One of the UK’s top online retailers has embraced artificial intelligence as it seeks to satisfy its customers and reduce the volume of calls into its contact centre.

Very.co.uk, part of the Shop Direct Group, revealed the UK’s first customer service AI when it introduced the Very Assistant Chatbot.

The tech, part of IBM’s Watson, has now left the beta stage and, thanks to machine learning, is improving all the time.

“Very Assistant is designed to have a friendly and helpful personality,” Sally-Anne Newson, director of customer experience and digital product at Shop Direct, told BusinessCloud.

“It uses natural language and has a tone of voice in keeping with our brand without being over the top, as we recognise some of the answers provided are more serious in nature.”

Allowing customers to receive answers to queries in a WhatsApp-style chat environment, it can be used to track an order, make a payment on their Very.co.uk account, confirm that recent payments have been processed, check their payment dates and request a reminder of their account number.

It proved especially useful during the busy Christmas trading period, helping to reduce the volume of calls into its contact centre by 30 per cent.

“Very Assistant has improved overall customer satisfaction, which was our key driver,” said Newson. “We know customers want problems solved in their channel of choice and on first contact.

“If we can’t solve their problem through the chatbot, we immediately put them in contact with a human to ensure first time resolution.

“The top questions answered by Very Assistant during our peak trading period related to payments and order tracking.”

Very.co.uk saw revenues jump almost nine per cent at the end of last year after harnessing the power of artificial intelligence.

IBM has announced agreements with organisations across more than 15 industries to help them transform customer service with AI, giving them distinct ‘virtual agents’. Its Watson Assistant is being showcased at THINK 2019.

As for how the tech will develop in future, Newson said: “Our immediate focus is on setting ourselves up for any technology advancements or trends we see our customers engaging with.
“It will be interesting to see if voice technology changes how customers engage with retailers in the medium term.

“Voice tech would enable customers to ask about their account balances or next payment date.
“These are the kind of non-visual but important reminders our customers want, and voice tech could be perfect for in terms of convenience.

“We will continue experimenting with new technologies, whether in chatbot form or related to other parts of the digital experience.”