The current pandemic situation has disrupted industries and businesses globally. And it’s no secret that the pandemic has led most brick-and-motor stores to close their doors temporarily, resulting in a surge in online shopping. This is a huge opportunity for brands to increase focus on customer interaction through the right channels to enhance the customer experience (CX). Over the years, customer interaction has remained a consistent focal point for businesses, becoming an integral part of the customer journey.
Over time, marketing has evolved from a one-sided conversation to a two-sided conversation, equally involving both brands and customers. As ecommerce continues to evolve, an increasing amount of companies are thinking beyond just an email or a contact form to interact with customers. Today, coupled with the latest technologies such as AI, conversations are automated, enabling shoppers and brands to interact through chat and voice interfaces referred to as ‘conversational commerce’.
In the present-day ecommerce world, it’s not the retailer but the consumer who is in the driving seat constantly pushing brands to excel. Consumers expect businesses to communicate with the same practicality, speed, and conversational style as of a brick-and-mortar store. The current COVID-19 situation, unsurprisingly, has caused another steep change in consumer behaviour. Here are a few key tips on how to win the digital shelf and provide an exceptional customer experience from your virtual store.
Phone call-less phones
Phone calls can be clunky and awkward, without any visual cues we are used to in conversation. And when it comes to businesses and phone calls, consumers are plagued by nightmarish bass-heavy hold music and endless menus to choose from before getting through to the relevant department. Meanwhile, businesses are left to foot the pricey bill of that poor customer interaction – losses all round. They want more casual and genuine interaction, even if it is from an artificially intelligent bot.
Where messaging apps or web chat on a company’s site hit the mark, is the no-pressure interaction of text (giving the reader a chance to process the information in their own time) combined with an instantaneous response. Even if a company is using real employees to respond, the customer still gets the comfort of the three-dot ghost, hovering in the reassurance that their query has been heard. That someone, somewhere, is working on an answer.
Tailor-made mobile experience
We’ve been a mobile-first society for years. But the conversion rate for selling on mobile sites doesn’t seem to correlate with our browsing habits. People may start their search for a product on their phone, but ultimately, more often than not, they finish the transaction on a larger display. All that width and depth of a website just doesn’t translate to a user-friendly interface on the narrow screen of a phone. No matter how much we ‘optimise’ sites for mobile, we can’t escape the fact that ultimately, they were made for desktops.
But messaging apps that host conversational commerce are the sage natives of the land of mobile. They were born on phones. They speak the intuitive language of generations who see phones as integral to leaving the house as keys. Messaging apps have evolved with the phone. Consumer habits have both shaped and moulded them. Gradual integrations to messaging apps of things like the GIF keyboard, Google Calendar, Uber, polls, and payment portals have not only been in response to the way people are using their phones, but it has also primed them for the gradual integration of businesses to their most social of apps. Conversational commerce, therefore, hasn’t taken a lot of getting used to.
With the convenience and the built-in familiarity of conversational commerce, is it any wonder that consumers are easily sold on the idea of making purchases from a messaging app? While it may be revolutionary for businesses, for consumers, it doesn’t feel like that much of a radical step. It’s more like another helpful add-on, or something that was frankly expected years ago. What’s more, it’s giving people that much more personal experience.
Conversational commerce, however, now allows consumers to message your business in a chat application immediately, offering a tailored experience. After all, we used to think customers wanted choice – the more, the better. We want to cut through the white noise of all the stuff that’s irrelevant to our needs. Or more, we want someone to do this for us without us having to ask. And certainly, don’t make your customers repeat their preferences just because your system fails to log them.
To bot? Or not to bot?
For some companies, chatbots are the answer to 24/7 care and sales for their customers. For others, the product or service that they offer may simply be too nuanced and complex for a chatbot to be programmed. In this case, having a team of employees adopting an omnichannel approach still provides the perfect solution to communicate with consumers with conversational commerce in mind. Real workers or bots log consumer habits and preferences, to better serve the needs of the consumer.
Finally, conversational commerce fulfils that luxury, seamless, futuristic experience customers have been craving since the ’80s. But these click-happy customers will only grace the virtual doorsteps of companies who embrace conversational commerce.
A throwback to the future
If the whole scene feels faintly familiar, it’s because this is the kind of interaction we’ve been promised for years. The virtual assistants you can casually converse with have been a long time coming in the human imagination. For example, a quick chat with Subway in Facebook’s Messenger app today in the US will order a sandwich for you within seconds.
Similarly, in Australia, more and more brands are introducing chat functionalities and messaging app channels for improved customer experience and to help customers answer real-time questions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, it’s imperative for businesses to pivot their way through the current challenges to thrive and excel in these ever-changing circumstances.
Tink Taylor is founder & president at dotdigital