Preparing Your Retail Staff to Work with AI

By Evan Dashevsky, Senior Writer
March 18, 2019 • 3 minute read

Retailers are increasingly turning to AI to automate many functions related to their business. As your company undergoes such a transition, keep your employees in mind.

Much has been written about the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to transform the retail sector value chain — from backend logistics to marketing to customer engagements. Indeed, a report from Global Market Insights found that AI in retail was valued at $650 million in 2017 and predicted it will reach $8 billion by 2024.

The third annual Digital Workforce Summit (DWS) in NYC will be a valuable source of information for those just beginning their AI journeys in the retail space. Attendees will hear insights from decision-makers who are already years into their AI deployments, as well as from thought leaders who will preview how AI is transforming companies across different industries.

One area of discussion at DWS will be the impact of AI on the workforce. Whether through autonomic frameworks like Amelia AIOps (formerly 1Desk) automating backend processes end to end, or conversational solutions like AmeliaTM optimizing the front end, AI will change how workers engage with their company’s systems and your customers. Employers will need to manage the change with their workforce to ensure as seamless a transition as possible. Here are a few things for companies to keep in mind.

Clearly Communicate

There are a great number of misconceptions about what AI does and doesn’t mean in regards to jobs. This has been the case with all substantial technological shifts. One need only look to the anxieties felt by the general public when home PCs went mainstream in the 1980s, but fast-forward to today and most people couldn’t imagine their work lives without them. However, preparing your workforce will be about more than simply training them to use the technology.

When retraining staff to utilize AI in their workday — be it through accessing intelligent backend processes on their mobile devices or call centers utilizing AI whisper agents — employers should be sure to clearly communicate why the company is introducing a new system, provide timelines for the implementations and emphasize the opportunities that automation will provide. This will help alleviate many worker anxieties and support a smooth deployment.

Welcome Feedback

Automation provides companies with unprecedented insights into customer journeys, which can be used to improve processes over time (e.g., a quantifiable spike in abandon rates on a particular function or system indicates a problem that must be quickly addressed). But this isn’t the only form of measuring customer sentiment and activity. As employees are on the front lines dealing with technology and customers, they can provide unquantifiable customer reactions — they will for example see the looks on customers’ faces, and be the first to hear their frustrations and complaints.

Furthermore, your employees will be invaluable resources for developing your customer-facing AI solutions. Their experience gives them an instinct for customer needs that your development team will not necessarily possess. As such, they will be a go-to source for developing future use-cases or improving existing ones. It is in your AI team’s interest to maintain a direct dialogue between your developers and the rest of your workforce.

Emphasize New Opportunities

In most cases, AI will enhance retail workers’ experiences by automating highly regimented tasks, and freeing them to emphasize uniquely human skills such as communication, creativity and negotiation.

AI can take on the “cognitive load” associated with many retail roles (e.g., answering customer questions about where a particular item is located in a store or explaining the company’s return policy), which means human roles will naturally evolve to emphasize other qualities.

For example, as automated kiosks increasingly take on common tasks related to FAQs or checkouts, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to judge employee performance on things like the volume of customers serviced or time spent in line, as the AI system will handle and optimize a bulk of these tasks. Instead, workers’ success will evolve to be associated with “softer” skills and outcomes that machines cannot necessarily provide, such as maintaining an upbeat/positive retail environment or helping customers feel appreciated and welcome. Businesses should identify and clearly communicate new AI-influenced KPIs for their employees.

The retail industry as a whole can greatly benefit from AI-enabled automations all along the value chain, from the warehouse to the storefront. This doesn’t mean that human workers will become obsolete — just the opposite. However, as with any major transformation in the workplace, employees may have anxieties, misconceptions and confusion. It is a company’s duty to manage these transformations successfully. Fortunately, there are emerging best practices for managing AI deployments, and many of them will be discussed and highlighted at this year’s DWS.

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