Photo courtesy of Mall of America.

Mall of America, the biggest shopping and entertainment complex in North America, is diving into chatbot technology to drive a more rewarding, and likely calmer, customer experience, especially during the holiday shopping time.

The 26-year-old mall, located in in Bloomington, Minn., is advancing a unique location-based artificial intelligence chatbot following a successful deployment this past holiday season.

The chatbot, created in partnership with Satisfi Labs, is available on the mall’s website, mobile app, Facebook page and even as a skill on the Amazon Alexa voice assistant device.

It represents Satisfi Lab’s first full integrated retail location bot, tapping multiple data feeds over different customer touch points, that provides answers to customer queries in natural language in just seconds. Questions can range from food recommendations, to current attractions, events and gifting available in the mall’s 5.6 million square feet location.

The MOA chatbot journey

The mall’s initial chatbot pilot, run during the 2016 holiday season, enabled guests to build itineraries most relevant to their visit and provided the mall with an opportunity to test the tech with guests and how it could help them plan for and navigate the property.

That’s an important feature given the mall houses more than 520 retail stores and restaurant.  MOA is also home to Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s largest indoor family theme park featuring 27 rides, the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, FlyOver America a 4D immersive flight adventure, as well as the nation’s longest indoor zip line and an 18-hole mini golf course.

The limited holiday-specific strategy evolved in 2017 into a more full-fledged tool and is now part of a larger digital transformation taking place that will, sometime this year, include in-mall activations including SoftBanks’s humanoid robot Pepper, which is currently in a testing phase.

Such technology is aimed at enhancing the brick-and-mortar experience and providing new way to surprise and delight guests in a seamless customer journey, according to Mall of America’s Vice President of Marketing Sarah Townes as MOA views itself as a leader in retail and entertainment innovation.

“We had a great time testing the holiday bot but wanted to evolve that experience and really create a more evergreen chatbot that would be integrated into our entire digital ecosystem, while helping us improve our overall guest experience at Mall of America,” Townes told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview, adding it took eight weeks to It develop and launch the chatbot for the 2017 holiday season.

Such tools are a necessity for the retail segment, according to Justine Santa Cruz, vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances for Satisfi Labs.

“In today’s climate, adapting to customer’s wants and needs is a requirement for every retailer. To be able to cater to a growing number of consumers and their needs, retailers need technology to scale their service in a consistent and efficient manner,” Cruz told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview.

Tips, lessons learned

A common misconception among retailers regarding chatbots, added Cruz, is that chatbots are impersonal.

With our platform, we are able to develop bots that embody the personality of the brands we represent and also scale them to be a helpful shopping tool for users before or during their shopping trip. By accessing the client APIs, the bot unifies all the data available and gives this to the user in an easy to understand conversation,” Cruz said.

Leaders at MOA initially met Satisfi Labs at an industry conference just about two years ago and were impressed with the nimble and flexible platform.

“We began a discovery process, shared data from last year’s bot and looked at additional data sources like our own FAQ to build this year’s chatbot,” said Townes.

Retailers embarking on a chatbot development initiative should do lots of testing given the many uses for chatbot, advised Townes, as a retailer needs to learn what type of information and experience will be most relevant to their consumers. The initial MOA effort lead to creating a more “evergreen’ chatbot that can be configured throughout the malls entire digital ecosystem.

“We will continue learning about chatbots and evolving this system in order to pave the way for implementing new opportunities for us to improve our overall guest experience at Mall of America,” she added.

The prime focus, explained Townes is two-fold: better customer service and a more rewarding customer experience.

We believe customer service and customer experience go hand in hand. The chatbot feature pairs very closely with our digital guest service program which we call our Enhanced Service Portal. Through that program, we have team members that are answering guests in real time,” she said.

“Chatbot technology allows us to add another level of customer service to help answer guest questions promptly, enabling the guest to then enjoy a more personalized and frictionless experience while visiting Mall of America.

Posted with permission from www.RetailCustomerExperience.com
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