Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence technology, there’s a new wave of tools at the intersection of business and social messaging helping brands interact with customers in relevant, personal, and helpful ways - all at reduced cost.
Welcome to the year of conversational commerce.
As the app marketplace continues to expand, messaging apps are on the fast track to eclipsing social media as the mobile activity of choice. Of the top 10 global apps more than half of them are based in messaging, and 1.4 billion people worldwide used them in 2015, a 32% leap from the year before.
Worldwide, Facebook Messenger leads the charge with a 56% adoption rate, followed by WhatsApp at 50% and SMS at 42%. Even Starbucks launched a Pumpkin Spice Latte chatbot (“The Real PSL”) to coincide with its famed fall return to the menu.
But the real power of messaging lies in its ability to keep a steady, private line going between a brand and its customer, separating itself from the ranks of longtime, one-way communication mediums like email. A follow-up conversation on, say, product tips or customer reviews are quicker and more organic.
This opens up a realm of opportunity for brands to cross-sell and upsell based on product recommendation to meet the customer’s specific needs, much like engaging a product representative at a brick and mortar. Take this example from Sephora’s customer service bot:
Sephora: Hi, Jamie! Welcome to Sephora! Do you want to see some makeup tips or check out product reviews?
Me: Tips, please.
Sephora: What type of tip are you looking for?
Me: Face makeup.
Sephora: Let me try to narrow it down for you. What specifically should I find a tip about?
Me: Face contouring, please.
Perhaps the biggest chatbot benefit is having the ability to address a customer’s needs based on context and identity. With Facebook messenger, users are always equipped with an authenticated status, which eases the process for brands to bring relevant information to the customer. In return, brands surrender some level of control to the apps, similar to when engaging with customers on a social media network.
Some major players like 1-800 Flowers are eagerly pushing into the conversational commerce space. They’re blending the bot with real-time customer service support on Messenger to “serve as gift concierges and answer questions, make gifting suggestions, process orders, send shipping upgrade and provide an array of other important information, such as gift reminders,” literally freeing the hands of customers to do other things. The company turns to outside experts for bot technology and customer experience design.
The customer service experience from a chatbot service like 1-800 Flowers’ mimics the human one, thanks to its focus on building an AI-driven commerce experience while giving its customer service employees the reins to interpret questions from customers. Down the road, they plan to train in a bot to do the interpreting for general-style inquiries. They know where to reach their customers (online), which is why meeting them there is a critical part in providing a top-tier customer service experience.
Making it in conversational commerce, takes a multi-disciplined approach to customer service. As instantaneous access to brands advances, customers expect natural, human-like interactions which requires the understanding of context. Questions like “What’s the status of my purchase?” will require that the bot understands the customer is inquiring about its most recent transaction, and needs to respond on the order’s whereabouts along with its estimated time of arrival.
The brands that will win are those who know that getting the customer experience right isn’t a box-ticking exercise - they’re the ones who are intent on building up their tech and marketing efforts. The ones who know that when it comes to great customer experience, nothing tops the engagement process for a customer than through their beloved text messaging.
To give you a more well-rounded picture of how brands are leveraging this intimate method of communication, we rounded up a few of our messaging app favorites:
1. Sephora's Insightful Kik
Sephora was the first beauty retailer to make its debut on Kik, a messaging app that gives users the ability to chat with their friends and some of their favorite brands. As demonstrated in the example above, their chatbot prompts Kik users who message it to provide more information about themselves, a la Buzzfeed quiz-style. Based on those results, it offers customized beauty tips, product recommendations and reviews, and allows users to make purchases directly from the app. Adopting Kik was a natural fit in reaching their target customer base: millennials. Sephora proved that they were at the right place at the right time by thinking of new channels and nuanced customer contexts.
2. Hyatt’s Facebook Messenger for Customer Support
Customer service on social is usually synonymous with Twitter, the virtual ‘help’ desk. DMs are good and all but if social media is all about convenience, is it really convenient to make customers switch out of one platform to get to another? Hotel giant Hyatt took note of this and expanded their customer service presence to Facebook messaging. This integration serves as the designated messaging app for Hyatt operations around the globe, and gives users the ability to make reservations straight from the source. All they need to do is search for Hyatt in the messenger search bar to check for vacancies or initiate real-time conversation with a Hyatt employee - all from one spot.
3. Narrate the Product Journey Like Clark’s
Every brand has a story to tell and when done right, your brand narrative can inspire loyalty and trust in your customers. The Clarks Desert Boot is a timeless, well-crafted shoe that comes from a rich background many are not aware of. Which is why Clarks launched an interactive storytelling campaign through WhatsApp to invite users to directly communicate with three prominent characters steeped in the history of Clarks shoes. The users that add them to their WhatsApp had the ability to see images, playlists, videos and messages associated with the subcultures that brought Clark’s boots into the spotlight.
Want to stay on top of the latest trends in marketing technology?
Sign up for our Free Digital Marketing Assessment to see how you can take advantage of today's opportunities.
Editor’s note: this blog post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated to include additional information.