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How Humanized AI Can Turn Last-Mile Customer Engagement into A Growth Engine

How Humanized AI Can Turn Last-Mile Customer Engagement into A Growth Engine

Furniture retailers have been perfecting the in-store experience for decades. The post-purchase last-mile journey, however, has been a far trickier equation to solve.

Changing customer expectations means furniture delivery has to be about more than just getting boxes to the customer’s door. It needs to connect and engage with the customer, extending the level of in-store service and personalization throughout the last mile to ensure the optimal customer experience. For today’s consumer this is critical, with a staggering 80% valuing a positive experience as much as the product itself, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report.

Implementing a ‘Humanized’ Approach to AI

The adoption of a personalized, responsive and interactive approach to engagement during the last mile is key to creating an engaging experience and meeting customer expectations. This is only achievable at scale by implementing a blend of intelligent automated AI-powered conversations with customers, with human support ready to seamlessly engage at the right time when necessary.

“AI allows us to better interact with our customers in real-time,” noted Wes Dudley, VP Customer Experience Broad River Retail, in Furniture Today’s recent Humanizing AI webinar. “But also with the help of AI we can resolve customer issues quickly. So we have to think differently than we have in the past.”

Broad River Retail achieved this thanks to AI specialized specifically for their big and bulky delivery needs. As the only custom-built AI for home furnishing retail, uses a perfect mix of last-mile intelligence, conversational AI and workflow automation designed specifically to supercharge last-mile delivery. The underlying technological approach can more accurately be referred to as ‘humanized’ AI, because it relies on the optimal balance of human and machine collaboration. Its objective is to elevate customer experience, and leverage AI to make customers feel special, and feel seen and heard at all times, and not just in store.

The result is an interactive, continuously connected customer engagement during last mile delivery and beyond. Customers can ask questions when they need answers, can chat directly with the delivery driver, can easily reschedule deliveries if needed, and can engage in real-time conversations with the retailer throughout the process when necessary. This two-way engagement goes beyond simply “landing products” – it creates a seamless and personalized experience that puts the customer at the center and in control. It also helps prompt customers to leave reviews and provides the perfect post-purchase upsell and marketing opportunities.

This deep and highly engaged last-mile experience creates lasting brand loyalty and increases repeat purchases. The result is higher customer lifetime value, which needs to be the Holy Grail for all retailers.

“As the retail environment continues to shift and evolve, leveraging AI has become critical for staying relevant,” Norman Alegria, Director Customer Experience, The Dufresne Group (TDG) commented in the Humanizing AI webinar. “I mean, you know, we have to meet the dynamic demands of a modern consumer.”

Since implementing, TDG now benefits from the ability to analyze customer preferences and purchase history to provide a highly personalized, warm service to its customers. Through the use of an AI-powered virtual assistant they are able to engage and converse with customers to offer real-time assistance throughout the last mile and beyond.

How Retailers Can Avoid the Dangers of AI

There’s a myth that with AI you simply press a button and everything will be perfect. That is not reality. AI has the potential to significantly enhance the post-purchase customer experience in home furnishings, but it’s important to view it as a powerful tool rather than a magical bullet.

Implementing AI can result in transformational improvements, but its successful integration requires a strategic and thoughtful approach. Because when it goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong.

An example of AI negatively impacting a retailer hit the headlines when a customer service chatbot designed for the international delivery service DPD suddenly started spouting profanities and openly criticized the company as the “worst delivery firm in the world.” These ‘unconventional’ responses (to say the least) were triggered by a frustrated customer’s last-mile experience and subsequent interaction with the chatbot.

So, remember, when poorly implemented, AI can be useless, waste people’s time and result in major brand damage.

Prioritize Customer Post-Purchase Needs Rather Than Reducing Costs

Many furniture retail executives see AI as a way to cut the financial burden of the last mile by reducing labor costs. This is the wrong approach. Properly implemented, businesses will see savings from the automation AI enables, but those savings should be reinvested in your team, customers, and company through training and development.

Key to the successful implementation of AI is change management. Agents and delivery teams can be concerned about their jobs, but they need to be shown how AI will allow them to focus on higher-level tasks and can actually create jobs by driving growth. Other financial efficiencies in last-mile delivery, like cost reductions should always be seen as almost a side benefit, but not the driving force.

It’s also important to always recognize AI’s limitations. This is vital so we never lose the importance of that human touch. This is the reason for a humanized approach to AI. We’re still in the people business, right? Humanizing AI requires a balanced approach between automated processes and human interactions. AI can be a powerful ally in elevating the post-purchase customer experience, but it should be considered as part of a broader strategy that prioritizes customer needs, transparency, and a seamless integration of technology and human touchpoints.

As retail continues to evolve as an omni-channel journey, the last-mile experience has become the place where brand loyalty and repeat purchases are secured. AI allows furniture retailers to achieve this by maintaining a personalized, responsive and interactive customer experience.

Happy customers don’t just buy once, they become fans. By creating positive experiences during the last mile, you turn short-term transactions into lasting relationships. This will help unlock the ultimate treasure for furniture retailers: higher customer lifetime value.