A customer realizes her dad’s birthday is next week, and she hasn’t even considered what to get him. Rather than running to a store or even going online, she pulls out her phone to text her favorite e-Commerce store. Here’s the conversation:
“Hey, can you send me a few good gift ideas for my dad under $100?”
“Sure thing,” the retailer responds. “Here are a few options:”
She gets 3 product options, and one is perfect.
“I’d like to order option 2.”
“Ok, confirm your order and your package will arrive in 2-3 days.”
This is an example of conversational commerce. Conversational commerce is the practice of delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support to consumers through targeted messaging and intelligent chatbots.
Conversational commerce is becoming increasingly relevant as it becomes clear that people prefer messaging. According to Pew Research Center, the share of Americans that own smartphones is now 81%, up from just 35% in 2011. 13-24 year olds spend 8x longer in messaging apps than email. Unsurprisingly, 9 out of 10 consumers would like to message a business.
Yet, contact centers are still prioritizing phone and email communication. According to CCW Digital, contact centers invest more in phone and email support than in any other customer service channel.
The Rise of Conversational Commerce
“Consumers are constantly looking for ways to add efficiency in their lives and in 2019, we will continue to see the evolution of conversational commerce as a key tool that will enable this,” says Jennifer Fleiss, Co-Founder and CEO of Jetblack, a text message-based personal shopping service.
A variety of other start-up brands are centered entirely on conversational commerce. Threads sells designer clothes via WhatsApp, Instagram, iMessage, WeChat , and Snapchat. Dirty Lemon’s health-focused juices can only be bought over text. According to Mastercard, $40 billion will be spent in the US through conversational commerce by 2022, accounting for 6 percent of total online spending.
People don’t necessarily have to be on both sides of the conversation in order for messaging to be successful. As chatbots become increasingly emotionally intelligent, more businesses will use them, and more customers will prefer them. According to Gartner, 25% of communications surrounding shopping and financial services will be handled by chatbots by 2020.
Despite what seems like a race to create the most interesting, message-based business model, the focus of conversational commerce should always be its most meaningful differentiator: convenience. “We have to always challenge ourselves to create a conversational commerce experience that is not just tech for tech's sake, but meaningfully helps the consumer,” says Fleiss.
When it comes to entering the messaging apps of consumers, the risk of intrusion is high. It’s crucial that companies don’t overwhelm customers. According to Chuck Elias, CEO of Sciensio, “Marketers will begin to understand (and operationalize) how chatbots' ability to deliver ‘just in time’ information and personalized messaging enhances their relationship with customers.”
In exchange for phone numbers, Dirty Lemon’s promise to customers is: “24/7 customer service, cardless payment after the first order, and no spamming ever.” Successful conversational commerce companies create a more accessible, personalized, and convenient service.
For conversational commerce, convenience also means that customers should never have to navigate away from the messaging platform in order to get their request fulfilled. Everything––ordering, shipment tracking, product reviews, and customer service inquiries––should be taken care of within the conversation. In this sense, the goal isn’t omnichannel messaging, it’s channel-less.
The conversation itself should feel as human as possible. Customers should be able to revisit an old conversation or refer to a previous order without having to repeat information that the system should already have. Additionally, the customer shouldn’t have to conform his or her usual language patterns to fit a system that can only handle a series of close-ended questions. Also, different consumer populations prefer different messaging apps, and text, Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Slack, and the rest should all have their own dedicated experiences.
Even as more industries commit to messaging and its ability to deliver a smoother, more customized customer experience, for many consumers, the growth in conversational commerce isn’t fast enough. With this massive customer experience opportunity ahead, it’s up to brands to adapt and engage with their audience in the most personal way yet. Maybe customers will even start asking, “Can I speak to your bot?”
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