We are seeing an increasing willingness of consumers, but also B2B buyers, to interact with companies using chats or even voice interfaces. This can be attributed to the simple fact that words, written or spoken, are the method of communication that is most natural for humans. At the end of the day, we speak far more than we draw, point-and-click, or manipulate pictures. At least most of us.
We are also seeing an increasing willingness of businesses to support this.
This does not mean that more “traditional” user interfaces are obsolete. On the contrary, it does mean that businesses are beginning to understand that they need to support at least two additional methods for communication with their customers or to extend these two methods, text and voice, in an increasing number of digital channels.
And they need to.
Make no mistake, regardless of what a company is selling, be it products, services, experiences, or whatnot, there is always another one that sells something comparable.
As I have written before, products and services get increasingly commoditized. Pricing cannot be the way out. Competing by price only is mostly not fitting to the brand message and then is a slippery road. There can be only one cheapest vendor and it better also has the best cost structure. It can work for brands that are about low prices. But even this is not a guarantee. Walmart failed in Germany and Aldi is successfully kept out of New Zealand, to name two examples. All other ones run into the risk of pricing themselves out of the market.
Consequently, the to be distinguishable from the competition is another one. It is to constantly assess how to best fulfill the customers’ jobs and then to help them through their individual journeys from need identification to the retirement of their solution. As this needs to be done within a commercial environment, it needs to be planned carefully and holistically. It needs a strategy.
The result of this process is for a company to get the ability to distinguish itself from the competition via customer experience, delivered through consistent customer engagement across channels.
While this is not the full solution, a good part of this delivery is offering the customers helpful journeys through contact points of their own choosing. And this is where we circle back to the importance of conversational commerce and conversations as a vehicle to deliver engagements that let the customers create their individual customer experience through these engagements.
Conversational commerce is all about taking friction out of customers’ journeys, being where the customers are, helping them achieve their objective more easily while also improving internal efficiencies.
As it often is, its origins have been in marketing and service. Marketing, because for businesses it is important to be able to “spread the good word” where it is heard, which means where there is an audience. Service also, because messaging systems gained popularity and with the advent of AI driven chatbots more and more service incidents could be deflected or routed more efficiently. These topics, with an emphasis on marketing, are still the majority of search results when you do a web search for “conversational commerce”. Try it for yourself.
But this is not conversational commerce. Conversational commerce is more! The chain is still broken when not supporting the sales process.
What is the missing link?
Apparently, it is the sales process. For most, i.e. less consulting intensive scenarios, that is at minimum the ability to perform transactions via chat bots or digital assistants that are exposed via the website, messengers, smart speakers, or also from within social media applications like Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, etc. Conversational commerce includes the ability to translate the point and click oriented scenarios of e-commerce to conversations, to help customers find what they want and need using a combination of voice, text, point and click, including the ability to perform a payment process.
In B2B oriented and scenarios that need more consulting, a video connection is necessary, too. This is one of the reasons why the acquisition of Slack by Salesforce has been a big thing. Amongst other things, it allows for the direct and tight communication of sales teams with their customers from within and outside their sales system via text, voice, and video while also being able to exchange documents.
Don’t get me wrong. All technologies that are necessary to offer conversational commerce have been there for some years now. However, the past 1.5 years have served the acceleration of their implementation.
Why does it matter again?
The answer to this question is quite simple. Conversational commerce has come of age. In July 2021, there are 5.27 billion unique mobile users globally. This resembles two-thirds of the world population. More than 95 percent of internet users use chat or messaging platforms. About one-quarter of these use voice assistants at least once a week. Thirteen percent of all internet users, situated predominantly in developed countries, own smart home devices. Juniper Research predicts a meteoric rise of 590 per cent of spend via conversational commerce to $290 bn by end of 2025.
This means that customers are ready for it, even expecting to make transactions via conversations. Not creating fear of missing out here, this means that businesses need to be prepared, too.
How to get there
As a B2C business, by now you are likely already available via one or more social channels. You most certainly have a website, probably with e-commerce facilities, which means that you also have a payment provider that works for you. Chances are that you already have connected a conversational AI (CAI) that is exposed by a chatbot to the site.
If not, the time to implement one is now. There are a good number of strong CAIs around, from Microsoft’s Bot framework, SAP Conversational AI or specialists like Cognigy. This is just mentioning a few. Be sure to select one that fits into your landscape and that fulfills your current and anticipated needs.
From here, the next step is the identification of which channels your customers use. Chances are that these include WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. The good news is that every CAI platform that is worth its salt supports these platforms.
Design the journeys together with your customers. Don’t do it for them, but with them, as every customer journey is individual. Keep in mind that a conversational journey is different from a point-and-click style journey. You already know which journeys you want to focus on – the ones that lead to a transaction, because these close the gap between marketing and service. Make sure that they fit into the journeys that your customers already take, remembering that customers use their own individual journeys which means that you need to offer a menu of interconnected contact points. Make sure that you can collect enough data to go on with improving the journeys that the customers create.
Look at your main target group first, when it comes to selecting personas to address, but remember that personas are only approximations. What you really want is to be able to offer individual journeys.
To be able to do both, offer individual journeys and continuously help your customers towards improved journeys, implement a customer journey analytics software, like the one offered by Thunderhead.
Once you are there, having successfully implemented conversational commerce abilities, it is time to consider customer journey orchestration with a view on your customers’ journeys, which is the next step to increase your digital maturity. If you already have customer orchestration capabilities, add your newly implemented conversational commerce to the mix.
Lastly, always think outside-in and take it one step at a time by thinking big while acting small.