The Rise of Conversational Commerce

As the world becomes increasingly connected, business is becoming more social.

Today, consumers are in the driver’s seat and more than ever look to online communities such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest to advise or facilitate purchase decisions. Indeed, by 2020, 30 per cent of all purchases will be made through an online community, IDC predicts.

To meet the needs of shoppers and capitalize on these communities, retailers must deliver a consistent and personalized customer journey everywhere consumers shop, whether it’s in stores, online or from a mobile device. That means embracing an emerging group of conversational commerce tools to make that happen.

The term “conversational commerce” was just coined in early 2015 and it has as already taken on a life of its own. Initially, the term referred to the intersection of messaging apps and shopping. More recently, it’s come to also include chatbots and Intelligent Virtual Assistants that use natural language interfaces.

Conversational commerce has become an important technology for retailers because it offers an opportunity to meet rising demand for better customer experiences and more personalization. Shoppers are savvier than ever and empowered by infinite amounts of data to be much more selective about the brands and products they purchase.

By tapping into online communities and using conversational commerce technologies, Canadian businesses can interact and engage with customers to deliver the levels of “concierge-like” service and attention they now expect.

Here are the key conversational commerce trends to watch.

Virtual Assistants Speak to Everyone

While still in their infancy, many industry observers believe IVAs could represent the next frontier in ecommerce and customer care.

Why? Because if the voice recognition technology behind them continues to advance, they could quickly advance from just sitting on nightstands and desktops to being integrated into the fabric of smart homes and offices everywhere.

In the near future, rather than going to an online shopping or customer support site, many consumers will also turn to their Amazon Echo or Google Home system to research products, make actual purchases and connect with automated or human customer service agents.

In fact, we’re already seeing several major brands – including Starbucks, GE, 1-800 Flowers and Procter and Gamble – testing virtual assistants for these types scenarios. And by 2018, Gartner predicts most of the world’s largest 200 companies will exploit intelligent apps to refine their offers and improve customer experience by utilizing the full toolkit of big data and analytics.

Prepare for this trend. Consider ways to leverage emerging applications, and if you have the capabilities (or partners to help), build custom apps to leverage IVAs for sales and support.

Mobile Messaging Apps Lead Customer Care

Globally, more than three billion people use mobile messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Kik Messenger on a regular basis. Canadians initially lagged this trend, but they’ve been playing catch up lately with adoption growing by 74 per cent last year compared to the global average of 11 per cent.

Of course, those numbers don’t necessarily mean people are using mobile messaging apps exclusively for commerce. But at the same time, it does suggest there is a huge opportunity for organizations to engage with people where they’re most active, namely on their connected devices.

For example, offering customer service options with mobile messaging apps makes for a frictionless experience since customers only have to speak to a human being if the technology doesn’t meet their needs. If they like, they’re easily transferred to a live agent with the tap of a button. It’s also advantageous for companies, since managing the bulk of common inquiries through automated systems saves organizations, time, money and overall improves operational efficiency.

In fact, Gartner predicts “by 2019, requests for customer support through consumer mobile messaging apps will exceed requests for customer support through traditional social media,” which is considered the go-to channel right now for digital customer care.

Online Communities Remain Relevant

Companies can significantly bolster their strategic relevance by investing in online community and e-commerce platforms.

Many of us think of communities as a place we go to draw upon the knowledge of others when we have questions that are not getting answered through corporate or educational sites. And indeed, they serve that purpose well. But communities are also emerging as great commerce centres.

Online communities build deeper customer relationships by enabling customers to give direct feedback and share their enthusiasm for brands and products – helping companies drive incremental revenues and shortened sales cycles while tending to boost loyalty among the customers that are using them.

The key for companies thinking of investing in or bolstering an online community is to ensure that the customer experience is consistent with every other channel they use, whether it’s a web site, a mobile device or a physical store. Customers today expect seamless brand experiences — they want the ability to start an engagement, purchase or service request in one place and pick it up in another, without missing a beat.

CRM is Still a Must

One of the most important things organizations can do to prepare for the arrival of conversational commerce is to invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

A CRM solution needs to be the center of gravity for accelerating digital transformation, including conversational commerce. At its simplest, CRM is the central repository of information about customers that pulls in data from multiple sources to create a 360-degree customer view, or “golden record.”

Trying to do business in the digital age without a CRM solution would be like trying to fly without a navigation system. You’re simply not going anywhere. A CRM platform can help businesses capture what’s important to build a customer profile while automating repetitive tasks and freeing them to focus on core business matters. And where e-commerce is concerned, you just can’t deliver the level of experience customers require, through any channel, unless you have the right tracking system to guide you.

Conversational commerce, built on CRM platform, is the future of customer engagement, which was a big focus at our annual Salesforce World Tour in Toronto.

The signs are all around us, and it behooves every organization to start building the infrastructure with the right technology tools to succeed in the digital era.