How Conversational Is Your Commerce?

by / Monday, 24 October 2016 / Published in Blog, Conversational Commerce, Latest posts

Everybody is talking about conversational commerce today, but as with any trend, the term can mean a lot of things.

Conversational commerce isn’t new; it’s been around as long as commerce has existed. The chit chat that happens between a sales associate and a customer in a store is conversational commerce. The questions asked and answered during a customer service call or a through a catalog call center is conversational commerce. The difference today is that technology can support that one-to-one conversation between brand and customer on an infinite scale.

Since Uber’s Chris Messina coined the term in 2015, conversational commerce has evolved in some interesting—and unfortunately limiting ways—to refer almost exclusively to chat bots on messaging apps. At Fluid, we believe that conversational commerce is a whole lot more, that it’s not just chat bot “decision trees” masking as conversation, and that messaging apps aren’t the only—or necessarily best—platform for many brands.

Sure, a chat bot on a channel like Facebook Messenger can effectively replace many of the costly conversations that have been traditionally handled by call centers, particularly customer service issues that are easily captured and resolved through decision trees. In fact, many call centers depend on such decision trees to ensure that their staff handles issues in a consistent and brand-appropriate manner.

But is a chat bot on Facebook Messenger, Kik, Slack or Hipchat really the appropriate platform for a shopper to engage with a luxury brand when looking for an exclusive gift or something unique that matches your individual style? This is where true artificial intelligence can make the difference between an unbranded scripted exchange and a true brand-to-customer conversation.

As an award-winning agency with a commitment to creating engaging customer experiences, Fluid has innovated many “smart” web solutions—from shoppable imagery to product customization to our own take on conversational commerce, Fluid XPS, or Expert Personal Shopper. When developing this ground-breaking solution, we determined that artificial intelligence, as exemplified by IBM’s Watson technology, is far more powerful than any decision tree or chat bot. Leveraging natural language processing and machine learning, it is able to have true conversations with customers without forcing them down any particular path. From a brand perspective, the process of posing questions and capturing every answer to achieve an ideal product recommendation is akin to recording every conversation that ever happened between your sales associate and customers in every store, everywhere, always. From a customer data perspective, this is pure gold.

For brands like 1-800 Flowers and The North Face, not only does the customer receive the same level of product or gifting recommendation as they would in a conversation with a sales associate, the brand suddenly owns that data in perpetuity, enabling deep insights into their customers’ wants, needs, likes and even dislikes. It’s what’s called a win/win.

If your company is ready to explore conversational commerce in a way that truly represents your brand values, then it’s time to begin investigating the power of artificial intelligence. Depending on your brand and customer, a chat bot may be the perfect solution; for others, the deep product recommendations that come with AI-based software can develop a richer level of engagement. We’re happy to help find the right solution for you.

As the Director of Strategy at Fluid, Chris Haines is responsible for the strategic combination of data, brand content and user-generated content to create highly immersive digital experiences that increase engagement and conversion. 

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