According to figures published in The New York Times, the proportion of returned purchases more than doubled between 2019 and 2021, and the figure is even higher for online retail alone.
This avalanche of returns is increasing pressure on many retailers’ operations and profit margins. Indeed, according to recent estimates, the cost of processing a return can represent up to two-thirds of the price of the product. Worse, the National Retail Federation estimates that every $100 of returned merchandise costs retailers $10.60 in fraud.
Many retailers are now asking the same question: how do we contain rising return costs without sacrificing customer satisfaction or overloading our contact center? At Nuance, we help industry leaders find powerful answers by applying advanced automation, artificial intelligence, and biometrics.
One effective strategy is to make an intelligent virtual assistant the first point of contact for returns and refunds. Powered by conversational AI and integrated with the right systems, an advanced virtual assistant can quickly and successfully resolve many returns and refund requests, bringing in a live agent only when escalation is needed.
Another complementary strategy is to use AI and automation to predict customer needs, reach out to them proactively, and minimize incoming calls and messages. Imagine that you recently purchased and returned a new pair of headphones. It’s been two weeks since you sent them, and you know the package has been received, but you’re still waiting for the money to reappear in your account. If the retailer can predict your needs and send you a timely update on your refund progress, you avoid having to make a call and the retailer saves the cost of a live agent responding to your request. It’s a real win-win situation.
When a customer needs to speak to a live agent about a return or refund, AI can also ensure the experience is as efficient and positive as possible. In this case, imagine a customer purchased a pair of shoes for their grandchild, but by the time they were able to deliver the gift, the child had grown. Now the shoes are not only too small, they can no longer be returned under your refund policy.
The conversation they have with your agent could cement their relationship with your brand or break it forever. AI can support and guide this agent in real time, putting the relevant return policy and useful scripts at your fingertips. The AI can also monitor the conversation, analyze customer sentiment and suggest next actions and workarounds, advise the agent to offer store credit, or show them eligible products if the customer wants to make an exchange.
Even better, because AI is able to learn continuously, it helps retailers optimize these crucial customer service interactions over time. They are able to extract insights from every customer conversation, identify best practices, and replicate them in agent-assisted and self-service engagements.
The result is not just smoother returns and happier customers; they are happier agents who are more likely to keep their jobs, saving retailers money they would otherwise spend on hiring and training.
We also help retailers overcome the challenge of fraudulent returns using biometrics. When a fraudster successfully scams a returns process, the retailer can often lose twice. They lose the item the scammer bought and the money they refunded when the scammer returns an empty box for them.
But advanced biometric technologies, such as voice and behavioral biometrics, allow retailers to identify known fraudsters when they come into contact. At the same time, they also free customers and agents from having to remember and ask for passwords, removing friction from their interactions and speeding up service.
While managing a growing volume of returns may be an immediate priority, powerful applications of AI, automation, and biometrics exist throughout the retail contact center. Nuance helps industry leaders apply these technologies to all aspects of customer engagement and reduce costs while improving the customer and agent experience.
Nuance is now a Microsoft company and the combination of Nuance and Microsoft innovations in the Microsoft Digital Contact Center platform unlocks exceptional engagement and seamless customer journeys across all channels.
Seb Reeve is Director of Smart Engagement at Nuance Communications
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To receive future issues straight to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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