May 19, 2005, 12:00 AM

Natural language search a natural for customer service, expert says

Natural language site search technology, which lets online shoppers find things by typing in questions that may or may not include product keywords, is a tool that more retailers should consider for improving customer service, analyst Susan Aldrich says.

 

Natural language site search technology, which lets online shoppers find things by typing in questions that may or may not include product keywords, is a tool that more retailers should consider for improving customer service, says Susan Aldrich, a site search analyst and senior vice president at consultants Patricia Seybold Group.

“Customers may be mostly interested in using site search to find things in a retailer’s product catalog, but some also use it for customer service questions,” Aldrich says. “But it’s much harder to optimize a customer service search, because the customer could be asking for anything. So natural language search is more important in customer service, because it improves the retailer’s capability for extracting product attributes from textual descriptions.”

Natural language processing should also be used for complex products, such as those that can fit into multiple categories, Aldrich says. “If you’re selling hinges, natural language search makes it easier to show results that say ‘these are for inside your house, these are for outdoors, and these are for your car,” she says.

Natural language processing is included in many of the latest versions of major site search engines, but Aldrich notes that retailers still need to consistently monitor how search engines are performing in terms of converting shoppers to buyers and occasionally update their indexes, especially amid a changing customer base and changing products. “Retailers continue to add new products, and new customers use different words,” she says.

 

 

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