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You’re probably asking yourself : what is “conversational commerce ?” Chris Messina, Developer Experience Lead at Uber, defines conversational commerce as: “...utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (e.g. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”

Today, mobile instant messaging apps (e.g. WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.) have emerged as new undeniably important channels of exchange and sales between you and your community. Four major advantages explain the success of a strategy that mixes text messaging, multimedia, and bots.

ADVANTAGE #1: SIMPLICITY AND FLEXIBILITY OF USE ARE HELPFUL FOR CLIENT ENGAGEMENT

With conversational commerce, your brand can achieve an instantaneous connection with your most important contacts: your fans, clients, and prospective clients.

Concretely, users of messaging apps can simply enter your company’s telephone number or username to instantly start communicating with you and/or begin their purchasing process. This “conscious interaction” on the part of your contacts helps to generate a real interest in your service(s) and/or product(s), while the intentional aspect of the interaction reflects the implicit trust the consumer has put in you.

Though it can sometimes be complicated for a company to communicate directly with clients in real time, conversational commerce seems to solve this dilemma to some extent thanks to the assistance of chat bots. How so? If we focus on the automated aspect of the conversation, bots are useful because they are able to “speak” the consumer’s language. For consumers, there is no need to worry about the kind of formal etiquette that is typically attached to other forms of communication. They can express themselves freely and simply. A request such as “Hey, I want to order a veggie burger” can be replied to in just a few seconds with something like, “Got it! Your veggie burger will arrive in 20 minutes” (in the event that the company already knows the customer’s information).

If we’re really entertaining the idea that bots can promote customer-brand engagement, we shouldn’t forget that such an experience creates real added value—and not just a cool, tech-savvy image. In order to promote engagement with customers, conversational commerce needs to hold the consumer’s interest in terms of immediacy, simplicity, contextualization, and consistency of the experience. If the conversation between the customer and brand doesn’t seem natural, if it is punctuated with frustrating silences, or if it is solely focused on getting the individual to make a purchase, the opposite effect may result: that is, customer disengagement.


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ADVANTAGE #2: AN EVEN MORE REACTIVE AND INTERACTIVE CUSTOMER RELATIONS

This ease of communication has a natural application when it comes to the issues related to managing, either pre- or post-purchase, customer relations.

Access to customer service becomes even easier, free from the constraint of human scheduling, and above all, more interactive. The quality and reactiveness of customer support improves significantly thanks to the possibility of exchanging information in real time with both prospective and actual customers. Moreover, the photo and video functionalities of mobile devices allow you to offer useful precision as far as advising customers and helping them with troubleshooting technical problems.

To make your web presence more popular, focus on the fact that users can communicate with each other for free (offered by all instant messaging services worldwide).

ADVANTAGE #3: AN EVEN MORE PERSONALIZED PURCHASING EXPERIENCE

Various e-commerce services (e.g., reserving a taxi, a flight, at a restaurant, etc.) offered by some messaging platforms remain a fairly simple experience for users. However, tapping into the information provided by users in their account profiles can enable you to personalize your offers to them, not to mention their overall experience with your brand, and thereby improve conversion. 

Already integrated with Google Maps, Uber, and now Facebook Messenger, we can observe this trend quickly rising. Although it still seems very new, the truth is that it has already been employed in Asia for some years, notably with the messaging app WeChat. Thanks to this phenomenon, the consumer can hail a car without needing to download an application or even leaving the ongoing conversation. This creates a powerful proximity for companies who strive to be even closer to their clients.

Another great aspect of this approach is that at each point of contact, the conversation history allows the company to determine with greater precision a user’s preferences, all while reinforcing the closeness and natural dynamic of the exchange. To boost efficiency, collecting such information about consumers should be integrated into your big data, cross-channel marketing strategy 

ADVANTAGE #4: QUICK AND EASY TECHNOLOGICAL DEPLOYMENT

New platforms, such as Conversable or iAdvize, prove that the deployment of a business’ main services are distinguished by their speed and ease of use.

Last year, on April 12th and 13th at the F8 Facebook conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced to the large crowd that was in attendance that he wanted to change up the conversation that was currently at the heart of business. One of the new ideas he revealed concerns the “Bot Store.” Asking questions and interacting with bots would now be possible on Messenger via the “Bots for Messenger” API.

Even if “manual” messages—those managed by humans, that is—remain essential, more complex projects will rely on the deployment of bots. Today, computer programs are able to read messages, as well as send text messages, emails, and chat messages by detecting “magic words,” and automatically replying based on a provided set of recorded responses.

You can take advantage of the plethora of resources made available by major industry applications in order to simplify your project’s development and launch in just a matter of days.

Be sure to make use of all the possibilities that smartphones offer (geolocation, language settings) to both lighten the amount of information users are required to enter as well as offer content that is adapted to the context.


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DON’T DEHUMANIZE CUSTOMER RELATIONS

Conversational commerce seems to be an ideal response to the disappointing conversion rate of mobile commerce. It introduces even greater simplicity for users, reinforces the proximity of brands to their customers, and thereby provides the key to better understanding them. On the other hand, this new bot era doesn’t need to spell the end for us human experts. In spite of the massive deployment of bots, digitizing commerce to respond to modern problems doesn’t necessarily dehumanize all aspects of customer relations. Above all, conversational commerce must be geared toward driving the simplification and enhancement of the user experience, which is a key factor of differentiation. 20% of client questions can be automated, whereas 30% can only be dealt with by human responders. Finally, we have the example of Netflix chat. This is a concrete case of communication between customers and a brand that carefully combines a technological approach with a human touch. This example is particularly noteworthy as Netflix succeeded in solving the customer satisfaction dilemma while adding tremendous value: conversation + simplicity + immediacy + problem solving = an improved customer experience.

We must not forget that bots are still a fairly new feature in the grand scheme of things. It is completely understandable, therefore, that this technology is not yet being used in the most optimal way. Optimization will of course come with time, as we observe improvements in user experience via trial and error. Today, the main risk is evoking a negative sentiment toward your brand, or, even worse, disappointing your customers. It is for this reason that conversational commerce must stem from a carefully planned global strategy, and not just be pushed as a general replacement for standard processes.

E-commerce has disrupted the relationship that customers have traditionally had with brands. The first wave of online users found themselves making purchasing decisions alone in front of a monitor, resulting in normal conversation feeling a bit like a lost luxury. However, now, driven by the success of instant messaging applications, conversational commerce represents the inevitable evolution of online purchasing: an easier and smoother experience than what consumers were provided in the past. Simplicity of use, exceptionally high reactivity, customizing the experience thanks to user info, and ease of technical deployment all spell out the main advantages for your company.

Retailers have taken note of Chinese consumers making mass purchases on WeChat, and are racing to implement instant messaging and its features as a valuable means to generate more sales. Stay tuned in the coming months to see for yourself the explosion of conversational commerce here in the West.

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