Bye-bye Web page and app; hello conversational commerce
A private, personal conversation with a retailer? Virtually? "Absolutely possible!" exclaims Pommie Lutchman, CEO at South African customer experience solutions provider, Ocular Technologies. "This is why the future of conversational commerce is so bright, why the trend is a reality and why it's creating a fundamental shift in how we communicate with business."
First off, the definition: conversational commerce, according to chatbotsmagazine.com, is an automated technology, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that enables online shoppers and brands to interact with one another via chat and voice interfaces.
Quoted on the same platform in: "The complete guide to conversational commerce", by Matt Schlicht, CEO of Octane AI, is Josh Elman.
Elman, the VP Product at Robinhood and Venture Partner at Greylock, states: "It seems pretty obvious now that the first inclination of most people when they want to talk to a friend or a family member is to text them. It's crazy this hasn't come to businesses yet. The first businesses that are able to fully embrace this and be as responsive and communicative as a friend will be able to drive significant new relationships with their customers and ultimately increased business. This isn't a matter of if, just when. The technology is coming along fast."
"In a nutshell," continues Lutchman, "conversational commerce is not about a hard sell, or limited offer, or the latest great deal. It's about a conversation between a customer and a brand, virtually, but in real-time, to assist with the most relevant answer that meets the customer's needs. It's kind of like bringing the face-to-face familiarity of the shop assistant onto a digital platform, such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp. It's also about integrating digital channels so that once a solution to your customer's needs has been met, it can be brought to fruition."
Here's a simple example:
Scenario: Liam is searching for a particular backpack brand in an online store where he is registered.
Brand immediately sends customer WhatsApp message: "We love your style Liam, great bag! How can we help you?"
Customer: "Does it come in blue?"
Brand: "Absolutely, and we have in stock. Would you like to purchase it now?"
Customer: "Could you deliver it today though?"
Brand: "Of course Liam, we have an express courier service. Shall I process your order?"
Customer: "Yes please."
Brand: "It's in the bag! Here's the link to complete your purchase. Enjoy your blue backpack Liam and I hope to see you again."
It turns everything we know about Web retail shopping on its head. Igor Mikhalev, dataconomy.com author, says: "Conversational commerce is a paradigm shift in marketing. It nimbly moves us from selling to helping, from transacting to building a relationship, and from an often-annoying monologue to constructive dialogue.
"Humans prefer expressing what they feel and desire in their natural language, so conversational commerce technology allows brands to converse with customers in their platform of choice, and therefore takes channel expressiveness, relevancy and personalisation to the next level."
Excitingly, as AI improves, so does conversational commerce. According to Schlicht, AI can be used to improve conversational commerce in two categories:
1. Understanding exactly (or at least very closely) what a customer is saying or asking, and passing this data in the correct format to the bot so it can respond accurately. (Example: The person says: "Do you have dresses in my size that are good for summer?" The bot can then use AI to detect that the person is looking for a "dress", it can translate "in my size" to the size the store has on file for the customer speaking, and it can look through reviews of the dress to see if sentiment shows that this dress is "good for summer".)
2. Predicting what a customer most likely wants to say or do next. (Example: The person just added a pair of shoes to her cart. The bot recommends another product that she will likely also purchase.)
"As with most trends in the digital age, conversational commerce has gone from hype to reality in a very short space of time, meaning that if companies are not on board yet, they should be sorting out their strategies in this regard. This one has staying power, and big brands are already investing heavily in it and the mind-blowing future this technology brings," concludes Lutchman.