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How AI can help prepare for a Covid super-peak
by Tom Jenkins

The recent climb in Covid-19 cases as we head into autumn is a worrying sign that we are heading back towards a dialling up of similar lockdown restrictions that we saw earlier in the year. Combined with Christmas, this could result in a ‘super-peak’ in terms of sales volumes and pressures for retailers and logistics companies.

In our last blog, we looked at what impact this could have, as well as discussed some of the changes that they are making to prepare. However, future customer experience success must go beyond the quick decisions made earlier in 2020 and become more strategic from here on, especially if businesses are to effectively deal with any super peak over the next six months.

Here, we will look at how AI can be applied to help businesses survive.

Enhanced efficiencies

Getting the last mile in parcel delivery right is key for efficiency, but hard-to-find addresses, and customers not being at home can mean missed appointments, repeat consignments and wasted money. AI can help improve this with effective communication that clearly tells customers in advance when your driver will arrive and give them the option to reschedule before the van is even on the road.

What3words – a service that has given every 3m2 in the UK a unique three-word reference –has potential for improving logistics efficiency. By pairing up with delivery services and using AI voice software, customers could direct deliveries right to their front door, rather than relying on less specific addresses. Making these wins where you can will be essential in the increased time pressures that will come with a super-peak.

Self-learning retail

Food retailers have used EPoS and data for decades to increase margins and reduce waste. Up until recently, however, retailers have relied on humans to interpret the data. AI software enables it to go even further now.

Cork-based MarketHub for example uses digital shelf-edge labels to let retailers flex prices at key times to drive their margin around the clock. The store then learns from shoppers’ buying behaviour and can update promotions automatically and manage ordering without the need for human intervention.

As labour costs continue to increase and a second spike makes staff more cautious about working on the shop floor, solutions such as this can help them update prices safely from behind the counter while ensuring a high level of accuracy. It also helps manage retailers’ delivery services too as stock is kept updated whether it’s on shelf or in the backroom.

Proactive customer conversations

Your customers will be stressed enough this winter. Whether it’s a broken boiler, home installation, issue with a contract or missed delivery, most will simply not want to have to reach out to you over the phone to talk about an issue. Your call centre staff similarly will have to work harder than ever before this winter, so anything that can do to solve problems before your customers have to ask is imperative.

AI enables businesses to reach out to consumers to notify them of any issues before there even is one. This gives them a chance to have a structured conversation with a computer, resulting in increased efficiency for you and peace of mind for your consumers.

Tailored consumer experience

Closely linked to proactive customer conversations, AI also enables you to communicate with your customers in the means they expect. Whether it’s by email, social media, or any other form of messaging, it is possible to communicate with your customers both by the means they expect and at the right time for them.  This not only benefits the consumer, but also means you are more likely to get the response that you need to deliver the service efficiently and avoid wastage during the key super-peak months.

AI also enables you to learn the language that your consumers will respond to. Businesses were quick to attempt to show their compassionate human sides back in March. Emotions will be heightened already around Christmas, especially if people are kept from loved ones, so use AI to tailor your messages to suit everyone.

Investing during times of crisis can feel risky, especially in such advanced and experimental areas like AI. It’s human instinct to want to draw back, see how a situation looks and then move accordingly. Investing in data and AI is one of the smartest things you could do for your businesses before the pandemic and all the past few months have shown is that it still remains critical. Work with companies that offer a tangible, demonstrable return on investment and be bold to power your company through the challenging months ahead.

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