Direct shopper interactions are a powerful sales driver, even online: fielding questions directly and offering specific product suggestions upsells in a way that even the most powerful personalization engines can’t match. However, customer service agents can only do so much through live chat.
“For a long time we had live chat on the site, but it was truly just a customer outreach opportunity,” said Robbi Webb, Senior Director of e-Commerce at Heat Makes Sense, the parent company of hair care brand amika in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It was just kind of customary as one of the ways that we want people to have, to reach out if they’re not comfortable on the phone and they want a faster answer than email.”
However, upselling (and even providing basic customer service) is typically easier in person than online communications, even if they are happening in real time. Store associates can show off physical products, react to facial expressions and body language and thus guide shoppers through their journey. Amika took steps to improve its online services through the adoption of Automat’s chatbots.
The result was Ace, a chatbot represented by a little skull logo with a variety of different hair types. In addition to handling customer queries, Ace guides shoppers through a short visual quiz to learn about their hair type and product preferences. The results include an average of five minutes more time spent on the site, 40% higher spend and 4X the conversion rate.
“It bridged the gap that existed between the idea of upselling and really pushing products in those chat experiences, versus being on the receiving end of whatever the customer is looking for and not necessarily having enough detail or the right questions to ask,” said Webb. “Additionally, the idea of having help around the clock 24/7 is something that we hadn’t really been able to accommodate. We had regular business hours and then a little bit of additional to cover for nights on the East Coast and West Coast, and then very minimal coverage over the weekend.”
Chatbots Can Provide The Next Level Of Personalization
Ace will first approach a customer after their initial few clicks, appearing as an icon on the bottom right-hand side of the screen. Shoppers interact with the icon and are asked some basic questions about their hair type, length and density, as well as what sort of products they’re looking for, at which point Ace guides them through the process of finding the perfect purchase.
“The chatbot continues to refine the answers as the customer goes through the process, until they get a recommendation of anywhere from one to five or six products, depending on how many different options they took,” said Webb. “This is ultimately refined from 25 or 30 questions. There are multiple different scenarios for each of those questions and different paths that a customer can go down, which helps Ace become very specific to that individual customer’s needs.”
Getting this granular has been a significant boon for amika: Ace’s recommendations regularly result in shoppers coming back for repeat purchases, and the depth of Ace’s knowledge makes it valuable even for long time shoppers. Ace’s combined knowledge base of hair care expertise and deep details on amika products allows the chatbot to pinpoint new suggestions for old customers, without missing their specific needs or recommending something they already tried.
“We could make 100 recommendations if we just know their hair type, hair density or hair length, and some of the other questions that we’re asking,” said Webb. “There are so many different things in our arsenal of products that can help for different needs. It’s really helpful to tie those different touch points together to recommend something based off of what they’re truly looking to find. Additionally, because we’ve gotten this level of granularity into the equation, it really makes a big difference in terms of recommendations. We’re not recommending them something that they’ve already purchased or something that isn’t going to be valuable to their haircare routine.”
Customer Service Agents Still Serve A Valuable, Separate Role
Ace’s interactions are realistic enough that some shoppers think there’s an actual person chatting with them, but live agents still have their place at amika. While the chatbot has product knowledge and upselling expertise, live humans are still available for shoppers who need immediate assistance with tracking an order.
“For me, they’re almost completely separate,” said Webb. “One is an arm of customer service and support if something is wrong or customers need information about their order, like when it’s going to arrive or if they need something canceled. Those kinds of things to me all operate out of customer service, where Automat and Ace is really more about product upselling recommendations.”
The ultimate role of the chatbot is to enhance the capabilities of human workers, and vice versa. Automat and amika are working on an integration that will let customers seamlessly jump from Ace to a customer service agent as needed, which will help the retailer handle virtually every type of shopper query.
“We definitely recognize that we can’t be everywhere all the time for every single person,” said Webb. “How do we bridge that gap between where we would like to be and what we can actually achieve, with the amount of time and manpower that we have?”