Let's be real, here. We're well past the point of wondering whether or not conversational commerce is necessary for your online business.
Conversational elements are now central to your sales funnel, no matter what business you are in. 91% of consumers globally want immediate assistance. And they want it on the platforms they're already using, in the formats they're familiar with.
But most don't have the capacity to meet this demand.
This is where conversational commerce comes in—it lends a way for your business to engage with its customers on their terms, in real-time.
With so many different kinds of conversational commerce platforms out there, it can be hard to know where to start. And the truth is, you'll probably need a few different ones to cover all your bases.
That's why we've put together this comprehensive guide—to help you navigate the complicated world of conversational commerce, and choose the right platforms for your specific needs.
Conversational commerce is still a relatively new concept. To understand it, we first need to break it down.
At its core, conversational commerce is about using natural language processing and machine learning to create human-like conversation experiences between brands and consumers. This could be in the form of chatbots, voice assistants, or even just a simple messenger interface on your website.
The key is that it allows customers to get what they need from you without having to go through traditional channels—like calling customer service or filling out a contact form or email. Both of these channels face delays, impacting conversion rates.
On a deeper level, conversational commerce is about creating meaningful relationships and experiences with/for your customers.
It's also about using those human-like conversations to create a deeper connection with your customers. One that can lead to increased sales and brand loyalty in the long run.
And it certainly can—Intercom data shows that live chat tools make your website visitors 82% more likely to convert.
Other benefits of conversational commerce include:
The three most popular types of conversational commerce platforms for businesses are:
Powered by natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, AI chatbots are automated programs that can understand and respond to human conversation.
Although they automate customer contact, they can't have a whole conversation with you. Instead, they're mostly used for canned responses, helping customers with simple navigational tasks, and qualifying leads.
The best AI chatbots can handle complex questions and provide accurate answers—but they're not perfect. If a customer's question falls outside of the chatbot's pre-programmed responses, it will likely need to be escalated to a human agent.
AI chatbots usually hang out on the bottom right-hand corner of your website, ready to inform customers of certain deals and product info.
They can also be found on popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, where they can move customers to the next part of the sales funnel.
Live chat software has a similar interface to AI chatbots. The main difference is that live chat software requires a human agent to be available to chat in real-time.
This is beneficial for more complex customer inquiries that require a human touch. It's also great for building customer relationships and providing an amazing customer experience.
The only downside is that you need to have someone available to chat during business hours—which can be a challenge for small businesses.
Live chat software sometimes takes place within popular messaging apps and is sometimes hosted on commercial cloud servers.
Conversational SMS is exactly what it sounds like—a text message conversation between a customer and a business. It's often used for things like appointment reminders, concierge with complex orders, and questions that help shoppers better understand what products are best for them.
In the case of automated reminders, SMS messages are pre-programmed and sent out automatically based on a trigger (e.g., when an order is shipped out for delivery). But for more complex questions and situations a human agent needs to be available to text back and forth in real-time.
Whole Foods has an extremely advanced Facebook Messenger chatbot that can give customers recipes, tailored search results, and product information based on emojis and keywords.
The thing that sets SMS apart from other forms of conversational commerce is that it doesn't usually require special messaging apps. All you need is a cell phone signal or WiFi connection—which makes it accessible to pretty much everyone.
The reasons to use conversational commerce are many, but how they are used varies based on the type of business. To give you an idea of how conversational commerce might fit into your strategy, let's take a look at how different types of businesses use conversational commerce platforms.
One of the most popular use cases for this type of software is e-commerce. And online businesses use them at several different touchpoints throughout the customer journey.
New research from Epsilon found that 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company if they can message them. And it's not hard to see why.
Conversational marketing platforms make it easy for customers to ask questions about products, get recommendations, and make purchases—all while browsing the products they love.
A few valuable use cases for e-commerce businesses include:
Particularly for expensive and complicated products like electronics and appliances, customers want to know everything about a product before they make a purchase.
For basic product questions, a chatbot can be programmed to provide answers or redirect customers to the website's knowledge base. And for complicated inquiries, a human agent can step in and provide assistance via live chat.
PwC research finds that when customers receive personalized recommendations, 30% are more likely to purchase something of a higher value.
Conversational commerce platforms make it easy to give recommendations that are tailored to each individual customer.
Particularly in clothing retail stores, live agents can ask customers about their style, budget, and preferences before making recommendations.
It’s also popular in industries that are tailored to individuals, including supplements, skincare routines, and hair care products.
Nordstrom is an example of a company that takes this concept to the next level. To create the ultimate personal shopper experience, they provide free virtual stylist services with in-app messaging and video chat with human stylists included.
Cart abandonment rates sit around 70%, and one of the main reasons for this is that the purchase process is often complicated and time-consuming. By leveraging SMS platforms and chatbots, businesses can use a conversational commerce platform in two ways:
This is a valuable strategy for e-commerce businesses because it not only reduces cart abandonment rates but also generates repeat purchases.
Even when there is no buying intent from the customer, businesses can still use a conversational commerce platform for powerful customer insights.
Marketing teams can use this data to improve their products, better understand customer behavior, and create targeted campaigns.
One way businesses can collect this data is by sending out surveys via SMS messaging or email marketing. These surveys can be used to gather feedback on a recent purchase, get insights into customer preferences, or track Net Promoter Scores (NPS).
In many cases, conversational AI also gathers data from customer-facing conversations which sales and marketing teams can use to inform their strategy.
Several industries require personalized care and recommendations, and conversational marketing is the perfect way to provide it.
There are tons of beauty products out there, and most of them are marketed to a very specific audience.
Companies like Sephora and Birchbox use conversational commerce to provide personalized recommendations to their customers.
In the example above, Sephora's virtual assistant helps the user find the right shade of makeup by asking a series of questions and taking a selfie.
When she finds the correct shade, the virtual assistant sets up a time to pick it up in-store.
Some hair, skin, and body care retailers take this experience a step further by adding human contact. Using our platform, real-time assistants can gather information, make suggestions, and video chat with customers to provide the highest level of assistance.
Fitness brands use conversational commerce to help people reach their fitness goals. Since fitness, supplements, and health products are such a personal topic, it's important for brands to be able to provide personalized recommendations.
In the example above, Umzo utilizes a quiz to help users find the right workout supplement for their goals. It gauges different factors like lifestyle habits, knowledge of the supplement industry, and desired results.
Once the quiz is complete, Umzo provides the user with a list of recommended products and dosages.
This type of personalized recommendation is not only helpful for the customer, but it also helps to build trust and loyalty with the brand.
Conversational AI can also be used to solve customer problems in the travel and hospitality industry.
Finding help as a hotel guest can sometimes be challenging. But with the power of AI, hotel guests can get the answers they need without even having to leave their rooms.
The most innovative example of this is Rose, the Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas's chatbot.
Rose can answer common questions about the hotel, make restaurant reservations, and even grant guests entry to exclusive clubs. And she'll do it in a quirky, fun, and flirty way that's in line with the hotel's brand.
Travel agents are becoming a thing of the past as more and more people are planning their trips themselves. But that doesn't mean there isn't a role for them in the digital age—they're still there to help when things go wrong.
Planning trips can be a drag, and that's where a chatbot can come in handy. A human agent can help travelers and vacationers plan their trips based on their budget, interests, and needs.
TripAdvisor's chatbot, for example, can help users find the perfect hotel, make reservations, and answer complex questions by analyzing keywords and conversational data.
Other ways this software can help plan trips include:
Companies that offer services can also use conversational commerce to their advantage.
By automating customer service, they can reduce the need for human agents and save on labor costs. Additionally, chatbots can help them scale their business by providing a consistent level of service 24/7.
A consultant can use conversational AI and SMS messaging to automate their customer service and sales process and engage customers across multiple messaging channels.
By setting up an AI chatbot, consultants can provide their customers with information about their services, answer frequently asked questions, and even schedule appointments. Chatbots can also help consultants close deals by sending reminders, providing updates on the status of a project, and offering discounts or promotions.
For example, a financial services consultant might use AI to narrow down a list of potential investments for a client, provide updates on the performance of those investments, and even schedule a meeting to discuss the results.
Then, the online sales assistant can transfer the client to a human agent when it's time to discuss the investment details.
Every company has different digital marketing needs, and it would be challenging to take dozens of discovery calls a day. When a digital agency sets up conversational tools, they can provide their potential clients with information about their services, case studies, and pricing—all without talking to a human.
And when it comes time to talk about specific marketing campaigns and whether or not the agency is a good fit for the company, the chatbot can lead the prospect to a booking page where they can schedule a call with a company specialist.
This way, the agency can focus its time on companies that are ready to buy, and it helps the agency close more deals.
Many don't think of SaaS as e-commerce, but it is—and it's a huge market. 58% of B2B companies use chatbots, and part of the reason for this is that they're excellent at helping the prospect through the buyer's journey.
At their best, conversational commerce platforms give sales and marketing teams a head start. Since they can engage customers on multiple channels (including social media, SMS, and live chat), they can quickly gather data about a lead's needs, budget, and timeline.
This information is then passed on to the sales team so they can focus their time on qualified leads that are ready to buy.
Most software products are complicated, and the person in charge of procurement isn't always the person who will be using the product.
When this is the case, it's important to have a knowledge base that can help educate prospects and customers about your product.
An online chatbot can provide this education by answering common questions, walking users through features, and even offering live demos.
With the ability to instantly start sales conversations after collecting customer data, chatbots can help increase close rates by having a human salesperson on standby to answer questions and provide more information when the customer is ready to buy.
And when they're transferred to a member of the sales team via a live chat platform, they already have lots of the information they need about the lead.
Whether you run a small e-commerce store or a 200-person SaaS organization, engaging customers in a conversation is key to success.
Now that we've looked at some of the ways conversational AI can help businesses, let's take a look at some of the key considerations for choosing the right conversational commerce platform.
Online shoppers won't always use the same communication channels, and your customers probably come from more than one place.
You want to make sure your conversational platform integrates with at least a few of these five digital channels:
Texting is still one of the most popular forms of communication, so it's important that your conversational platform also integrates with SMS.
The global e-commerce market is going to hit 8.1 trillion by 2026. Don't you want to be a part of that?
If your only goal is to automate customer-facing conversations, chances are you won't use your conversational commerce platform to its full potential.
You should also be thinking about how you can use your platform to support sales and marketing campaigns.
For example, you can use a chatbot to:
The bottom line is this: when you're choosing a conversational commerce platform, make sure it's one that will help you reach your business goals—not just automate customer service.
When deciding what mix of tools to use, it's important to consider the user experience.
What do your users expect? What are their pain points? What level of service do they require?
If you offer a simple product or service, a chatbot with limited functionality will do just fine. But if your customers have several complex questions, they're going to want to talk to a human.
In that case, you'll need to supplement your customer engagement with a live chat tool and you'll need to make the transfer between the two as seamless as possible.
Beyond your customers' needs, the potential for additional support (e.g., personalized suggestions, upselling, or cross-selling) should be considered.
Almost every business can benefit from a human element, so if you have more than a few employees and products, you'll want to consider a platform that offers live chat.
With new privacy regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), marketers have to alter the way they collect customer insights. But the fact of the matter is that businesses can't afford to not collect it.
Data is how you understand your customers, how you segment them, and how you craft targeted messages. The more data you have, the better off you'll be.
When considering a conversational commerce platform, look for one that offers declared data—i.e., data that's been voluntarily shared by the customer.
This type of data comes from your customers' interaction with your conversational commerce tools.
Chatbots, for example, are gold mines for declared data. When customers interact with your chatbot, they're giving you valuable insights into their preferences, needs, and wants.
And customers tend to be more willing to share information with businesses when they are having a one-on-one conversation. These marketing and sales insights can later help businesses better understand their target audience and how to optimize the customer journey according to what customers prefer.
Your conversational marketing platform should help you re-engage customers maximize your ROI. It should be able to create hyper-specific audience segments from data that customers provide during chat sessions. And it should let you use declared data and other chat events as triggers for automated re-engagement campaigns.
With data that customers share with you in a conversation, you can segment and retarget them in Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp with the same automation workflow.
Your conversational marketing platform should help you re-engage customers and maximize your ROI. It should be able to create hyper-specific audience segments from data that customers provide during chat sessions.
And it should let you use declared data and other chat events as triggers for automated re-engagement campaigns.
Could you imagine using one software for all of your business tasks? We can't, either!
Nobody uses a singly system to run their business—your Customer Relationship Management (CRM), your ecommerce platform, your live chat tool, your CMS...they all need to play nice together if you want to create a cohesive customer experience.
Integration with third-party systems and digital channels is imperative if you want to create a seamless customer experience.
Platforms like Zendesk, Zapier, Slack, Google Analytics, and MailChimp are a few examples of the types of business applications you should look for when considering a conversational commerce platform.
When it comes to support, the key is to match the complexity of your product with the sophistication of your conversational marketing strategy.
If you have a simple product, you can get away with having a chatbot handle most customer interactions. But if you have a complex product, you'll need to supplement your chatbot with human support.
Some products and services, like specialized skincare or financial services, require a human touch from the very beginning. In these cases, a robust, human-centered conversational platform like Humankind is a must.
A general rule of thumb: The more personal you come across in your marketing, the more personal your customers will want you to be in support.
How do customers interact with your page? Do they come to your site looking for specific product information? Are they trying to purchase a product or service?
The customer journey doesn't start with a visit and end with a purchase—it starts long before that.
You need to be able to engage customers at every stage of the customer journey.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a conversational commerce platform is that, at the end of the day, you're talking to humans. Your customers are real people with needs, wants, and feelings. They want to be treated like people, not robots.
Your specific conversational commerce strategy will depend on your product, customers, and business goals.
By using 1:1 text conversations, Humankind bridges the gap between your chatbots and live chat tools, giving you the best of both worlds. That way, you can create human connections with your customers—at every stage of their journey.