Marks and Spencer opts for AI at call centre

Dine in for two, suggests Marks and Spencer, but will its customers be so keen to digest its new AI system?

The famous retailer has tied up with Twilio to give its customer communications an AI twist. The new system will route voice calls to the appropriate department. Twillo said this will be achieved with 90% accuracy.

In total, 640 M&S stores and 13 UK-based contact centres will be handled via a Twilio-powered technology intelligent system.

>See also: How the contact centre became ground zero for AI in the enterprise

It has also been able to “experiment, like a start-up, executing like an enterprise,” said Chris McGrath, IT programme manager at Marks & Spencer, by utilising the Twilio cloud communications platform.

Twilio says that the project to “automate Marks & Spencer’s legacy switchboard operation took less than six months from concept to launch and will allow the retailer to analyse customer intent in real time for more than 12 million customer interactions annually.”

The system already responds to a customer call at Marks and Spencer by routing it to the correct destination via Twilio. The service is also being extended, rolling out delivery status updates via text message for its e-commerce customers, powered by Twilio Programmable SMS.

>See also: Blended approach is best: AI in the contact centre

Mr McGrath, added: “We were able to prototype a solution in just four weeks and put it to the test during our busiest retail days of the year. The new solution has given Marks & Spencer an improved ability to have more direct and meaningful conversations with our customers, which also helps us reallocate valuable staff time.”

Analysts were quick to point out that the move by Marks and Spencer is part of a wider trend.

For example, Manu Tyagi, Associate Partner for Retail at Infosys Consulting said that in the last year we have seen Amazon Go’s concept of ‘checkout-less’ supermarkets where, “thanks to a host of sensor and deep-learning technologies, shoppers can browse, fill their baskets, and leave without queueing up to pay.”

>See also: Chatbots for customer service in industrial IT

Does this mean the concept of robotic shop assistants is nigh?

Mr Tyagi says no.

He said: “These advances are unarguably impressive, and spell a bright future for the retail industry. However, we’re finding that some consumers still prefer the reassurance of human interaction – and this need should not be ignored.

“For instance, in 2015 Morrisons reintroduced human-staffed checkouts for small shopping baskets – a move away from the wave of automated, self-service tills that have swept the nation. It turns out that people quite enjoy their everyday interactions with the smiling, familiar checkout operator; advice from a knowledgeable shop assistant; or just bumping into a friend in the local supermarket queue.”

The Marks and Spencer Twilio solution will be able to:

• Handle more than one million inbound telephone calls per month.

• Transcribe the customer’s speech into text – by leveraging Twilio’s Speech Recognition tool, Marks & Spencer can analyse the voice of the customer in real time.

• Determine caller intent – through integration with Google DialogFlow, Marks & Spencer is able to take the transcribed text and determine why a customer is calling.

• Route calls – IVR uses caller intent to route the call to the appropriate department, store or contact centre agent to resolve the customer inquiry.

>See also: True AI doesn’t exist yet…it’s augmented intelligence

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future