the ConversAItion: Season 3 Episode 15

1-800-Flowers.com Leverages AI as Business Blooms

With most in-person celebrations off the table, people nationwide are leaning on contactless gift-giving to stay connected to families and friends from afar. May Ng, Senior Director of Customer Experience Technology at 1-800-Flowers.com, joins Jim to discuss the spiking demand for gift delivery, and how AI has helped manage the surge.

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“By integrating AI to help customers solve simple queries, we're freeing up our agents to focus on interactions that really require a human touch, like picking the perfect gift.”
May Ng headshot

About May Ng

May Ng is Senior Director of Customer Experience Technology at 1-800-Flowers.com, where she leads product development initiatives focused on VOC and self-service automation. With experience leading digital strategy client-side and agency-side, May has also held leadership roles at the National Basketball Association and Starwood Hotels. She earned her BA from New York University and can be found on LinkedIn here.

Short on time? Here are 5 quick takeaways:

  1. As birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and more celebrations take place at home, business is booming for gift delivery services like 1-800-Flowers.com.

    May says that this year, people are looking for ways to connect with one another more than ever. When families, friends and communities can’t physically be together to connect and celebrate, they’re eager for new ways to show the important people in their lives that they’re thinking of them. 

    The 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. family of brands includes delivery options for flowers, prepared meals, fruit or, host Jim Freeze’s preference, cookies, to help anyone celebrate from afar. May’s team continues to see rising demand for gift-giving nationwide as travel and gathering restrictions stretch on. 

  2. 1-800-Flowers.com is known for its phone number; AI makes it possible to call any time of any day.

    As Senior Director of Customer Experience Technology, May is responsible for leveraging technology and automation to better meet customer needs. In her role, she is responsible for online chat, developing self-service functionality and the company’s voice automation platform. As a brand that’s known by its phone number, it was critical that the company integrated AI and automation into its phone system to provide intuitive, always-on service options. For this, the company turned to an Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA), provided by Interactions.

    With the IVA, customers can call 1-800-Flowers.com at any hour of the day to change the delivery date of their order, request a receipt or cancel an order without having to wait for an agent. The platform can also respond to a number of frequently asked questions, allowing customers to handle most inquiries on their schedule, and without having to speak with an agent. 

  3. AI allows customers to communicate in their own words, on their own terms.

    May shares that when it comes to implementing AI, customer convenience has always been a top priority—a value evident throughout the platform. Whenever a customer calls, for example, the order status associated with that phone number is automatically pulled up so that customers don’t need to wait for an update. In fact, May says most order status calls last less than 60 seconds. This phone number recognition also immediately pulls up that caller’s order history, allowing the company to create more personalized experiences to their returning customers.

    The IVA’s natural language processing (NLP) also plays a critical role in enhancing customer convenience. Customers can call from anywhere—a windy parking lot, a noisy household—and the platform expertly interprets what they’re saying, regardless of the speaker’s volume or background noise. This same technology is also capable of understanding complex alphanumeric phrases like email addresses that often stump automated solutions—allowing customers to speak entirely naturally rather than engaging in awkward, robotic speech.

  4. Evolving restrictions required order modifications; AI helped 1-800 stay agile and manage the influx.

    Over the last six months, guidelines and restrictions have evolved seemingly by the minute. As in-person celebrations were canceled, city-dwellers migrated toward the suburbs and college students were sent home, gifts suddenly found themselves on the way to the wrong addresses. These rapid changes required 1-800-Flowers.com to be agile and accommodating—an effort helped along by AI-powered self-service options.

    For example, May shares a story of a mother who sent a care package to her daughter who was away at college. When students were suddenly sent home, she needed to quickly modify the order so it didn’t land at an empty dorm room. AI and automation helped manage many of these modification requests, offloading many calls from agents and allowing them to focus on more complex tasks and challenges.

  5. AI frees humans to be more human.

    When customer service agents are overwhelmed with call volume, there’s not always time for the meaningful 1:1 connection that can be so important for customer retention. Leveraging AI to manage common, straightforward queries—like order status, receipt requests and delivery date—frees human agents to focus on interpersonal connection, like helping a customer pick the perfect gift for a friend or family member. 

Check out more episodes of The ConversAItion.