Social interaction is becoming a fundamental part of the way people and companies do business with each other. Online commerce has evolved significantly over the last two decades, and the ongoing shift is beginning to extend beyond the browser. Today’s consumer expects immediate results and conversational customer service.
By Marco Lafrentz, Vice President, tyntec
About 70% of consumers order products online, and one in every three retail purchases are made using a smartphone. Customers are using their mobile devices to research products and seek support before and after purchases. This heavy and increasing reliance on mobile provides a wealth of opportunity for brands to change how they engage with customers, and in turn develop more meaningful connections and loyalty with their audiences.
This new era of customer engagement — driven by smartphones, AI and cloud computing — is one in which companies can interact with consumers in more human-like ways and resolve problems with much better efficiency. Conversational commerce is one emerging approach enabling this, providing an automated way for companies to communicate with customers one-on-one. Conversational commerce exchanges take place through text, voice and social chat apps, so that a brand reaches a customer as a known contact, available to transact and support at any time.
Interacting with customers this way is powerful. Currently only 4% of businesses have deployed conversational commerce, but Gartner forecasts adoption will rise to 25% by 2020. The first seeds were planted in the early 2000s, when companies began implementing rudimentary web chat customer support systems. Now that kind of real-time, two-way communication can move to wherever customers are, which is increasingly private messaging channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Consider a restaurant customer’s typical experience. To make a booking, that person would search online, find several establishments of interest and check their prices and menus before choosing. Next, the person would be prompted to fill out a form or make a phone call to complete a booking. After all of this effort, it may turn out that the restaurant is not open during the requested hours, unable to answer the phone or cannot accommodate the reservation.
Conversely, a conversational commerce interface, powered by AI, would replace this process, beginning with existing knowledge of the user’s typical preferences and location. Through a simple person-to-machine dialogue (with an option to switch to a live customer service representative), the system would offer available and relevant choices, provide the user with information and automate the booking process.
With modern conversational commerce systems, customers and brands can interact and transact together across a variety of channels that suit their needs. Domino’s AnyWare is a great example. It allows customers to order pizza via Slack messaging, text and Facebook Messenger, as well as with voice using Google Home and Amazon Alexa assistants. This type of intuitive interface makes buying more convenient for customers and gives them a seamless, personalized experience.
Conversational commerce can also enable on-demand services that help companies cost-effectively maintain or improve customer service quality. Gartner reports that organizations that have implemented this type of tool realize up to 70% reduction in call, chat and/or email inquiries, and additional benefits including increased customer satisfaction and more than 30 percent cost savings.
These interfaces can also incorporate payments into machine-to-consumer dialogs. Specialist service providers are stepping in and working with chatbot platforms to connect users to back-end payment systems. Facebook introduced payment options for Messenger users, Apple offers Apple Pay and Pay by Siri and Alexa supports Amazon Pay. Similarly, in China, TenCent integrated payments into WeChat.
To excel at conversational commerce, companies should know their customer and be prepared to invest time, effort and collaboration across a variety of disciplines inside the company. Sophisticated implementations will also leverage data generated during conversations to reveal more detail about customers and predict their future needs. When used in innovative ways, the big picture potential for this technology extends far beyond the benefits outlined above, and can ultimately enable brands to give their customers a highly personalized experience during every interaction.