We are taking everything from facial recognition to next level programming, voice analytics... there is a lot to it. It looks relatively simple but it is highly complicated
When shoppers enter the flagship store of Noel Leeming in Westfield Newmarket, their attention may be caught by a large screen inviting them to query ‘Nola’, the retail group’s first digital employee.
“Nola is one of the first human-like interface backed by artificial intelligence to be used in the New Zealand retail space,” explains Tim Edwards, Noel Leeming CEO.
The digital human was created to help shoppers navigate the store and answer questions they have.
“We see her being a new way customers can interact in store and have committed to growing her across platforms as we learn what our customers like about her and what they want her to help with,” says Edwards.
“She’s highly conversational and has a database of queries and answers that will be updated as her training progresses.”
“We are happy to be in a test and learn environment,” says Edwards. “Nola will be in training from day one. and will have her first day in-store this week."
Nola is one of the first human-like interface backed by AI to be used in New Zealand retail
He adds: “Noel Leeming is known as leaders in innovation and technology and to be pushing the boundaries of how technology can create amazing customer experiences using Nola is a fantastic step for us.”
Edwards says Noel Leeming is investing in the digital human’s learning and development with plans to deploy the technology across different platforms.
“Much like the human mind, Nola’s knowledge and expertise will develop with information through customer interactions over time. She was designed to represent the best of parts of the Noel Leeming team and their customer service ethos."
He says Nola was one of the projects in Noel Leeming’s innovation incubator.
A cross-functional team was involved in developing the digital human, together with their technology providers Uneeq and Jade.
“Everyone, from our store, developers, to our merchandising, marketing, analytics, operations, e-commerce/digital and information services worked as a collaborative group,” he states.
UneeQ provided the platform to enable chatbots to provide an engaging, visual customer experience, while Jade Software developed Nola’s question and answer capabilities and voice to text recognition software.
“Great AI should be designed to enhance what humans do,” says UneeQ CEO Danny Tomsett.
“Noel Leeming understands this, and they’re leveraging technology as a tool to support and empower their in-store staff to achieve more for their customers.”
“Nola has been designed to converse in a natural manner and with the ability to call on her Noel Leeming team members for support should the customer desire it,” adds Jade CEO Charlotte Walshe.
“You need to understand the complexity behind Nola,” states Edwards.
“We are taking everything from facial recognition to next level programming, you have got voice analytics, there is a lot to it.”
“It looks relatively simple but it is highly complicated,” he says, on the work that goes behind the creation of a digital human.
Edwards says the customers will determine how far they will roll out the digital employee.
“Basically what we are determined to do is be innovative as an organisation and try new things,” he states. “Nola is an example of that.”
“We will see what the interaction in Newmarket is like, what our customers tell us,” he says.
“With Nola, we are capturing customer interaction and their most asked questions. From there, we will determine where customers see value and that is where we will do the future enhancements.”
As to what’s next for Nola, he says, “I anticipate her to be in a much more digital environment than a physical environment.”
One of this is having Nola available via the Noel Leeming app.
“The combination of Nola and the functionality that we designed for her and the app will be a perfect pairing,” he says.
“A lot of the intelligence that is built into Nola is actually the backend of our app.”
He says Noel Leeming’s business-to-business division can also use Nola as a case study for SMB customers who would like to deploy digital humans, or use analytics to enhance the business.
“Our relationship with our business customers is not just about selling products,” explains Edwards. “We are there to help solve problems for them.”
His advice to companies contemplating on similar programmes? “Really think about the future, and not just base it from where you are today. Fast forward five to 10 years and work backwards, rather than the other way around.”
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