From idea to reality – agilely experimenting with innovations

The experiments carried out in Alko’s Innovation Lab either succeed or fail – and both results are desired. Here are three examples of how ideas have been refined into experiments at Alko.

“I’ve got this great idea.”

Companies live on good ideas that carry their business forward and develop products or services. However, this familiar phrase often causes a few grey hairs as well: how will we ever find the time to implement all these good ideas?

The Alko Innovation Lab helps us to experiment with new ideas. Since its establishment in 2017, we have been using the lab to conduct a variety of experiments and innovation sprints that examine ideas with a user-oriented approach. The goal is to turn ideas into concepts, and concepts into lightweight prototypes that are tested by customers and personnel. After the pilot, the idea can be further developed as necessary and a decision can be made on whether to put it into practice.

The Innovation Lab invested in the following areas during 2019:

  • A recommendation bot to aid customer service
  • New stages in the induction process for sales staff
  • The significance of product transparency and traceability for customers
  • Video inventories – can AI take an inventory of a store’s stock?
  • Digital price displays – new opportunities for helping customers choose

Our ideas for 2020 will revolve around new services for customers and ways to facilitate store work.

1. A recommendation bot to aid customer service

Experiment: Streamlining customer service and the agile development of our customer experience were two major development themes in Alko’s multichannel customer service in 2019.

Implementation: We tested a recommendation bot that provides customer service advisors with alternative answers to questions that are frequently asked in our chat channel. The recommendation bot is an aid for service advisors and does not therefore reply directly to customers. The recommendation bot learns through experience, and the service advisors actively train the bot to improve the accuracy of its alternative answers.

Results: The results and indicators showed an improvement in both the quality and efficiency of customer service during the pilot, including an enhanced customer experience.  The recommendation bot helped to shorten the average length of chat conversations, thereby enabling advisors to handle more chats. Service advisors were left with more time for valuable customer contacts requiring expertise. Encouraged by these favourable results, we decided to continue using the bot to support customer service and further develop our use of AI.

2. Digital price displays piloted at the Lauttasaari store in Helsinki

Alko first tried digital price displays back in the early 2000s. This trial was short lived, as the technology was not yet sufficiently reliable. For example, the displays were not able to show colours or symbols.

Experiment: The pilot seeks to determine what effects digital price displays have on our customer experience and sales personnel’s work. Digital price displays would make sales personnel’s work much easier, while also reducing paper consumption.

Implementation: Displays have been installed on red wine shelves for a limited number of products. The store’s other shelves are continuing to use standard paper price tags. Alko is collecting feedback on the pilot from both customers and sales staff.

Results: A feedback tablet will be available in the store during the pilot.  Customers will be able to use this tablet to share their opinions and experiences of the price displays. Customers have actively responded to the store’s customer feedback survey during the first months.

Customers were asked: what do you think of the digital price displays?

3. Alko’s Customer Wishes help us to better meet local demand

Experiment: Alko’s good customer experience consists of considerate and friendly service combined with a selection that meets our customers’ needs. Customers’ wishes and feedback have always been an integral part of Alko’s product selection and its development. This pilot is investigating how to make it even easier for customers to let us know their wishes.

Implementation: On the Alkotoive.fi webpage (in Finnish), customers can wish for any products from Alko’s entire selection to be stocked at a particular store. The pilot was launched at the Niittykumpu and Kauklahti stores in Espoo on 14 February 2020, and at the Vaajakoski and Muurame stores in Jyväskylä on 21 February 2020. It will run for two to three months. Fulfilled wishes will be labelled as “Customer wish” in Alko pilot stores.

Results: After the pilot, we will decide whether to expand the service on the basis of feedback from customers and sales staff.

The Innovation Lab is an example of how we can test ideas on a quick timetable, put them into practice, and develop our operations agilely and effectively. So, don’t wonder if you encounter digital price displays and “Customer wish” labels on a future visit to Alko. They were great ideas that became reality.