Human engagement matters more than ever to consumers, who want intuitive experiences that reduce friction across all touchpoints of their customer experience. At the same time, businesses are looking to automated engagement tools to drive efficiencies and improve the customer experience in a way that still feels personal and connected. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), for example, offer the kind of intelligence that amplifies the creative work of expert human designers and merchandisers to instantly predict intent, freeing up time for creativity and amplifying human efforts.

These technologies can quickly crunch a lot of data on past and present actions to get to the intent of the shopper as they search. Correlating shopping history, demographics, and personal preferences all lead to a better result, and a prediction on the next intended action.

Although AI shouldn’t take over everything, it can automate tasks to reduce friction and create room for humans to shine. “Shoppers aren’t always clear on what they are looking for, and there simply isn’t time for human guesswork anymore,” explained Zohar Gilad, CEO of Fast Simon, an AI-powered shopping optimization provider. “Modern merchandising must use technology to instantly read the clear signals that get product displays closer to the buyer’s intent.” These signals include geography (US vs. Canada, warm vs. cold climates), time-based events (limited arrangements for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day), and previous experience (sales and search).

This information, when harnessed quickly by AI technology, can get the presentation of products much closer to buyer needs before they skip to someone else’s screen.

AI Adding Value to Customer Service Workers

In the customer service industry, the point of automation is not to take away the humanity, but to give customer service professionals the tools to respond to people more quickly, instead of digging through thousands of databases. Helping customer support workers get information in real-time can lead to faster time to resolution. “Automation helps customer service representatives look for what they’re trying to say and leveraging these types of AI-based technologies provides the best knowledge they have,” he said. “The human interaction part comes by solving the customer’s needs in real time," said Greg Armor EVP of sales for, developer of an AI-powered conversation intelligence platform. 

Armor points out the best IP a business has is an employee’s knowledge. “There’s no way to take the human element out of it. The technology will just provide value, and you’ll work hand in hand with it,” Armor said. “It is there to enhance the human’s experience while using the technology. It’s just another tool.”

Related Article: Why Enterprise AI Needs Human Intervention

AI Won't Replace the Conversation

From the perspective of Raj Mahajan, senior vice president of corporate development at Zenoti, which provides a cloud-based software solution for the spa and salon industry, automation can be thought of as a subtle part of the customer experience. “Technologies like AI help you get to things like what that person interested in, which helps the conversation — but it can’t replace the conversation,” he said. “Automation and the human touch intersect where customer experience is enhanced because you know them better and you know where they’re trying to go.”

Mahajan sees the use of automation tools as indispensable in today’s business world, because the average customer has grown accustomed to things like chatbots and personalized ads.

Learning Opportunities

“The function of AI is about the collection of data and how you can leverage that data to make everybody’s life a little easier,” he said. “It creates a strong relationship for the brand and the consumer for those who have invested in it, because they know them better. It’s not spray pray — it’s a very accurate and tailored approach.”

Indeed, a 2018 survey from Accenture found the vast majority (91%) of consumers were more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant offers and recommendations.

“In eCommerce, everything is measurable, and all that information makes both algorithms and humans smarter,” Gilad said. “Professional merchandisers who once relied on decades of experience, creativity, and no shortage of slow, experimental guesswork, now have automation and digital data to augment their craft.”

AI Allows CX Analysts to Experiment and Iterate Faster

Automation allows them to quickly validate hunches or experience with data, and businesses can create new, data-informed, creative pairings and presentations of products, based on what’s trending and happening at the moment. In retail apparel, for example, they can quickly test and adapt new pairings and not wait for the next season, while simple features, like a “complete the look” option can show customers the items worn by a model, based on many different signals, and then deliver pleasing images of the items in real-life situations.

In addition, consumers can use images from smartphones, Instagram accounts, or store catalogs to instantly get matching results with a single click.

This brings shoppers closer to the best of physical commerce: being able to touch and try products in store, and it drives upsell and cross-sell by showing a personalized package, like matching jeans and shoes for that sweater. “All of these capabilities give merchants time for small touches like personalized notes in shipping boxes and rapid human support,” Gilad said. “They can invest heavily in personalized loyalty programs that go beyond counting points and include meaningful, human interactions and communities of like-minded shoppers.”


From Armor’s perspective, machine learning and automation go hand in hand: The more you use it, the smarter it gets. “It learns and continues to provide more value, because the models will become more accurate and more efficient,” he said. “This will provide an even better experience for anyone who is using it because it will provide genuinely more accurate responses, and help you keep the process moving forward.”