Best Buy is giving its customer assistance an AI boost – but with a human touch

Best Buy is taking the plunge and incorporating AI-powered shopping tools for its customers, announcing today on its website that it’s partnered with Google Cloud and the consulting firm Accenture to bring users AI-powered customer assistance. The retailer claims that this move will enable it to give customers “even more personalized, best-in-class tech support experiences.”

Customers can expect a self-service support option when they visit and shop on BestBuy.com, when using Best Buy’s app, or when they call Best Buy’s customer support line (presumably through a conventional automated selection system). When customers make use of one of these, they’ll be able to interact with Best Buy’s new AI-powered virtual assistant, which it expects to debut in late summer 2024. 

These new customer support tools are part of Best Buy’s efforts to offer customers the most tech-forward ways of getting the assistance they need, expanding that it’s making use of Google Cloud’s AI capabilities, including Vertex AI (a Google Cloud machine learning platform), and Google’s new Gemini generative AI models

Inside of a Best Buy, an every day scene at the customer service section with people milling around

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Icatnews)

What the generative AI will help Best Buy do

The retailer explains that the virtual assistant will enable customers to troubleshoot product issues easily, manage their order deliveries and scheduling (including the ability to make changes), manage subscriptions they have from Best Buy such as software and Geek Squad, and navigate their My Best Buy memberships (Best Buy’s customer loyalty program). 

Many people, myself included, find it very frustrating when trying to interact with automated customer service tools, and thankfully it looks like Best Buy is at least somewhat aware of this. It writes: “We also know that sometimes customers prefer speaking with an actual person to get the support they need.”

It follows this up by explaining that Best Buy customer care agents will be equipped with a suite of tools aided by generative AI to assist agents when they’re dealing with customers over the phone. Best Buy details that these tools are designed to help agents assess real-time conversations with customers, and suggest recommendations that might be useful in the moment. The tools will also summarize conversations, collecting and using information gathered during the call to hopefully reduce the chances of individual customer service issues being repeated, as well as detecting the sentiment expressed by the customer.

A close up on a woman working at a computer, wearing a headset and smiling

(Image credit: Shutterstock/OPOLJA)

The wider implications of this change

There are legions of AI-powered assistance tools being developed for employees everywhere at this point, with Best Buy also discussing an assistant that makes it easier for employees to find product guides and company resources. The retailer states that its aim in developing tools like these is to be able to help customers more efficiently.

We’ve seen implementations of similar practices by other, smaller retailers, but Best Buy is one of the first companies of this scale to adopt an AI-first approach. While many companies already use automated customer service tools in some form, Best Buy is joining a limited cohort that make such explicit use of AI-assisted customer service technologies. 

I’ve had positive and negative experiences when dealing with automated customer service, and when you’re particularly stressed out, I don’t see the addition of machine learning as much of a consolation. I am glad that employees will also see a boost behind the scenes with additional tools to help them help customers, and I’m glad that it sounds like customers will still be able to speak to an actual person – I just hope it’s not too difficult to get through to a human and it’ll be open to feedback about its new strategy. 

My gut reaction is that this is a bold move that could be met unenthusiastically by customers, but I appreciate that Best Buy is being forthright about it. If it works, we could see it spread to more retailers big and small, and generative-AI-aided assistance might be well on its way to becoming the industry norm. If not, hopefully, retailers will be wise enough to listen to customer sentiment and understand that there are still some jobs that you simply need a human for.

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