It’s hard to talk about “conversational commerce”—a concept coined by Uber’s Chris Messina to describe the future of messaging apps—without mentioning chatbots.
Chatbots are essentially programs pretending to be people that you can interact with through text or even voice.
Essentially, you can talk to these chatbots in your messaging apps, much like you would any other contact in your list, to get the day’s news or even get something done.
In the context of conversational commerce, where messaging apps become a bridge between consumers and businesses, chatbots seem to be the best answer for ecommerce business owners to manage thousands of one-to-one conversations with customers.
But for many online business owners who don’t need to manage that many customer conversations at a time, “outsourcing” customer support to a robot just isn’t worth sacrificing the quality of each individual shopper’s experience or what you as a business owner could learn from them.
These smaller online businesses are often run by one or two people who, thanks to a bit of automation, are more than capable of juggling several conversations with their customers at any given time.
And with examples like Microsoft’s controversial twitter bot Tay demonstrating the current state of A.I., you might be hesitant to completely trust a bot with something as important as providing good customer service.
Instead, ecommerce businesses should look at conversational commerce as an opportunity to couple intimacy and automation to help them deliver a more personal customer experience through messaging apps.
Conversational commerce is bringing back the business-to-customer dialogue where it’s been missing most: shopping online.
Customer Service: Where Businesses Still Need a Human Touch
While the chatbot hasn’t evolved to the point where it could completely pass for a real person yet, the messaging app has evolved to improve a part of business that never quite carried over from brick-and-mortar to the online store: Sales and customer support.
And it’s only possible now because messaging apps as a whole have experienced explosive growthcompared to most social apps, offering users a more engaged and private communication channel than any social network.
Among these messaging apps, Facebook Messenger presents one of the largest opportunities right now.
Since its launch in 2011, Facebook Messenger has grown to 900 million users, far outstripping most other messaging apps. That makes it one of the best platforms for businesses looking to exploreconversational commerce as a channel for selling to and supporting customers directly.
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Integrating Facebook Messenger as a channel gives you a persistent line of communication that customers can access when they visit your website—creating a conversation that stays with them as they move from desktop to tablet to smartphone in a multi-device world.
In one chat with a customer, you can:
- Help someone make a purchase decision.
- Handle any objections personally.
- Upsell or cross-sell other products.
- Offer discount codes.
- Answer questions about “out of stock” products and notify customers when they’re available again.
- Get customer feedback.
- Deliver shipping notifications.
- …All at the fast pace of instant messaging.
By coupling hands-on service with some degree of automation—shipping notifications and auto-responders, for example—you can manage customer relationships more easily and on a more personal level.
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With Shopkey, you can add products in conversations with customers, wherever they happen, as easily as you’d add an emoji (iOS only for now).
That’s not to say bots don’t have a place in business. Far from it—chatbots are already fulfilling their promise of creating more time for business owners, albeit in a different way.
Marketing & Operations: Where Bots Are at Their Best
While chatbot AI isn’t quite smart enough to become the “face” of your brand in a sales or customer service role, it is at a point where it can take on some of the many burdens that come with running a business—particularly when it comes to executing tasks for marketing and operations.
While many chatbots out there leave a lot to be desired, the best ones right now work because they serve a specialized function.
These bots usually offer a user experience that starts you off with a few options or yes/no questions, before branching off to ask you further questions as required or executing an action based on the information that it’s gathered.
The NBA’s Messenger bot, for example, offers video highlights and answers to questions about recent games. The CNN news bot, similarly, will give you a quick summary about the day’s top news stories if you ask it.
But for businesses, it’s the concierge-style task fulfillment—duties usually outsourced to virtual assistants—where bots can offer the most utility.
Take Kit, for example, a virtual employee recently acquired by Shopify.
Instead of an app for every task, Kit can interact with different apps on your behalf. All you need to do is say the word and approve the action to do anything from:
- Create Facebook and Instagram ads with accurate audience targeting.
- Post new products or sales to your Facebook page.
- Send personalized ‘Thank You’ emails to customers.
- Create business reports for a quick look at your sales stats.
- Turn a 5-Star customer review into an ad.
- And other things that would take some time out of your day to execute.
In this context, chatbots like Kit can give business owners back their time—time they can then spend focusing on other things.
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Conversational Commerce Is Changing Ecommerce For Both Businesses and Consumers
The easiest way to think of “conversational commerce” is as a way to turn dialogue—the natural back-and-forth exchange of information—into a way for people, apps, businesses and bots to interface with each other in meaningful ways.
While the concept of building artificially intelligent chatbots isn’t new, the amount of attention, buy-in and innovation around them at present is a product of messaging apps overtaking social networks when it comes to where we actively invest our time.
Because when you think about it, the deepest and most personal form of engagement a customer can have with a business online isn’t a Like on Facebook, an email opt-in or even a purchase.