The Customer Is The Channel

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Customer Experience as the New Competitive Battleground

Buying and selling online began in earnest in the ‘90s. In 1995, the year Amazon and eBay both started, the internet existed as 120,000 registered domain names. Over the next three years it grew to more than two million. Now, more than a billion websites are online.

Ecommerce has also expanded by leaps and bounds. In 2006, ecommerce accounted for approximately 3% of total US retail sales. So far this year, it’s approaching 10% and represents an almost 15% year-over-year increase compared to 2016.

While online shopping has become a bigger slice of the retail pie, the framework of ecommerce has largely remained the same for most of its history. The ways in which retailers served their customers, stayed in touch, and encouraged repeated sales primarily leaned on established promotional channels like email and advertising. Even innovations such as mobile push notifications focused on aggressively “encouraging” a customer to pay attention to your brand vs. offering an elegant and seamless opportunity for the customer to engage with you on their terms.

But in an era in of Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Slack and Uber, the old ways no longer work for users who have become accustomed to being able to communicate with each other and the world at large in real-time, across devices, whenever and wherever they want. 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.”

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Customer Experience as the New Competitive Battleground

New digital technology has helped to push customer experience to center stage as a key differentiator between leading and lagging brands. A great customer experience builds loyalty, while a poor one increasingly means you’ve lost that shopper’s business forever. While in 2006 68% of customers with a bad experience left a company for good, by 2016, that number had topped 80%. This new breed of customer is not inclined to offer second chances.

To customers today, convenience and saving time is what drives their expectations around customer experience is driven by convenience and time savings, and they’re looking for the absolute best, which means it is personal, on-demand, always available and with instant results. Great customer experience takes investment, but the data shows that those investments pay off. A Customer Experience Impact (CEI) Report shows that 86% of consumers will even pay more for better customer experience. In an ecommerce landscape where repeat purchasers are the only ones that are cost effective to acquire, offers such as personalized service and 24/7 online chat can make the difference between a brand growing or atrophying.

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, and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.


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Designing a Customer Experience Strategy for Conversational Commerce

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.  There are several key strategies, smart brands need to think about as they go about creating their conversational commerce strategy. Don’t Forget The Data If conversational commerce is the new paradigm of customer experience, data is the engine that drives all those delightful interactions across touchpoints. Your customers are creating data every time they click, swipe, and like --it’s up to you to find it, analyze it and use it to inform customer engagement. Nordstrom, for example, uses sensors and Wi-Fi to track who comes to the store, wherein the store they shop, and how long they stay. They also incentivize their Nordstrom’s credit card and rewards program to gather data about their clients. Target is also known for its data-collecting. The mega-retailer assigns every customer a Guest ID number, which is linked to their credit card, name, or email address. This Guest ID number becomes a repository of info on a shopper’s past Target purchases and any demographic information the company has collected about them and/or bought from a third-party source. Target’s data is so accurate and fine-grained that they were even able to determine a teenage shopper was pregnant (and send her the appropriate mailer filled with baby items) long before her father ever knew. Collecting relevant data, analyzing it and using your learnings to inform which conversational channels make sense for your brand and what types of experiences your particular customers seek to have on them is the foundation of your conversational commerce efforts. Focus On The Highest-Value Activities Put your energy toward meaningful services that customers already care about. Look at service-oriented features, such as notification capability and on-demand service and support capabilities, to guide the customer journey. Don’t just focus on the “Checkout.” The main benefit of service-oriented conversational channel offerings is the ability to organically drive usage into new channels. For example, a customer might place an order on your website and learn that she can subscribe to order status updates through Facebook Messenger. What she sees as taking advantage of a perk will benefit you by encouraging her toward a channel where your chatbot can take over. ChatBots are best for organic conversations with common use cases, but also provide a sense of personalization and convenience for the shopper. Customer service should be your core use for this technology to start. Be Prepared For Bot-to-Human Handoffs The great thing about a conversation handled over text or Messenger is that the customer doesn’t have to know when they might be switching from a bot to a human. Bot design in the future will focus on what they can do, knowing what they can’t do, and designing a bridge to employee assistance that feels seamless to the customer. It’s not just the customer that will be helped by the bot, but the employee. It will provide faster information and better analytics in real time, perhaps then parsing information to pass on to the consumer. The most important aspect of innovation is convenience for the shopper. They should never have to explain their request twice. Start Simple and Grow to Brand Management You can start with bots as a single voice in the chorus of messages from your brand. The long term will have bots as representatives of your entire brand, managing relationships with your customers. You can start conversational commerce, however, with just a single entry point. You can get your customers used to interacting with you on the same channels they use to chat with their friends. You can piggyback on the culture of quick and informal communication, but be ready to meet their expectations for highly personal and meaningful results. If your bot can’t meet that expectation, your customer could walk away disappointed or annoyed. As the technology improves, and it is, even as we write this, you’ll be able to put more and more of your brand management in the hands of the bots. Authentication Giving your bot a way to confirm the customer’s identity is key to a truly intelligent communication that can leverage data from across your other channels. If this isn’t done right, your bot will see each customer as a stranger, negating the opportunity to provide personalized service. Focus On Concepts Rather Than Solutions Your customers might be on Kik today but head over to Facebook Messenger tomorrow. Focusing on the concepts of conversational commerce rather than today’s hottest medium will help you keep your sanity and provide an agile approach that can be applied to meet your customers wherever they migrate. Try not to get bogged down with the details of how to build for one particular channel, and look instead to use-cases. You can learn more about conversational commerce and engaging your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.