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Shop Direct launches “conversational” virtual assistant

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Shop Direct, which owns Very and Littlewoods, has become the first UK-based retailer to use conversational user interface (CUI) technology in dealing with customer queries by launching a fully-automated platform that allows customers to quickly find answers to their questions in a WhatsApp-style chat environment.

Currently only available within the MyVery iOS app, the ‘Very Assistant’ aims to make customer journeys even simpler for customer service questions by allowing people to interact with Very in a format they use day-to-day, such as WhatsApp chat. The platform is automated, which means customer queries are answered quickly and accurately.

The Very Assistant works by asking the app user if they need any help. The customer is then presented with a sequence of questions and multiple action options, which the customer taps within the chat environment. The customer’s answers enable the platform to instantly serve up the information they are looking for.

Customers can use the Very Assistant 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.

Shop Direct launches Whatsapp-style conversational customer service interface

The new technology was developed in-house by Shop Direct’s eCommerce team, has been introduced in response to customer research, which showed that people wanted to interact with the group’s brands in a chat environment. The technology marks the first step towards an artificial intelligent ‘natural language’ solution and Shop Direct is working with IBM Watson to develop and introduce an AI-fuelled CUI platform in 2017.

Shop Direct chief executive, Alex Baldock, said: “Our customers want to chat to us as they do their friends on WhatsApp – it’s what they’re used to. Very Assistant is our response to that desire and it will make it even easier for our customers to shop. But this is only the start.

“AI will change the game and we’re backing it in a big way. It’ll allow us to offer a personalised, ‘natural language’ CUI experience for service queries in 2017, which will be massive for our customers. In the long term, we believe AI-driven CUI will go even further by democratising the personal shopper. We will chat to them about the best products, style ideas and offers, and help them select what's right for them. The more customers talk to us the better we'll know them - AI learns on its own.”

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director at Shop Direct, added: “This fully native platform is squarely focused on what our customers need. It’s delivered through our app because that’s where they want to have questions answered. It’s also the best place for us to collect feedback and constantly improve Very Assistant.

“We think this new technology will simplify our user journey, improve satisfaction, and help to boost efficiency in our customer service operation. It’s also the first step towards ‘natural language’, AI-driven CUI – which is something we’re hugely excited about.”

Shop Direct is the UK’s second largest pureplay digital retailer, with annual sales of 1.86 billion pounds. Its brands include Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, VeryExclusive.co.uk and LittlewoodsIreland.ie.

Images: courtesy of Shop Direct

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