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Linc Points OpenAI’s ChatGPT at Retail Customer Service – WWD

Where else should a new breed of customer service chatbot debut but at an event called Shoptalk? The Las Vegas conference was the natural pick for Linc, whose automated customer experience platform launched a new integration with the much-hyped artificial intelligence-powered ChatGPT on Monday.

The bot has been grabbing headlines for its impressive and human-like ability to understand, communicate and execute natural language commands, as well as write new works, like text-based stories. It’s been less than a month since OpenAI, ChatGPT’s developer, released software tools allowing it to integrate into other companies’ systems, and third parties have been storming the gates to evaluate their own use cases.

But Linc, which works with companies such as Eddie Bauer, Tilly’s and Oshkosh B’gosh (Carter’s), among others, has been testing OpenAI’s tech since the beginning of the year. The deft bot’s technical wizardry is based on a version of GPT-3, a large language machine learning model that trains the AI by pumping an extraordinary amount of data through a neural network. It learns to ditch stiff lexicons and rigid rules to interact or create in more fluid, human-like ways.

If that’s the data science equivalent of a massive sandstorm blasting off all the rough edges, Linc can see how the results, in their polish and fluidity, working for retail.

The announcement pointed to product inquiries, questions about service policies and brand stories, to name a few areas where “generative AI dramatically improves the conversation quality.” The company even improved on the tech, even after such a short period of time. “Linc platform users are able to leverage generative AI models where it fits, yet still have control over conversations and still be able to automate workflow applications that OpenAI models are not designed for, all within one solution,” it claimed.

“Customer service in the retail industry has been transforming significantly as brands continue to leverage AI,” Fang Cheng, Linc’s founder and chief executive officer, said in a statement. But he also suggests the sector can’t be too complacent in this current environment, especially when it comes to technology.

“It will only accelerate now with the recent advancements in generative conversational AI, but tools like ChatGPT are only one ingredient to successful CX [customer experience] automation, and businesses need to understand what it powers before rushing into an investment,” he said.

Indeed, no technology is perfect, even newer forms of AI. Because they may be impressive in plenty of ways, but still stumble in basic areas that humans are simply better at, as one marketer at customer service and live chat platform Help Scout discovered recently.

When Matthew Patterson tested ChatGPT with customer service requests pulled from the real world, the responses ranged from comical to overly complicated. Those examples conjured issues like why a certain amount was charged, but the bot didn’t understand what was being asked, perhaps due to vague phrasing. So it responded that the amount was correct. A human being could have intuited more and understood that “What’s going on?” is a request to explain the charge.

At least the bot’s style sounded natural and conversational, even if a bit smug in its misplaced confidence. Humans, to be fair, are also rather good at acting helpful when they’re not.

Linc noted that it had to step up and fill gaps that ChatGPT couldn’t address. It didn’t specify if these types of scenarios are one of them, but it’s clear that fully automated customer service would be a disaster, at least today. These systems still need plenty of human handholding. But that future suddenly seems feasible.

In the mean time, Linc apparently saw enough promise in its own limited tests and additional development to open up access. Responding to a WWD inquiry, a spokesperson elaborated that the tool will be available for all existing customers, including Eddie Bauer and the others.

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