talking into a tin can

As far back as 2011, Gartner predicted customers would manage 85 percent of their business relationships free of human interaction by the year 2020. 

We rarely check back on predictions, but in this case we're on track to make Gartner's theory a reality. 

Texting has changed how our daily transactions occur. We are increasingly turning to chat, messaging or other natural language interfaces (e.g. voice) to interact with people, brands and services. 

Enter: Conversational commerce. 

What Is Conversational Commerce?

Conversational commerce is all about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go — with limited attention to spare‚Äč — and expands the mobile footprint by using texting's potential to send payments, buy products, order services, pay bills and more. 

But as consumers begin to interact with this new form of customer service, it’s up to companies — from financial services industry to retail — to understand the balance between when a customer needs a human interaction and when they do not. Not only that, businesses need to decipher when one will provide a better customer experience (CX) over the other. 

Conversational commerce is in its “learning phase” as companies wrestle with technology, customer experience and support, but despite its nascent stage, companies can do plenty to elevate their customer’s journey through this new technology. 

Conversational Commerce and the CX

Messaging provides a continuous thread between customer and brand, unlike the siloed experience of email. An order confirmation email, even one prompting further action, often dies in an inbox, but conversation on messaging apps acts like an ongoing dialog. 

This difference makes follow-up conversation easier, increasing the opportunities to cross-sell, encourage sharing, solicit input and flow seamlessly between commerce and support.

Traditionally, we focus on conversational commerce as a way retailers can engage with their customers to incite a purchase. However, conversational commerce comes into play in industries you may not realize have a CRM component. 

For example, the telecommunications industry. Vendors often use self-service carrier apps to help customers keep track of their accounts, or notify them when a bill is due, but they also can use them to digest behavioral cues from the consumer and identify opportunities to upsell or cross-sell a product or service they’d be interested in. 

It’s our job as the brand to utilize conversational commerce to present these options that the consumer may or may not have necessarily known they wanted in the first place. 

Striking the Right Balance

We’ve all been in the situation when we called our bank only to be greeted by an automated response generated from a bot. That generic interaction asking “If you are inquiring about XYZ press one" can exist anywhere, in almost any app that a company seeks to engage with a customer.

Our duty as the brand providing the experience is to understand what interaction provides a better or more enhanced customer experience. 

These conversations may take place via a text message or voice call, with a bot or a human, within a native app or within a dedicated messaging app — but at the end of the day, the brand is still communicating with the consumer, so keep it human. Companies that excel at making and delivering a natural conversation will drive higher customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty. 

Automation Doesn't Mean Replacing

Just like any emerging technology, there will always be concern about process automation taking the place of humans. 

With the workforce on the back end, you can automate some of the job functions to become more efficient. But in the CRM equation you can’t have machine to machine oversight. You’ll need a human in the loop on any interactions between a customer and a messaging app. 

So rather than people losing their jobs to a messaging app, voice or bot, we’ll see a reallocation of the workforce and more human to machine oversight, ultimately making the process sharper, the workforce more effective and the customer experience improved. 

Conversational commerce takes a disciplined, skillful understanding of the customer experience to succeed. At the end of the day, humans want to communicate with businesses the same way they communicate with other humans. 

This is what conversational commerce promises — the end of phone trees, account numbers and security questions and the beginning of real, natural conversations, regardless of whom (or what) you’re communicating with.