The Customer Is The Channel

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Conversational Commerce is the Future and the Present

Chris Messina, who helped to popularize the term and is the Developer Experience Lead at Uber, declared “2016 will be the year of conversational commerce.” What he predicted back in early 2015 has now become a reality -- leading brands are already capitalizing on these channels and leaving their competitors behind. What does that mean for your brand? When you master conversational commerce, you’ll deliver experiences that make your customers feel as if you hired a personal assistant to help each of them. “Not only do companies today need to exceed customer expectations, but they need to make it easy for the customer to do business with the company,” writes Forbes’ Blake Morgan. “Want a powerful customer experience? Simply ask yourself how easy you can make life for your customers.”

Recognizing The Conversational Commerce Around You

If you think conversational commerce is still a pinpoint on the retail horizon and that you and your organization will have plenty of time to prepare for it, you’re wrong. Enabling AI technology is already all around us, helping to make our daily lives and our interaction with brands easier.

Let’s say a potential partner emails you for a meeting next week. You respond and CC Clara, who takes it from there, setting up your meeting over a few emails with your partner, putting it on both your calendars, and even reminding you. You might not even have to tell your contact that Clara isn’t a person, but a bot. And she’s not the only one scheduling meetings - this kind of technology is now commonly available and we may see bots working with other bots to book our calendars sooner than we expect.

Your 10-year anniversary is coming up, so you plan a quick getaway to celebrate. You text Taylor, and she recommends locations based on your budget and hotels based on reviews. She even offers to book your flight for you. You thank her, feeling a bit silly, because Taylor is also a bot. On the way out the door, you realize you’re out of pens. You call over your shoulder, “Ok Google, order me some pens.” Your Google Home’s Assistant will do just that from one of over 50 Google Express retailers. “Got it, ordering pens from Walgreens,” Assistant replies. And without looking at a screen or touching anything, you’ve restocked your home office.

Clara, Taylor, Alexa (and Google Assistant and Cortana) sound (mostly) like members of the next big girl group but, as Will Oremus writes in Slate, they and their ilk are actually harbingers of our new digital reality: “Like card catalogs and AOL-style portals before it, Web search will begin to fade from prominence, and with it the dominance of browsers and search engines.

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Mobile apps as we know them— icons on a home screen that you tap to open—will start to do the same. In their place will rise an array of virtual assistants, bots, and software agents that act more and more like people: not only answering our queries, but acting as our proxies, accomplishing tasks for us, and asking questions of us in return,” he writes

As customer behavior evolves, so do their expectations around B2C communications. Today’s retail shopper interacts with brands that use the platforms she relies on as fluidly as she does. Whether she thinks about it in such terms, she wants truly conversational commerce and despite the difficulties in creating a seamless interaction, it’s up to you to deliver it. “You can no longer segment yourself to service practices that only you are comfortable with,” says Amir Zonozi, Chief Strategy Officer of Social Influence at Zoomph, an engagement platform. “When a customer reaches out to you on Twitter, it needs to be solved on Twitter. When they reach out to you via email, it needs to be solved via email. Asking your customers to switch their preferred method of communication is taking your customer out of their comfort zone and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.”

As commerce continues to evolve, consumers will rely more on these conversational channels for interacting with brands and it is up to these brands to be providing a holistic and differentiated customer experience.  Below are some of the key terms you should know as you begin your journey of building out a conversational commerce strategy.

Terms To Know:

  • App fatigue: The decline of app popularity, especially brand apps, caused by a backlash against too many notifications, the saturated app market, and the need for updates from both developers and customers. Forrester Research reports that people spend over 80% of their time on their phone is their 5 favorite apps which tend to be social, messaging and media apps.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): An umbrella term for any ability of computers to perform tasks that otherwise require human mental capacity, for example speech recognition, visual perception, language translation, and decision-making.

  • Automatic Speech Recognition. (ASR): Computer transcription of spoken language in real time.

  • Bot: Any software application that runs automated tasks, called scripts, over the internet.

  • Chatbot: A software application that simulates a conversation with a human.

  • ServiceBot: A brand-developed software application that lives within a messaging or voice-activated channel and can provide product order status updates and support customers in making returns and exchanges, among other tasks.

  • Conversational User Interface (CUI): An intelligent interface that allows for input either through voice or text commands in a style similar to the way humans communicate and provides contextual responses in the same manner.

  • Machine learning: The ability of computer programs and software to acquire new data and change behavior without additional reprogramming.

  • Natural Language Processing: The interactions between computers and human languages.

You can learn more about conversational commerce by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, JustFab.com and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.

 

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