How to get started with conversational commerce

Imagine that every time one of your customers or potential customers had a specific question or needed one-on-one help, they could get a response—without the need for you to actually have the conversation yourself.

For the busy business owner, this sounds like a dream come true.  But it’s actually an increasingly common reality that you can achieve with conversational commerce.

Conversational commerce lets you be instantly responsive, keeping leads warm and sales hot—which is why it’s a huge opportunity to revolutionize the customer experience while growing your business.

Of course, it sounds technical, complicated, and intimidating—but with the right tools, it’s surprisingly accessible, and something you can implement in your business right now. In this guide, we’ll show you how.

What is conversational commerce?

You can thank Chris Messina for the term “conversational commerce.” It’s also sometimes known as “voice commerce.”

But what exactly is conversational commerce, anyway? According to Shopify, conversational commerce is the “intersection of messaging apps and shopping.”

Or, to put it another way, conversational commerce about using messaging apps to interact with customers in real time, even when you’re not online yourself.

Conversational commerce is about using messaging apps to interact with customers in real time, even when you're not online yourself. Click To Tweet

Online retailers have been interacting with customers online via live chat for several years. But conversational commerce takes this a step further by using automation to deepen customer relationships and deliver better shopping experiences through social messaging apps.

The state of technology in conversational commerce

There’s some cool tech wizardry underlying conversational commerce. First, there are two helper technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP). Then, there are three main types of apps: messaging apps (including chatbots), voice assistants, and smart speakers.

AI and NLP

AI is a fancy way to say using the power of computers to do things that normally only human beings do. You can see AI at work in online translation tools, for example.

NLP is an underlying technology enables AI, and it’s about getting computers to understand human-created content. If you’ve ever asked your phone about the current weather conditions and received an accurate response back, then you’ve seen NLP at work.

Conversational commerce apps

Many, but not all, of the apps used in conversational commerce are also popular with mobile device users.

The top messaging apps are:

  • Facebook Messenger (in the US)
  • WhatsApp (worldwide)
  • WeChat (in China)
Via: MobileMonkey.

These apps have an engagement rate of up to 80 percent! That’s huge, especially when you consider that email marketing, which is generally thought of as one of the best ways to engage audiences, has an average open rate of just over 20 percent.

Some of the conversation on messaging apps is driven by chatbots, which retailers are already using to deliver intelligent and personalized recommendations to shoppers.

Next, there are voice assistants, like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri.  Some of that same technology is also in smart speakers, where the leading players are Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Via: Voicebot.ai.

More than a billion devices now use Google Assistant, and another billion are using Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, and Amazon Alexa. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that 55 percent of U.S. homes will be using smart speakers by 2022. And Gartner predicts 60 million people worldwide will be using this technology by 2020. In short, the opportunity here is huge.

Right now, TechTarget believes chatbots are more effective than smart speakers at handling transactions. But with Amazon,  one of the world’s biggest online retailers, putting the Alexa smart speaker technology into everything, and Google doing the same, that’s going to change—and soon.

Is conversational commerce right for you? How to decide

Wondering whether you should get started with conversational commerce? Based on current trends, this isn’t going to be a channel you can ignore anymore than you can ignore email marketing today. Customers are getting used to instant responses that meet their needs, and they’ll soon expect that from every online store.

Having said that, there are lots of different approaches to using this technology. The following 3 questions will help you work out where to start:

  1. Do you need a simple solution or a complex one? Depending on what you want to offer, a plug-and-play solution might work. Alternatively, you might need to have something that’s completely customized, with advanced coding.
  2. Do you have the tech skills you need in-house, or do you need to hire an expert? You can go complex, with a custom-coded bot for your store and offer an experience that’s fully tailored to your store and any special requirements—but only if you have the tech skills. Plug-and-play platforms that get you up and running quickly can provide very competent solutions for most stores without the need for advanced technical know-how.
  3. What’s your budget? There’s a huge difference between using a premade solution and having a custom-coded AI solution. For example, one quote on Quora suggests that custom coding will be around $8,000. That’s similar to the price of $6,000 to $8,000 suggested by Let’s Nurture.

In addition, you need to think about some of the potential challenges in advance so you can deliver a great user experience. Let’s look at those next.

Before you start: Voice commerce challenges to address

Even those conversational commerce is getting easier to implement for store owners, there are still a few challenges with doing voice commerce well.

First, all your software needs to play nicely together, so that when people ask a question, they get the right answers. Unless your product inventory is set up so your AI solution can find what it’s looking for and make the right recommendations, your customers won’t have a great experience.

Second, your voice solution also has to correctly identify user intent. People might ask the same question in a number of different ways and you’ll want to be sure that your solution is delivering a reliable result no matter what the initial input is.

If you’ve ever used a smart speaker, you’ve probably experienced frustration when, say, you ask about the Rolling Stones and get a biography of Stone Phillips instead. The smarter your solution, the more likely it is that it’ll get it right, unless…

The language you want isn’t well supported. Yup, this happens. English is only the third most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish, but if you’re talking to English-speaking customers, you’re probably ok. Get into other language groups, though, and you might have trouble delivering the service your customers expect. For example, Alexa’s range of supported languages iswoefully small.

And, finally, make sure you’re not trying to do too much right out of the gate. Kath Blackham, managing director of the Versa voice platform, recommends that retailers start by keeping it simple. Instead of trying to do everything at once, try to do one thing well.

Getting started with conversational commerce

Ready to dip your toes into conversational commerce? Before you choose your technology, think about:

  • What you want your customers to achieve
  • How they’re likely to achieve it

This will help you work out a likely conversation flow.

You can use conversational commerce to:

  • Collect or update order information
  • Handle presales questions and objections
  • Offer discounts, upsells, and cross-sells
  • Send shipping notifications
  • Collect customer feedback

You also have options for how your solution interacts with customers. Here are some of the options:

  • Automated based on past customer actions
  • Automated triggered by a customer action, like a question
  • Manual, based on segmentation where you send messages to everyone meeting certain criteria
  • Manual, where you respond to a query from a single customer

Your ideal solution may vary depending on whether you’re delivering helpful information from a preset menu of choices, or having your voice interface interact with and respond to any query.

A simple approach to conversational commerce

Once you’ve decided what sort of interaction you want to use and what information you. want to present, here are some of your simpler options:

  • Use Facebook Messenger to chat with your customers and resolve common queries or even confirm orders. Facebook even has instructions for how to build your own chatbot with Facebook.
  • Build a chatbot with a tool like Octane AI, Botfuel, Chatfuel, or ManyChat. These make it easy to create and deploy chatbots without knowing how to code them.
  • Implement a pre-existing Alexa Skill or Google Action for your customers.

If you want to offer something that’s not off the shelf, you could:

eCommerce voice and AI solutions

Want a solution that’s specifically for eCommerce? Here are some resources you could use:

Finally, there’s an ever-growing list of  platforms that combine AI and chat, like:

  • Jetson, which is built for eCommerce
  • Voysis, which has an eCommerce application
  • PolyAI, an AI voice platform for any sector
  • Smartly, a voice and chat creator for multiple sectors
  • Dialogflow, which works with Google Assistant but also lets you connect via other voice interfaces
  • Mycroft, an open-source AI voice solution
  • Snips, a build-your-own open source platform
  • Conversable, an enterprise AI and voice platform
  • Convessa, another voice AI platform
  • Cognigy, a conversational AI platform
  • Voicify, a voice experience platform

Measuring success

Once you’ve implemented your solution, you’ll want to know it’s working. That means considering the ROI (cost versus revenue), whether customers are converting, and whether they’re happy.

While many platforms include analytics data, you can also implement an external voice analytics solution. Some of the choices are:

How retailers are using conversational commerce

Here are a few examples of voice commerce in action.

Nutella lets people order free samples via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant via an integration with Send Me a Sample.

Campbell’s Soup shares recipes via an Alexa Skill, and learns more about customer preferences at the same time.

1-800-Flowers uses both a Facebook chatbot and an onsite AI-powered concierge to guide customers through purchases.

Domino’s uses its own assistant to enable people to order by voice, and has recently topped half a million orders.

ASOS uses its Enki shopping assistant on Google Assistant and Facebook to help customers find and buy products.

Conversational commerce best practices

Here are some things to keep in minds as you get started with conversational commerce.

Optimize your content for voice search.  There are a couple of important aspects of this. Remember that Google owns the lion’s share of voice search, so people will be trying to use that platform to interact with your brand. Revise your structured data. There’s a beta Speakable data type that lets search engines know which content can be played back on Google Assistant via text to speech.

Tweak your content so it’s easily found by people searching by voice. Think about how people speak and the questions they’re likely to ask rather than keywords. According to SEOClarity, most voice searches are triggered by just 25 words.

Via BrightLocal.

For product pages, ensure that information about brand, color, size, and model is easily understandable.

If you’re going the chatbot route, remember that you’re aiming for human-style interaction. Invest in some professional copywriting to make even your automatic responses sound like people. Ideally, your customers won’t even know they’re talking to a bot.

Keep messages short to improve visibility. Remember that people tend to use messaging apps on mobile, so they’ll likely be interacting with your bot on a phone screen with limited space.

Finally, avoid duplicating your other marketing. Messaging is not supposed to be like email marketing or social media marketing. It’s a more personal interaction and you need to treat it that way.

At the moment, conversational commerce looks like it’s here to stay. While privacy and security remain a concern for almost half of us, many experts believe that solving these issues will allow the technology to come into its own. With this guide, you’ll be ready for that day.

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at sharonhh.com.

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