Decathlon’s 5 year automation strategy took 6 months thanks to AI

Decathlon’s 5 year automation strategy took 6 months thanks to AI 1120 840 Ben McCulloch

Despite the pains and sadness of the pandemic, there have been some curious and exciting developments. The sudden jolt to normal life caused many brands to rapidly change, with many adopting AI faster than they had intended.

That’s exactly what Decathlon has done. As one of the biggest sports retailers in the world, it has to provide excellent customer service at scale. The pandemic forced it to automate customer service at an athletic pace.

Charles Guth, Decathlon’s Customer Services Manager, told Kane Simms all about how Decathlon is using conversational AI in his VUX World interview.

A rapid change of direction

Decathlon had intended to automate customer service within 5 years, but when the pandemic hit, that changed to 6 months.

While their physical stores closed, their online sales went-up. This has been a universal trend, and it created a hole in customer service – how to provide support to those customers?

Decathlon always provided excellent in-store support. It has staff who are knowledgeable about its products, but upon closing, these conversations were cut.

The start-line: closing the call centre

The first thing Decathlon did in early 2020 was to close its phone lines, which is counter-intuitive and a big no-no for many brands that rely on their call centres. A big move indeed.

At the same time, it invested heavily in automation.

When Charles and his team researched their use cases, they found that 80% of the time, their customer service reps were busy answering simple repetitive FAQ’s, such as “where’s my order?”, “how can I return my order?”, “when’s the store open?”

So, they started by automating these questions using Messenger.

Most people who work in customer service will agree that these questions typically take up most of their time, but they don’t add much in value. Automating them is the best place to start.

Conversational lanes

As of now, customers can talk to Decathlon on three channels. Roughly 10% use Google Business messaging, 45% use Facebook messenger and 45% use WhatsApp.

Customers can ask questions via email too, but Decathlon subtly nudges customers to use an automated channel. They make it clear on their website that chat will get a response within an hour whereas email takes a day.

This is smart – the benefits for both customer and brand are obvious when the conversation is a rapid back and forth. That’s why we have chat channels – they allow us to quickly get to the point. Think about it, emails are just chats where each respondent takes their turn to add to the conversation, except the whole thing unfolds at snail’s pace.

Do it like Decathlon

So what advice would Charles share with teams who are also investing in conversational AI?

Firstly, don’t be shy! Though implementing conversational AI seems like a daunting task at first, there are huge rewards available to those who try.

Secondly, explore your potential partners carefully. Ensure you’re aligned in vision and in the timeframe you want to achieve it.

Thirdly, you can only guess at what customers will want to know. Decathlon invited customers to their office to get feedback on the chatbot and “they told us things that for them were super obvious, that we would have never thought about” said Charles. It’s a recurring theme in conversation design – you can only make assumptions about what people want to know, whereas testing with real customers provides the proof.

Once the chatbot was live, they continually checked the conversations it had with customers to look for improvements.

They’re now looking to expand their automated customer service solution so that it can advise customers before making a purchase.

Phone lines down… Still

Here comes the ultimate proof that Decathlon’s automation strategy has been a success.

Remember how it shut down its phone lines at the start of the pandemic? Well, they’re still closed! Yep, that’s right. You can’t call Decathlon today.

The notion of closing your call centre would send shivers down many customer service folk’s spine. However, Decathlon is proving that, with the right use cases applied to the right channel, underpinned by the right technology, applied in the right way, you can do drastically counter-intuitive things and achieve drastically improved results.

Because, guess what? Even though it’s removed a core channel, overall customer satisfaction has gone up!

Bravo to Charles Guth and his team at Decathlon for this amazing success!

Watch the full interview here.

This article was written by Benjamin McCulloch. Ben is a freelance conversation designer and an expert in audio production. He has a decade of experience crafting natural sounding dialogue: recording, editing and directing voice talent in the studio. Some of his work includes dialogue editing for Philips’ ‘Breathless Choir’ series of commercials, a Cannes Pharma Grand-Prix winner; leading teams in localizing voices for Fortune 100 clients like Microsoft, as well as sound design and music composition for video games and film.

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