What exactly is conversational commerce, and what makes it a cut above a webchat or livechat solution? Read on to get the full scoop.

If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and asked your waiter or waitress “What’s good here?” you’ve engaged in conversational commerce.

Let’s get one thing out of the way at the beginning – the phenomenon that we call conversational commerce is nothing new. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and asked your waiter or waitress “What’s good here?” you’ve engaged in conversational commerce. At its most basic, conversational commerce is a way for businesses to interact with customers by providing them with the kind of personalized advice and recommendations that build long-term relationships – just like smart businesses have been doing since the first customer walked into the first store.

Back to basics

Conversational commerce is the ability to offer a personalized, ‘chat-like’ shopping and buying experience by using advanced communications technologies, primarily messaging apps.

Today, conversational commerce means using leading-edge technology to provide the kind of old-school, one-on-one sales experience that makes people loyal customers for life. Or as Shopkeep Senior VP of Product Management Mike Sommers puts it “Conversational commerce is the ability to offer a personalized, ‘chat-like’ shopping and buying experience by using advanced communications technologies, primarily messaging apps.”

The state of messaging in 2019

As you read this, there are more than 2 billion messaging app customers on the planet. Research conducted by Adweek shows that the combined users of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and WeChat number 4 billion – in case you were wondering, that’s more than the combined users of the big 4 of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn). Those customers sent 72 trillion messages in 2018, a fact that shouldn’t surprise when you consider that 68 percent of them find messaging to be the most convenient way to stay in touch with businesses. Apart from this, over 40 million people use some type of voice assistant, a number that’s projected to hit 1.8 billion in the next 2 years. Messaging apps are where customers are, and where more of them are going to be. Any business that’s not there is going to be missing out.

What it isn’t

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “This sounds like a fancy new buzzword for a webchat.” And it’s true, online chats are a critical feature of conversational commerce. But think of them as a dash of spice in a complex dish, rather than the main ingredient. The point of conversational commerce is to bring together a variety of approaches, including chat, audio, and video and use them to meet customers where they already are not only by providing information and answering queries but by proactively sharing rich, in-depth, content like podcasts and blog posts.

The Power of AI

Conversational platform engines are usually powered by AI-enabled chatbots that process messages and offer relevant responses that allow conversational approaches to be implemented on a larger scale. Chatbots won’t replace people, but they can complement some aspects of communication so that businesses don’t have to invest in more employees to respond to every interaction. The goal for a business is to provide personalized service AND appropriate content so that customers can talk to a chatbot, get personalized recommendations, and make purchases within a single channel.

How might it work?

The possibilities are exciting to consider. Saying “see you later” could kick off an in-app Uber order. Asking “what’s for dinner?” could see a bucket of chicken on your doorstep. Telling a friend you need to get in shape could see you chatting with Under Armour. And all this can be done without switching between apps or messages.

Let’s imagine a standard scenario. You get invited to a party at the last minute, and you need to buy a present for the host or hostess. You start to shop around online. Typically, that means heading to a website, browsing for what you need, and maybe making a purchase eventually. When conversational commerce gets introduced into the equation, there’s no more browsing online categories. You can send the shop a WhatsApp message telling them what you want and they can respond with AI-generated suggestions.If it’s all done right, this experience can be casual and customer-driven – just like shopping in the actual store. The possibilities are exciting to consider. Saying “see you later” could kick off an in-app Uber order. Asking “what’s for dinner?” could see a bucket of chicken on your doorstep. Telling a friend you need to get in shape could see you chatting with Under Armour – all without switching between apps or messages.

Opportunity knocks

2 billion messaging app customers sent 72 trillion messages in 2018, a fact that shouldn’t surprise when you consider that 68 percent of them find messaging to be the most convenient way to stay in touch with businesses.

There are a wide variety of exciting possibilities for businesses on offer as well – some fairly obvious, others less so. Right off the bat, there’s the fact that customers can make the first move, which means that businesses will be getting engagement from customers who are already interested and ready to follow through. Setting up and maintaining a bot is an investment, but one that’s bound to pay off – once it’s done, you’ve got an automated customer service rep that never needs a day off, never gets sick, and never asks for a bonus.According to a recent report by Juniper Research, the adoption of chatbots across the retail, banking, and healthcare sectors will save businesses $11 billion annually by 2023. Perhaps best of all, bots are quick to reply. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review shows that companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are almost 7 times more likely to have meaningful conversations as firms that try to contact prospects even one hour later, but only 37% of companies actually respond to queries within an hour. Conversational commerce and its associated technologies guarantee that your customers won’t be kept waiting. 2 billion messaging app customers sent 72 trillion messages in 2018, a fact that shouldn’t surprise when you consider that 68 percent of them find messaging to be the most convenient way to stay in touch with businesses.

Potential pitfalls

Customers have a much lower tolerance for mistakes made by machines compared to those made by humans – 73% of people say they won’t interact with a bot again after one negative experience.

It’s a proven fact that customers have a much lower tolerance for mistakes made by machines compared to those made by humans – 73% of people say they won’t interact with a bot again after one negative experience. And if a bot seems able to converse, it’s easy to overestimate how capable it is. That’s why it’s crucial for businesses to manage customer expectations appropriately. Bots are still a long ways away from being completely autonomous, and people aren’t easily tricked – you’ll get busted fairly easily if you try to pass off your bot as a person. Context provided by preceding text often confuses bots, and cultural and linguistic nuances that humans have internalized influence their answers. Simply put, bots should serve one simple purpose well, without getting tangled up in the conversational complications that are better left to humans.

Wrapping up

Customers are better-informed and have more options at their disposal than ever before. They know that they’re being marketed to at all times. They expect personalized service and full transparency, and they feel empowered by the options that technology has placed at their fingertips. It’s difficult to trick them, and even more difficult to gain their loyalty. Above all, they want what they want NOW – not in half an hour, not tomorrow. That’s why conversational commerce is where marketing and sales need to go in order to survive. Busy signals on the phone and web pages that crash or won’t load will need to be replaced by conversational interfaces that let consumers interact with brands to get information and make purchases. And with the rise of smart speakers and personal virtual assistants, customers are being conditioned to ask for exactly what they want in their own words.Strap yourself in, it’s going to be an interesting future!