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AI solutions: Enabling a seamless search experience

By: Jon Buss – Managing Director & EVP, EMEA, Yext

When Covid-19 first began to engulf Europe, we saw an incredible spike in online searches. Customers needed answers more than ever before. While many rushed to the supermarkets to stockpile, others took to the internet. Across the UK, google searches for “food delivery” and “local food” were at an all-time high and retailers were put under huge pressure having to deal with a fast evolving digital relationship with their customers.

Fast forward to today, and we can see that while times have certainly changed, consumer demand for answers hasn’t. As a result of the pandemic, online retail, for example, took an upwards trajectory with the proportion of sales through eCommerce growing month-on-month this year.

Yet despite this surge in digital activity over the last 18 months, businesses still have a fundamental problem when it comes to providing consumers with what they need when searching online – accurate and timely information.

AI-powered insights 

For businesses looking to improve the way they answer customer questions, technology has become a key element in plugging this gap. With the rise of natural language processing, consumers are able to ask questions and search for information as if they were talking face-to-face to a real person. From search engines, to chatbots, we’re all actively interacting with technology in a particular way: by asking questions.

But asking questions is the easy part – as businesses during the pandemic found – answering them can be a lot harder. Research shows that over a third of Google search queries are more than four words long, which means that the questions asked are more complex than they were before. This can be a pain point for many brands, leading to inaccurate information and frustrated customers.

To combat this, businesses can leverage AI solutions that improve the overall search experience for their visitors. One example is the use of knowledge graphs: these are the single source of truth for the many public facts about any brand. Whether it’s information about a product, promotions, job openings, or professional credentials, with a knowledge graph, brands are able to provide people with actionable answers to the questions they’re already asking. Ultimately, it means consumer-facing pieces of information can be managed on a single platform while filtering down to other parts of the marketing stack. With a knowledge graph, AI can untangle the necessary information to deliver an exact answer to an exact question.

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Central England Co-operative 

One brand that has used this increase in traffic as an opportunity and reimagined their website is Central England Co-operative. As consumers turned to digital and the demand for online experiences skyrocketed, Central England Co-operative saw a pivotal opportunity to optimise its operations and improve its overall customer experience. The business had previously never invested in eCommerce, nor placed a significant priority on its online experience.

Mike Ankers, Digital Support and Data Management Lead at Central England Co-operative – “Our website isn’t transactional and never has been, but with the way technology is moving, and the way the market is moving, this is an area that is necessary for us to look into. But before we can do this, we need to first make sure that our website is optimised for non-transactional services. Customers ultimately want answers, whether that’s opening times, store locations, updates on responses to covid, or more recently, the supply chain issues.”

With the impact that COVID-19 had on grocery and convenience stores, many businesses had been looking for a solution that would allow them to answer the huge number of new questions they were receiving each day. To combat this, Central England Co-operative invested in the search engine experience cloud, provided by Yext, to level up its customer journey and manage information online.

By leveraging AI Search the brand uncovered that product questions accounted for around 75% of all queries made through the search bar and were able to take a previously unknown view of what their customers were asking most often. This has enabled the teams to arm themselves with the data they need to drive conversations with content creation and product updates.

Ankers explained, “Yext Answers has given us an amazing window into what our members and customers need from us, and that wasn’t something we would ever be able to do through Google Analytics or other traditional methods. These tools enable a hugely powerful, intelligent, and adaptable platform that has given our website and online presence a massive boost.”

Looking forward 

Many of the shifts in digital consumer behaviour that changed as a result of the pandemic are here to stay. To keep up in this rapidly evolving space, businesses need to prioritise their customer experience. Businesses both big and small should look to leverage the power of AI search technology to keep customers informed and deliver a great experience.

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