It’s well past due for our industry to reconsider how we think about conversational commerce. In speaking with many CX leaders, it's become apparent that the term itself has very intimidating connotations.

And I get it: “Conversational commerce” was initially coined by Uber’s Chris Messina (the inventor of the hashtag) in 2015 to reflect rapid progress in personalization technologies, particularly in mobile settings.

It was shortly thereafter adopted by the likes of Facebook and Apple to represent their most bleeding edge conversational AI and bot innovations. All of a sudden, “conversational commerce” seemed out of reach for the vast majority of customer service and support leaders, something only available in the land of big tech (or pizza emojis).

It’s time to bring the term back, under our terms.

Bringing Back Conversational Commerce

As I’ve written before, the time is now for CX leaders to take a more prominent role within their company’s leadership structure. And one of the key ways to do so is by showcasing CX’s ability to drive revenue. We’ve seen how customer service and support is often the driver of customer loyalty and lifetime value. The reason? It’s because great CX is often driven by high quality, personalized conversations between a brand and its customers.

It’s within those conversations that CX leaders can find new opportunities to drive more revenue for their business as well, in the form of new sales. This is, in my opinion, the real meaning of conversational commerce.

In my most recent book, Experience is Everything, we offer the following as a new definition for "conversational commerce":

Conversational commerce leverages the power of dialogue to offer a personalized, consultative shopping experience that ultimately drives sales and revenue. Customer service chat and the use of messaging are critical channels for conversational commerce in the digital environment because they allow your human specialists to replicate the one-on-one, in-store salesperson experience by enabling them to interact with customers in during the buying process, provide in-the-moment help, and offer relevant recommendations while fostering relationships.

Related Article: 3 Ways CX Can Become a Driver of Business Strategy

Learning Opportunities

Applying Definition of Conversational Commerce in Practice

This definition provides a foundation upon which CX leaders can build practical, impactful conversational commerce programs that allow CX agents to easily become consultative partners in your customers’ shopping journeys.

Here are four examples of applying this definition of conversational commerce in practice:

  • Making Upsell Recommendations. A single item naturally lends itself to add-ons or upgrades. Full price or premium items might appeal to a given buyer based on what you learn about their preferences or know about their buying history. Or you have items on sale, clearance or promotion. By equipping your customer service agents with this information, any customer interaction can easily expand into an opportunity to drive an incremental purchase.
  • Suggesting Complementary Products. When a customer asks about a product they’re considering, ready to buy, or have already bought, your agents should proactively recommend additional items that go well with it; or make it easy for them to suggest "products you may like" by giving them visibility into system-based recommendations.
  • Providing Alternative Options. When items are sold out, backordered, delayed or otherwise unavailable, have your agents suggest comparable items the buyer may like.
  • Turning Returns into Exchanges. Returns happen. But you can turn returns into exchanges by helping with sizing or suggesting other products they might prefer.

Related Article: Immersive Commerce Comes of Age in 2022

Helping Agents Build Rapport With Customers

Weaving these cross sell and upsell motions into support conversations is an effective way to further tap into the rapport agents build with customers constantly. And you don’t have to be an Apple or Facebook to pull it off! For our Experience is Everything book, we interviewed former Shopify and Shutterstock CMO Jeff Weiser about his investments in conversational commerce at the latter company, and he had this to say about his experience:

At Shutterstock, our contact center manager saw an opportunity for the care team to operate as a quasi-inside sales team. Agents could ask probing questions to understand the customer’s needs more deeply, then propose other tools or solutions that would benefit them while growing their lifetime value to the company. In the first year after we made this change from customer service as a cost center to customer service as a revenue driver, we quadrupled the revenue we could attribute directly to that channel. So now, we weren’t just improving CSAT or Net Promoter in the hopes that satisfaction or loyalty would pay off over the long term. We could actually see the near-term impact on the bottom line.

For CX to thrive in the era of NOW Customer, CX leaders need to uncover new areas of growth that are already at their fingertips. The best customer service teams are already engaging customers in conversations that are productive, personalized and empathetic.

They should also have the opportunity to become some of your company’s best salespeople. That’s what we should mean when we discuss “conversational commerce” and why it has to be a core tenant of any NOW CX program.