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Accelerate Digital Marketing to Meet Stay-at-home Requirements

Ms Shanlynn Lee

Ms Shanlynn Lee (President of APARA – Asia Pacific Assisted Robotics Association) and Mr. Oliver Tian (Founder of Oliver Tian Associates and the Honorary Advisor to APARA)

Retailers of all shapes and sizes are feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.  Shopping habits have rapidly and fundamentally changed, leaving the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail industries to adapt and rise to an unprecedented occasion.  Consumers are not only altering what they are buying, but also how they are buying, with quarantine and social distancing guidelines becoming increasingly stringent, and for a longer period.  

With consumers spending more time in their homes and reducing trips to the brick-and-mortar stores, coupled with safe distancing practices, online shopping is becoming the new normal.  People are likely to avoid public areas, such as shopping centers if the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen. It is timely that companies must carefully think through their AI strategy and decide what their goals and expectations are for both AI and human workers if they’re to optimize customer experience.  

An immediate response should focus on business continuity, such as establishing an emergency response, and then adapting consumer communications as circumstances change.  Such a plan can include information around the health and safety of your employees, any current impact on your supply chain or distribution, as well as any changes in business operations and product availability.

In the short-term, retailers should modify their marketing strategies, and ensure proper investments across channels to keep communications up-to-date.  Rather than suspending current advertisement campaigns, retailers should consider adjusting the campaigns to the evolving situation.  Remember to keep your customers engaged even if your direct response campaigns or sales tactics are not performing due to the circumstances.

As the situation improves, retailers should ensure sufficient marketing investment and inventory distribution.  Careful planning includes evaluating the supply chain impact and inventory availability long term, followed by re-forecasting annual budgets, shifting product road maps, and adjusting marketing calendars in response to the new normal.

Overall, people are still looking to brands they trust to instill feelings of safety and stability.  Brands must ensure they are being transparent and trustworthy with their customers, as well as acting ethically during times of crisis.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become mainstream, and the application of AI in the retail sector will begin to accelerate the transformation of the industry due to the current coronavirus outbreak.  AI is beginning to introduce a truly ubiquitous and meaningful way of living.  Machine learning (ML) algorithms are smart enough to identify patterns and important variables on which a consumer gets the right (contextual) recommendation.  Perhaps, in the past such intelligence go “undetected”.  

Product recommendations is not new, and in times where there is a reduction in the human high touch, this method of recommending products can turn to ML for support.  Availability of the right training data is therefore critical.  Companies can leverage a combination with another aspect of AI that is able to automatically tag images and text because the AI understands the meaning and can group products that go well together - for alternatives, to cross-sell and upsell.

Automated pricing optimization is another form of AI, which enables marketing campaigns to be more personalized, and products and offers can be based on micro-segmentation and automated optimization with multivariate testing.  This is where AI and marketing work well together.  AI can identify thousands of new customer micro-segments (e.g., high spenders, people about to replenish, people about to churn, etc.) across all products, types of pets and life stages, while marketing contributes creative expertise.  

In another example of AI application, predictive analytics tools use data to forecast future trends, but also on a one-to-one scale to improve customer service and customer experience.  With AI's learning capacity, predictive analytics can effectively model and analyze customers’ purchase behavior much better than before.  AI can add incremental value over other analytical techniques.  

Marketers can use predictive analytics to “reverse engineer” customer segments, actions, offers, content and touchpoints to determine which marketing strategies could possibly produce the most positive results.  Virtual agent systems, as they are sometimes called, has demonstrated two fundamental facts about customer service and automation.   The most significant gain from virtual customer service agents are from improvements in customer experience, not cost savings.  In addition, successful virtual agent systems depend on bots working with humans, not replacing them.

But virtual agents signal a shift for customer experience.  If a virtual agent can interpret the intent behind your chat or phone request, it can get you an answer more quickly and
efficiently than a human agent.  

However, not every customer service call can be easily answered by a bot alone.  They succeed best because they are part of a system that includes human agents as well, capitalizing on the strengths of each other.

Humans and bots have different skills.  Human customer service agents easily recognize when someone is frustrated and can respond with empathy.  AI-powered virtual agents, on the other hand, are wizards at assembling data from disparate systems to render a judgment instantly, even if they lack the emotional intelligence to know why.

That’s why it is important that retailers consider designing service flows in which virtual agents and people work together.  Such workflows help free human representatives from the drudgery of rooting through computer systems to find information.  The human agents can instead concentrate on the exceptions — customer problems the system has not encountered before, or frustrated customers that demand empathy (commonly termed as “edge cases”).  The virtual agents solve the common problems efficiently, while the human agents deal with the high-stakes issues that do not have the usual pattern.

Humans build intelligent machines. AI in Robotics is no more than our own creation. As technology develops at an accelerated pace, cognitive abilities and tasks that we once believe to be reserved for humans are increasingly being carried out by the machines, thus making a significant impact on the work environment.  While the current pandemic set us on a course for a new beginning for retail, will our retailers act to transform and accelerate digital marketing to meet the new safe-distancing demands?

AIBotics 2020 will be held in August 2020 with a 2 Day Conference and Exhibition, plus an additional day of workshops and tutorials. The theme for 2020 is “Augmenting the Human Potential”. This understanding and implementation of AI in Robotics across the wide range of applications aim to bring together the most progressive end-users, first-class speakers, and innovative solution providers.

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