M&S to replace call centre staff with an AI chatbot

Retailer will reassign 100 employees to in-store roles as it continues digital transformation

M&S sign

Marks and Spencer (M&S) is replacing its call centre staff with artificial intelligence software designed to quickly deal with customer complaints.

The retail giant said that 100 employees who work across its 13 UK call centres will not be losing their jobs and instead will be reassigned to in-store roles, ironically to offer face to face services on the shop floor.

"We know that M&S needs to modernise," said Chris McGrath, IT programme manager at M&S. "We have a lot of backstage resources sitting in switchboards that manually handle these calls. We're getting them away from that backstage onto the shop floor, talking to the customers, as they should be."

The chatbots are powered by cloud communication service Twilio and are set to be in place by the end of September. The technology will also be deployed in 640 M&S stores as well, although it's currently unclear in what capacity it will be used.

Previously, the human operators would transfer callers to the right departments, but Twilio claims the new technology correctly identifies 90% of queries and can direct a call within seconds.

However, there is not much detail about the new roles the reassigned staff will take on  IT Pro has contacted M&S for clarification on this.

Recently the retail giant partnered with business tech educators, Decoded, to create a data academy for staff to learn data skills. M&S said they wanted to encourage employees to enrol on the 18-month data science skills programme, where they could learn to harness cutting-edge data analytics tools such as "R" and "Python" and adopt technologies such as machine learning.

In June, the high street giant announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft focused on integrating AI technology into the M&S customer experience.

"We firmly believe that AI has the power to amplify human ingenuity," said Cindy Rose, chief executive of Microsoft UK, speaking at the time of the announcement.

"The retail sector is one of the most challenging landscapes in the UK right now and we are thrilled to be working with M&S to explore how AI can help such an iconic brand transform the customer experience and improve wider operations."

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