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Conversational AI provides friendly face for shoppers who never sleep

Guest article | Tim Warren

Tim Warren is CEO and a co-founder of Ambit, a conversation platform offered as a service, which provides a realistic and automated chat experience at scale on any channel.

As consumer adoption of online shopping accelerates, retailers are searching for new ways to extend a consistent brand experience across all channels, and hours of the day and night. An omni-channel strategy offers consumers greater choice but any weak point may damage your NPS - such as long wait times in call centres, hard to navigate websites, or live chat that’s unattended.

Incorporating conversational AI into online experiences gives marketers a greater range of options for serving customers – from fast, accurate and consistent, to more nuanced and empathetic, depending on their need.

A huge proportion of customer queries to your contact centre and website are repeat visits. The vast majority of these tasks can be automated, delivered more efficiently while improving the customer experience.

Just as important as efficiency, AI is more effective than 100% human teams during periods of high demand, as it can be quickly scaled up. This really hit home for an electricity company customer during an outage, when we found 85% of people preferred to speak with a chatbot rather than calling the contact centre. Offering conversational AI reduced the pressure on customer service agents, allowing them to focus on the more complex enquiries.

People’s willingness to shop online in the evening or outside regular contact centre hours, combined with greater interest in online shopping by people aged over 60 years says to me that 24/7 assisted online experiences will be more in demand. A client offering radiology services enjoyed a sizeable 20% increase in engagement after hours, as patients used a digital employee to book appointments or clarify their insurance cover.

Noel Leeming is a telling example of AI’s value in augmenting and assisting human teams. Lockdown provided the catalyst for implementing AI when stores were closed and significant consumer demand was placed on its website.

Launched in just twelve days in May last year (2020), the ‘Nola’ chatbot helped Noel Leeming customers with click & collect requirements, locating branches, returns, and exchanges, and taking the load off customer support.

Conversations were designed using a supervised machine-learning model to ensure that Nola remained on-brand with her tone of voice, protocols, and manner of engagement. Nola now handles 89% of conversations with a current cost of 47 cents per conversation and falling.

As AI learns and better understands conversations, use cases are becoming more ambitious and can accommodate many of the reasons people go to a retailers’ website. Think of a hassle-free product return process in which a digital employee provides warranty information, can book in an item for repair or replacement, and provide a store credit or refund.

Think of opportunities for guided selling where digital employees recommend complementary products, check stock availability and process the order. While Nola was implemented as a solution to handle Noel Leeming’s growing customer service volumes, it was not long before they realised the power she had when it came to increasing their upsell capacity. It turns out Noel Leeming consultants combined with Nola are great at upselling extended warranties, achieving close to the in-store rates.

Funnelling customers to a live agent to provide expert product advice and assistance when required shows how both can work together. ‘Live handovers’ mean enquiries can be escalated and context provided for the agents so there’s no need to repeat information, always a bugbear for customers.

Brands don’t need something as catastrophic as a national retail lockdown to begin their AI journey. The availability of conversational AI platforms that require no-code means it’s easy for in-house teams to begin small and build their experience and business case.

The best AI-driven customer service is not about replacement or substitution, it’s about augmentation to enable the swift, satisfying resolution of issues at scale. I like to think of this as “digital first, and human when it counts”.


Tim Warren is CEO and a co-founder of Ambit, a conversation platform offered as a service, which provides a realistic and automated chat experience at scale on any channel. Want to hear more about how brands in retail, financial services and telco are using AI to engage their customers at scale? Contact Tim at or visit


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