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Own the conversation and you own the customer

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At a conference this week in Marbella, in sunny Southern Spain, I had an epiphany. The conference was about mobile payments and digital commerce in emerging markets and one speaker said to me: “you know, commerce is a conversation – if you own a conversation then you can make money from it”.

This struck me as profound: This is why Airbnb is the biggest hotel chain in the world, yet owns no hotels; why Facebook is one of the world’s biggest publishers yet produces no publications and why YouTube is one of the world’s largest TV channels, yet makes no programmes. These companies all own the conversation about their chosen business area.

So, I thought from my sun lounger post conference: how does this apply to retailers? Well, in many ways they do own the conversation with their customers, but they do run the risk of that conversation moving at any point to another retailer. More worryingly, the whole of retail runs the risk of someone else coming along and owning the conversation about retail and cutting mainstream retailers out altogether.

Does Amazon do this? Well, sort of. Amazon increasingly owns the search for goods, but for now doesn’t have an ongoing conversation, really, with retailers. This of course is only a step away from being the true retail disruptor that it could be.

However, retailers are canny beasts – they all know that they have to win and keep the customer to thrive – and to beat amazon – and they are starting to achieve this. ASOS, for instance, is now the largest publishers of fashion journalism in the world, using blogs, freelance fashion writers and user generated content to place it not only as a leading retailer of apparel, but also the owner of the conversation about fashion apparel.

And all retailers need to get on board with this. Where Airbnb ‘owns’ hotelling, retailers need to be more niche, targeting and owning their particular area of retail and creating the conversation that they can then monetise.

Part of this process revolves around embracing digital channels to communicate with shoppers. The consumers themselves are very much up for it, with IMImobile’s latest ‘Consumer Research Report’, looking at customer service experiences and expectations of 1,000 UK consumers, revealing that adoption of digital communication channels, especially around customer service is not as advanced as industry sources may suggest – 71% of consumers still use voice over mobile or landline as the main channel of engaging with a business.

According to the study, consumer expectations are sky high, with 67% of customers believe their enquiry should be answered in less than 5 minutes. 78% of consumers would be willing to wait longer for enquiries to be answered provided they get an acknowledgement of their enquiry over digital messaging channels.

The majority of consumers – 58%– will embrace customer service automation and the use of artificial intelligence if it results in a more efficient customer service experience.

But, when it comes to using new digital technologies such as chat, retailers are not being as forward thinking as they could be. According to the Eptica 2017 UK Chat Study, consumers increasingly want to use chat for customer service – but companies are failing to meet their changing expectations.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of consumers say a good chat experience will make them more loyal – however only 15% say they are always happy with the service they receive.

Happy customers that are chatting to your business are the key to digital commerce. The old world of marketing, while not dead, is changing dramatically. Conversation and interaction with people is what draws them in and, as I learned in the sunshine in Spain, it is the key to creating transactions.

In an era where messaging is largely free to use for consumers, telcos, brands and retailers need to work out ways to monetise these chats – and retailers are ideally positioned to do so as they are sellers anyway. And if they don’t someone else is going to come along and do it in the way Airbnb has shaken up hotels, the way Facebook has crushed publishing and how YouTube has forever changed TV.


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