The future is always veiled inside the thick fog of possibilities. And to be honest, nobody – except Lady Fate itself, perhaps – knows what will happen at the very end. Will AI tech become hostile and take over our world? Will humanity self-destruct in an ultimate performance of stupidity? Can global leaders guide us toward a Utopian future of peace, understanding, and enlightenment? Don’t laugh; it's still a possibility – the truth is: no one knows for sure.
And still… sometimes… the fog of fate is pierced by the light of certainty. Some things, although you can't say they will be 100% sure, seem to be without question the most likely outcome.
This is the case of AI-driven self-service portals. All trends, all techs, all software development, and market evolutions are pushing global commerce in the same direction: we want a global, 24/7 AI-driven self-service planet.
We want e-commerce platforms capable of taking care of requests and demands from clients all over the globe at any time, any day, in any language, and to do so at their request, their speed, and their own unique tastes and preferences.
That’s why AI-driven self-service portals are not only a trend but also a must. This is a vital improvement for your e-commerce that will indeed become a golden standard in the near future. That’s why today, we want to go down into the core ideas and concepts behind this technology and give you basic knowledge of something that will surely be key for your B2B brand's future.
What is an AI-driven self-service portal?
Self-service portals are something that has been around for a while. The concept is simple: to provide a self-service e-commerce experience for brands that want to be available 24/7. The idea is to create an e-commerce storefront that allows any potential customer to access all the information, data, products – and variations – needed for a satisfactory – and informed – purchase. But also, to provide a backend that will be – a much as possible – autonomous.
This is instrumental. Otherwise, the self-service part might crash and burn. Your e-commerce platform needs to have the speed to do things in a flash, to accommodate multiple unique requests from all kinds of clients.
In fact, it is so vital that your e-commerce platform will be able to handle things without the need for a human agent that a recent Harvard Business Review survey says that 81% of customers try to solve problems independently before calling a live agent.
This is part of the generational shift we have mentioned before. Millennials are getting increasingly into decision-making positions, and they are used to handling shopping in a very different – and peculiar, one might add – way.
Digital natives want to feel the thrill of discovering a product by themselves. They don't want to be told, explained, or guided by another human. They feel they don’t need that, and what’s more important is that if you add another human being to the equation, it will be a slower process. Time is of the essence, and time handling – the ability to choose what to do and when to do it – is vital for the new Millennial CEO generation.
Why is AI fundamental for a successful self-service portal implementation?
Now, at the beginning of this article, we mentioned a very specific iteration of self-service portals: the AI-driven ones. Why?
Well, the whole idea of having a self-service portal becomes widely ineffective if you can't handle the backend autonomously. AI-driven technologies are a must for an e-commerce platform that wants to be operational 24/7, 365 days a year, every year.
Otherwise, costs, both in material and human resources, will spiral out of control, making the whole concept inviable. Not only that, but a human team will be significantly slower than AI-driven predictive commerce.
Why? Predictive AI-driven platforms can forecast potential peaks in sales, help customers find out products through trending product discovery technologies, provide support in advance by identifying previous blockages during the customer journey, and allow your team to create specific content to help ease these complex steps and guarantee the sale, and even help with inventory and fulfillment.
And this part is a challenging feat. In fact, according to a recent survey by Statista, 41% of global online shoppers expect their orders within 24 hours, according to a recent survey. And 6 out of 10 customers expect delivery within three days.
Obviously, this is not exactly translated to B2B business due to the fact that B2B buying is a more planned and reflexive process than standard B2C. Nevertheless, all kinds of shopping are indeed experiencing accelerated delivery rates: people are getting used to getting their products as fast as possible, no matter if they are a single mother buying clothes for her son or a B2B general vice president who is buying for the first time via online by herself, directly to their lifelong supplier.
Self-service is not playing ‘solo self-found’
There is a terminology widely used among the Millennial gaming generation: playing ‘solo self-found’. This is derived from the ARPG genre of games and means that your character will have to play the game with whatever items, weapons, and armor it can get by itself: no trading and no other players to buy things from, no help, no support.
This is not what a self-service portal should be. Self-service is not ‘solo self-found’ is not dropping the potential client into your e-commerce and hoping for the best, leaving him/her alone to find his ‘way out of the dungeon’.
When you create a self-service portal, you need to understand that support is a key component. Your portal should have the right granularity between allowing the user to experience the store by itself – unimpeded and unmolested – but also be always ‘close by’ to provide chat support, information, email support, or even video support if the potential customers need it.
Now, achieving this using a traditional human support team could be a daunting challenge. Especially because the idea behind this kind of self-service option is to – precisely due to its self-service nature – be constantly optimizing the site following the data gathered from how the users interact with the e-commerce platform.
This means you don’t force the customer journey into one direction or another, but rather – the ideal concept – will be to evolve your self-service portal to match the behavior of your potential customers so it will feel as natural as possible for them to use it.
This means there are no potential chokepoints you can use to create your ‘support areas.’ Here, enters the AI once again. AI-driven support options can – on the fly – provide support to customers 24/7, 365 days each year, on the spot, to customers from all over the world, faster than any human team could possibly dream of.
Is AI-driven self-service a trend or an evolution?
This is perhaps one of the most important things that you should always ask when deciding to implement a new technology: is this a fleeting trend, or could it be an evolution?
Now, before we answer our case – the AI-driven self-service technology for e-commerce – we need to highlight something: all evolutions start as trends. So, generally speaking, betting on innovation pays off. Most of the time, at least.
In our case, the AI-driven self-service portals are a sure bet. Why? Self-service is already widespread and successful enough to be sure that it is not a trend but a natural evolution of e-commerce.
And as we explained before, successful self-service at a global scale is only possible when handled by an AI-driven e-commerce solution.
Fundamental components of any whishing to be a competitive self-service portal like product discovery, predictive inventory – via an order management system (OMS), dynamic pricing, or even predictive purchases, by allowing your AI-driven portal to create sales and offers based on your customer's regular behavior, are part of this evolution of global e-commerce.
In fact, for B2B, the use of AI-driven self-service portals could perhaps be implemented at a global scale even faster than in some B2C sectors.
B2B businesses that have recurrent purchases during seasonal events can benefit a lot from AI-driven offers and sales. Another example will be the B2B industry involved in spare parts and maintenance, which can tap into AI-driven predictive power to schedule maintenance before breakdowns based on a potential live stream of data from their customers.
In that way, if your B2B brand sales – let's say industrial cranes – you can use an AI-driven self-service portal connected to your customer's website and machinery to monitor its equipment and – following accurate prediction based on its use and wear – pre-order on behalf of your client the maintenance service required or the spare part that will be needed.
All in all, there is no doubt that AI-driven self-service portals will play a significant role in the near future of global e-commerce, especially in B2B. That’s why, to keep up with our future AI co-workers, we want to give you a prediction, a sure bet prediction: help your brand be future-proof and start building your AI-driven self-service portal.
And how? You can start by discovering here our B2B e-commerce trends for 2024 which will help you with the first three steps you need to achieve a self-service portal!