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Artificial Intelligence and the Seasonal Associate

Publication: AIthority

By Guy R. VanBuskirk, December 4, 2019


The holiday season is here and there are rafts of new associates manning registers and helping stores handle swarms of shoppers. But how are these associates finding their seasonal roles? Many retailers already use Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their recruiting systems for hiring the best and brightest seasonal help. Human resource tasks such as screening and hiring are more efficient and accurate thanks to the AI envisioned a few years ago and in operation today.

Nevertheless, landing a good employee is only the first step in making this season a winning year for shopper loyalty, conversions, and same-store sales. Once hired, every new employee instantly becomes a brand ambassador and critical resource for shoppers exploring the store, possibly for the first time. That “good” hire must quickly become a great ambassador or the “bad news” will travel fast. According to Andrew Thomas, founder of Skybell Video Doorbell, it takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review.

Encouraging the Human Element

New and existing employees serve the customer best when they are energetic, motivated and supported. Training is seldom effective in bringing out these essential human characteristics because they are an in-the-moment-every-moment responsibility. These human behaviors do not fit easily in a classroom when the real challenge occurs on the retail floor. What’s needed for behavioral support is continuous attitudinal awareness, gentle encouragement, motivational nudging and a supportive “buddy” who is always available.

Increasing Product Knowledge

Employees represent the company best when they know the products, have clarity of the brand and timely exposure to proven Sales messages – a daunting challenge for a new employee in an industry where training time is costly and the Sales floor is frequently chaotic. Retailers need to know exactly which information needs reinforcing, who needs to hear the information, how much information they can digest when the best time to deliver it is and in which location the information makes the most educational impact.

Delivering with AI

The obvious vehicle for delivering both support and education to new employees is clear and continuous communication with veteran employees. Unfortunately, our 1950’s walkie-talkies and our high-tech heads-down smart devices do not solve the problem nor fit the retail floor. The former clutters the ear with mostly irrelevant chatter, while the latter destroys both situational awareness and shopper rapport.

What’s needed is a conversational platform powered by Natural Language Processing that connects employees with each other or with the information available in the company IT systems on the spot, without having to rely on a screen. Using intelligent mediation within the communication platform assures each employee gets the best information, at the right time, in the right location.

Once a conversational platform replaces the old walkie-talkies, regular mobile devices become occasional-use, specialized tools. The AI platform learns the environment and transforms the employees – measurably improving associate effectiveness and the shopper experience. Today’s conversational platforms are able to add AI that dissects conversations and directs information to specific employees, at specific times, in specific locations. This information may be anything from the name of the customer approaching them to collect an online order in the store, a register backup call (with the opportunity to instantly respond), or an accurate technical answer to a question from an expert group anywhere in the world.

The conversations enabled between employees across the store contain the full context of what they know and offers management insight into how they share when they inspire, and where they perform the best. The conversations contain solutions.

AI is a natural progression in the evolution of conversational platforms for mobile store team members. The platforms available today connect employees, groups and IT systems using intelligent mediation while simultaneously collecting data for measuring performance. It won’t be long before AI overlays these platforms with deep analytics of employee behaviors, derivation of critical messaging, and quantum leaps in shopper experiences.