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Why retailers can’t ignore conversational commerce

Customers’ preferences are always evolving, and where and how they would like to interact with a brand is no exception. Increasingly, consumers expect to be able to make purchases, ask questions and receive product recommendations through the convenience of apps they use every day. They expect online shopping experiences to be frictionless, similar to the ease of connecting with family and friends. The solution for retailers? Conversational commerce.

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Recent research from LivePerson reveals two thirds of consumers globally would like to message with brands, reflecting consumers’ preferences to do business with companies that answer questions immediately. The study highlights the growth in consumers’ acceptance of chatbots, namely for help with routine tasks such as asking questions about a product or making a purchase. Further, consumers in Australia, the United Kingdom, and France reported the highest level of chatbot usage, with more than 70 per cent of respondents having used one in the past year.

Conversational platforms (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google RCS, Apple Business Chat, etc.) provide consumers with an on-demand shopping interface, allowing them to engage with representatives, both virtual and human, to have their questions answered, preview products, and complete transactions in one platform. For retailers, this means the opportunity for more touchpoints with customers and deeper interactions. At the same time this presents a new challenge for retailers: providing personalised and seamless interactions that meet consumers’ expectations, at scale.

The combination of human agents, AI and bots provides retailers with a scalable way to engage with individual customers and, more importantly, personalise each interaction. Online shoppers can receive suggestions to connect with a personal assistant, who will then provide personalised recommendations, assist with their search, and ultimately, guide them to a purchase—without jumping around applications and websites. With these capabilities, retailers can convert shoppers into buyers, reduce returns, and build brand loyalty.

But, what happens when bots don’t deliver? According to a study commissioned by LivePerson, 79 per cent of decision makers believe consumers are more impatient than ever before and will dismiss brands if they don’t receive value in their first interaction. While consumers—particularly millennials—are interested in the convenience and ease messaging offer, they are still sceptical of bots. The more complex and far-ranging the query, the less useful chatbots are likely to be for consumers. That is, human representatives are still preferred for more complex tasks. Clearly, there’s still room for improvement.

Savvy retailers are paying more attention to conversational design principles. This ensures they are not only offering customers their preferred channels of communication, but that they’re delighting customers using those channels. Here are some recommendations for retailers interested in using conversational design principles to create better customer experiences:

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  • Be transparent – It’s best practice to be transparent with your customers when they are conversing with a bot and set the right expectation by being clear on the bot’s capability.
  • Personalise the experience – Always greet customers by name or authenticate the customer with a few qualifying questions if you’re unaware of their identity. This makes consumers feel they’re involved in a tailored, unique experience and at ease not having to reiterate account details. Forward-thinking companies are going to exist in consumers’ messaging feeds, as if they were a contact.
  • Understanding consumer intent – The power of bots lies in truly understanding customer intents, then resolving simple tasks or escalating them along to human beings who can handle more complex issues when necessary. Bots need to ask follow-up questions to further validate questions, or request information to move the conversation in the appropriate direction.
  • Introduce delays between messages – Too much information can overwhelm consumers. To avoid this, introduce a pre-configured delay between bot messages, giving the reader ample time to read and comprehend the message in full.
  • Build your brand persona – You should view conversational commerce as an opportunity to portray a persona that reflects your brand’s positive attributes, and build trust and a connection.

Good customer experience comes down to how it feels for a consumer to interact with a brand. As consumers continue to show a preference for ecommerce, retailers should embrace this new frontier of brand-to-consumer communication to forge more immediate, impactful relationships with their customers. Why wouldn’t you go conversational?

Andrew Cannington is GM for LivePerson APAC.