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Conversational commerce starts with a text

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When Facebook added chatbots to its Facebook Messenger service and announced that it would be encouraging brands that advertise or run storefronts on the social media behemoth’s site to use it to ‘engage’, the idea of ‘conversational commerce’ came a big step closer. Now the idea that brands can talk to consumers and, through witty banter and helpful advice, sell them more stuff is gaining momentum.

But could it be that the first step into this is going to be taken through the unlikely medium of text?

While Facebook – and others – work on chatbots and clever messaging apps, it seems that consumers are happy to make do with good old SMS – and why not?

As our top story this week reveals, a study by Ovum for telecom-web convergence company tyntec, finds that shoppers prefer to interact with customer service agents using different communication channels depending on where they’re at in the transaction process, and they expect service providers to be effective using mobile. And this need is increasingly being met already by SMS.

Now for many SMS seems an expensive and difficult way to communicate with people – especially as most businesses are geared up to do email marketing as their cap-doff to the digital age – but as personalization becomes the by-word for marketing, SMS has much to offer.

There are two very good reasons to embrace SMS and to get on the conversational commerce train. Firstly, as said SMS is personal. SMS arrives on the phone, a very personal device, and is the preserve of trusted and personal comms. Something like 90% of SMS messages are read by their recipient – way more than email, which is at about 25%.

The second big reason why SMS is so important is because it is already happening. Customers want to talk to you and, with certain issues, if they want to do it there and then they pick up their phone and text you just as they would their friends. They expect it.

And the need has never been greater. A recent study of UK consumers for customer service technology expert Eckoh found that many of the increasingly tech-savvy consumers in the UK feel aggrieved at the difficulty they face getting service from businesses, despite their commitment to omni and multi-channel strategies aimed at easing the waiting times for customers. A case of omni-flannel rather than omni-channel, as one wag put it.

Meeting this need is going to increasingly be what differentiates your business from the next. Embracing SMS as a way of doing this is going to be key.

Of course, consumers are also going to want to contact you through WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and more – but getting to grips with how to use SMS right now is the way to be ready to handle this.

Conversational commerce is coming and, if you embrace text now, you will be ready for it.

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