Can AI phone tech free up M&S associates to help customers?
One of the big promises of customer service automation is that it will let retailers move staff away from mundane jobs and into more active, fulfilling, productive and personal positions. British retailer Marks & Spencer just made a move that will put the theory to the test.
M&S is rolling out a cloud-based call-routing solution that replaces the company’s legacy switchboard. As a result, the company will move more than 100 switchboard employees into customer-facing roles in stores.
The press release did not indicate what type of customer-facing roles the former call center staff will be taking on in-store. The success of the initiative will no doubt depend on the skill level of the employees and what training they receive.
The solution Marks & Spencer is rolling out has speech-to-text capabilities and integrates with Google’s DialogFlow to determine the reason for a customer’s call and route it appropriately. The change impacts all 640 of the chain’s stores. The press release did not mention to what extent human staff will continue to answer calls after they are routed or if some or all will be handled by chatbot.
The implementation of the customer service solution comes in the midst of a broader restructuring of the chain, which involves a plan to close 100 stores by 2022, according to The Guardian. This month, the chain has closed seven stores, but said it has relocated 86 percent of the affected staff within the business.
The call center is hardly the only space where artificial intelligence-based automation has begun to take hold. And some experts in high places, at least in the U.S., are convinced that the AI revolution could have an unprecedented impact on the job market.
Toward the end of the Obama Administration, the White House issued a report indicating that millions in the U.S. could experience job loss and short-term economic hardships due to mass job replacement by automation.
- Marks & Spencer Calls on Twilio to Transform its Communications with Customers – Twilio
- Seven more M&S stores close as restructuring continues – The Guardian
- How can the retail job market survive the AI revolution? – RetailWire
- Marks & Spencer looks to create innovation in a lab – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will M&S’s move successfully show that technological streamlining can free workers up to flourish in more creative roles? How should M&S best leverage its former call center staff?