area where a human touch remains irreplaceable.
Prioritising human-centric online shopping
Understanding the needs and preferences of your customers is essential, especially for small ecommerce retailers with a limited product range. Embracing a human-curated approach ensures an online interface that is both intuitive and user-friendly. Unlike larger counterparts that leverage AI for recommendations, small retailers often commence their journey on platforms like Instagram, utilising a more personal touch to build a customer base. They transition to automated order forms only upon reaching a certain scale, using their intimate knowledge of their customers to design user-friendly interfaces. This hands-on approach, rooted in human understanding rather than algorithmic predictions, resonates well with customers. With the rise of personalised subscriptions, even small businesses are exploring ways to offer tailor-made offerings. These not only involve dynamic pricing but also individualised service levels based on customer engagement. Yet, the magic lies in the human touch, which understands the nuanced preferences and emotions of diverse customer demographics. Given the varied preferences of different customer demographics, an emphasis on simplicity and familiarity can boost user engagement and subsequently drive sales.
Valuing customer feedback
Proactively seeking and integrating customer feedback can steer transformative business decisions. For instance, the inclusion of a comment box in order forms, especially for local shop owners, can provide profound insights. Unlike large e-commerce entities, local shop owners actively listen to customer feedback and keep them updated, encouraging customers to be more open and forthcoming with their responses. Harnessing the power of sentiment-driven CX, businesses can gauge the emotional state of customers, making informed decisions such as when to seek feedback or address service concerns. Addressing this feedback gives businesses the opportunity to hone their product offerings and services, fostering increased customer loyalty and recurrent orders. The stark difference in customer engagement between local businesses and large e-commerce platforms often boils down to the latter missing out on this level of interaction as they prioritise scaling this process.
Understanding the limitations of AI
Despite its efficiency, AI falls short in emulating the personal touch and depth of understanding that human interactions bring to the table. Local enterprises, in particular, flourish based on personal relationships and an intricate understanding of their clientele. Synthetic customer modelling, informed by real-time data, can predict potential friction points in the customer journey. However, such models can never fully replace the innate human understanding of emotions and relationships. It’s crucial to discern between tasks that AI can execute proficiently and those that demand a more personalised approach.
Striking the right balance for your business
Selling online initially entailed creating an e-commerce site to attract a broader audience, a trend set in motion by Amazon and adopted by various platforms. Local businesses hopped on this bandwagon, only to realise later that e-commerce platforms weren’t the silver bullet they had hoped for. The hurdles of driving traffic to their sites and the complicated online order process for customers proved daunting.
Now, local businesses are pivoting, learning to leverage existing tools like Instagram to build an audience and gain credibility. When it comes to order placement, they are turning to simpler, user-friendly solutions like Google Forms. While carving out an online niche remains essential, aligning with platforms and tools that resonate with your business aspirations is critical. As order numbers swell, the importance of tools that blend automation with human interaction grows. The priority must be on automating repetitive tasks while allowing the staff to focus on sensitive and value-added activities. This balance can help businesses scale while maintaining a personal touch with their customers. The ultimate goal continues to be placing customer experience at the centre of all decisions.
Customer perception and setting clear expectations
Transparency is a trait highly valued by customers. Whether their interaction is with a chatbot or a human representative, clear and concise communication is paramount. Advanced chatbots, powered by generative AI, are becoming more adept at addressing customer queries efficiently and accurately. Yet, the genuineness of human communication remains unparalleled. Setting clear expectations means businesses can ensure a good experience for customers, no matter how they communicate.
Ethical considerations in the age of AI
Employing AI, especially for marketing initiatives, necessitates having responsive systems to handle customer feedback. Sustainability in CX is emerging as a significant trend, with businesses increasingly demonstrating their commitment to sustainable practices and communicating this to customers. Being approachable and promptly addressing customer inquiries and concerns isn’t just an ethical obligation; it’s pivotal in cultivating trust and credibility. Additionally, security in CX is paramount, ensuring that customers’ personal data is protected and used ethically. Transparent data and privacy policies reinforce this trust, showing that businesses truly value and respect their customers.
While customers prefer free-form interactions like texting, businesses benefit from structured data. AI can bridge this gap, translating casual interactions into organised data. It’s vital for companies to automate routine tasks, such as queries about delivery timings. However, for more sensitive issues like product quality complaints, direct communication with customers is essential to truly understand their concerns and enhance their overall experience.
Contributor: Boobesh Ramalingam, Co-founder of Neartail
Boobesh Ramalingam is the co-founder of Neartail that enables local businesses to take online orders. Prior to this, he has built products used by the largest retailers and ecommerce companies in Asia, Europe, and the US.