‘Alexa — Turn That Return Into A Saved Sale’

No one likes the friction-filled process of returning unwanted goods. Say hello, literally, to Alexa, and a streamlined process of getting what consumers want through a turbocharged customer care experience, via Linc. CEO Fang Cheng tells Karen Webster that giving voice to returns can save sales.

In retail, the sale is not over when the register (virtual or otherwise) rings.

The ultimate relationship? A long-lived one, omnichannel in scope, where the merchant anticipates the needs of the buyer, learns the preferences of the individual and helps the loyal shopper move through the motions of constant re-selection, tracking and even repeating of orders.

Good customer experiences beget new sales, which beget good customer experiences.

And even when things go awry – to paraphrase an old song, you can’t or don’t always get what you want in eCommerce – there’s always the chance of cementing the relationship between merchant and shopper.

The glue that holds the two parties in place can come in the form of a relatively painless returns process.

Underpinning it all might be voice, breaking down silos in the continuum of commerce.

In its submission for the PYMNTS 2018 Voice Challenge, Linc Global has debuted its Alexa skill aimed at improving the customer care experience.

The skill – which lets customers check on their orders via spoken interaction – ties into the Linc Customer Care Automation platform. The platform powers Messenger chatbot, text, email and web portals.

In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Linc CEO Fang Cheng said that the skill lives at the intersection of AI and customer care, enabling brands and retailers “to have a much more intimate way of serving their shoppers across any channels those shoppers prefer.” The platform also works with retailers who are not plying their wares over Amazon, through both Alexa and Google Assistant.

The CEO noted that last year, the company’s platform served 22 million unique shoppers across 85 customer-centric brands, from high-volume players such as Carter’s and OshKosh to Procter & Gamble.

The company’s platform has an opt-in via order confirmation page and email, which can spur consumers to observe and use the skill.

In an example of the customer care continuum, Cheng said that a consumer can ask Alexa “where is my order?” and the assistant will respond with tracking information and a projected delivery date. It’s an example of quick answer and quick response.

One notable absence, and perhaps a refreshing one: There’s no need to know the order number or the specifics of a product, and thus no need for a paper chase. Linc’s platform, the company has said, does all that housekeeping, so to speak, in the background. As Cheng stated, the platform and the merchant are integrated to the point where brands can come to market with their Alexa skill in a matter of weeks.

“The beauty [of the skill] is that the assistant already has access to all the past purchases that have been made with the brand,” Cheng noted. Linc’s platform knows what orders are eligible for return, and there is no need for obsessive paperwork, she told Webster.

“What makes the assistant smart is that the assistant needs to have a fairly deep level of data,” she said. Linc does not store anything related to that data or the emails that customarily alert consumers to their commerce activity.

As for the returns themselves: Alexa works with the consumer to differentiate, for example, between two different sizes of flip flops or color schemes, listens to the choice the customer wants to return and sends a shipping label to the buyer’s email to help speed up the process.

Cheng told Webster the expansion of the customer care model is one where Linc surveys why consumers want to return items across different channels, and can recommend replacement items for consideration. The upshot is that Linc has helped merchants convert 14 percent of returns into exchanges, thus saving the sale.

In another use case, this time through reordering, Cheng told Webster that Linc’s integration with P&G enables them to restock as many as 55 items within a household, with suggestions in place as, say, paper towels or detergent run low.

Said the executive of voice-powered commerce: “It’s a very organic experience to be in. Across the conversational channels, we’re seeing a lot of consumer interest as people are putting these devices in their homes every single day.”