Online commerce has evolved significantly over the last two decades, with today’s consumer expecting immediate results, impeccable service and a two-way dialogue with businesses. More, customers are using their mobile devices to research products and seek support before and after purchases.
This heavy and increasing reliance on mobile provides a wealth of opportunity for brands to change how they engage with customers and in turn foster more meaningful connections and loyalty.
New conversational commerce technology is enabling businesses to maximize on these opportunities by providing automated, human-like one-on-one interactions and problem resolution. This model is one in which exchanges between brands and customers occur via text, voice and social chat apps, so that a brand reaches a customer as a known contact, available to transact and support at any time.
Interacting with customers this way is powerful. Currently, only four percent of businesses have deployed conversational commerce, but Gartner forecasts adoption will rise to 25 percent by 2020, driven in part by its availability through popular messaging channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Amid this increase in adoption, and the technology’s growing availability, brands must take care to get it right. Poor execution of conversational commerce can lead to an unsatisfactory experience at best, and brand damage or a security breach at worst. A methodical approach that follows a careful plan is critical in enabling positive customer experiences and sound implementation. Below are eight steps that should be part of every company’s conversational commerce playbook to ensure a successful program.
Conversational commerce is a cross-disciplinary initiative involving stakeholders ranging from IT and security through to marketing, sales and customer support. As such, it needs someone who can champion the initiative, and it needs governance. Appoint a project sponsor who can lead the initiative and bring together different departments, backed by strong senior executive support.
Be clear on the project’s goals for the project. Set short-term and long-term success criteria for the project, even if it is beginning with a narrowly-scoped proof of concept system. Questions that will help define goals include: What kind of customer experience do we need to create?; What do we know about our customers?; What does the current customer journey look like?; What are some early signs of success we can learn from?
This is a good time to evaluate data privacy and security requirements. Understand which kinds of transactions may occur across the different channels, and decide the level and type of user authentication that makes sense for each. Build security and data privacy controls into all components of the conversational commerce system from the design phase onward. Take the opportunity to choose and evaluate multifactor authentication solutions during the design stage, to satisfy requirements across both security and usability.
Define the operating parameters of the system, including which kinds of interaction it will support and which customers it will serve. Research the customer base to understand which communication channels they prefer, ranging from texting to social chat apps and voice assistants. Remember, it may be necessary to tag certain customer segments with alternative implementation strategies. This step also requires close collaboration with IT to design the back-end computing systems that will support the chosen channels.
Ensure that you have the capabilities to work with external platforms when building conversational systems. Enterprises with experience and resources in integrating social media APIs can apply their technical expertise in dealing with messaging app channels. When in-house experience in this or other key areas doesn’t exist, don’t hesitate to engage external solution providers.
Test and refine the conversational commerce system internally and with small user groups to ensure it operates effectively. Make sure that the computer understands what customers say, and that it can handle all of the questions it was designed for. Be sure that the computer can access the back-end databases needed to create meaningful and personalized conversations with users. Finally, make sure it knows how and when to escalate the conversation to a live human agent as needed.
Educate employees and contractors what to expect before introducing the new system. This includes how to extract information quickly from conversational sessions when the customer needs to transfer to a human user for a more in-depth conversation.
Conversational commerce systems can generate valuable data about issues such as frequently-asked questions, average session length and opportunities for cross-selling or up-selling. Leverage analytics systems that easily mine this information for valuable customer insights.
Getting conversational commerce right will empower an entirely new dynamic for customer support and interaction. In this emerging new era of commerce, marketing, sales, customer service and loyalty programs will take place via an engaging social interface that brings brands closer to their customers, and provides consumers with a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience.