The Definitive Guide to Building Effective Conversational Commerce Roadmaps
Digital Transformation | 11 min READ
    
What is Conversational Commerce?
As homo sapiens find themselves embedded in a hyperconnected digital fabric constituted of a variety of devices across multiple spheres of life, which are in turn, interconnected with each other through ever-faster networking technologies, the frontiers of buying and selling activities are moving outside the conventional brick and mortar websites and mobile apps. Buyers now interact with their brands anywhere and anytime, through their voice and even text messages. This is what conversational commerce refers to - and according to a Gartner estimate, over 50% of enterprises will spend more on these technologies than on their mobile app development.
Neha Aggarwal
Neha Aggarwal

AVP & Head

CX and Automation Practice

Birlasoft

 
The experience that conversational commerce aspires to deliver, can at best, be summarized as a low-touch white-glove service, and at the least, an agile, fast, and personalized way to fulfill a customer’s need embedded within a context. This is made possible by using digital technologies like conversational AI that are interfaced with customer-facing technologies - like virtual home assistants and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Conversational commerce can help alleviate some of the critical challenges of buying through websites and apps and reduce the cost of selling non-standard products and services. Read on to understand the why, what, and how of conversational commerce.
The Rise of Conversational Commerce
In the early 2000s, selling products and services using a website was all the craze. When smartphones gained popularity, creating an interface to the e-store using an app or a mobile-compatible website took to the forefront. Today, the reducing cost of sensors, increasing permeability of high-speed connectivity, and an expanding device footprint - have collectively enabled enterprises to rethink how they sell their products and services to the end customer. And this trend is no longer limited to retailers or B2C companies. Conversational commerce has now become a valuable tool in the enterprise’s customer experience toolkit.
Top Market Trends
Some of the first adopters of conversational commerce were Dominos (which launched a voice-enabled ordering interface on its mobile app) and retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Walgreens. Since then, conversational commerce has evolved to serve multiple functions - like assisted selling through conversational chatbots that serve as virtual assistants on websites and apps on connected home devices that can sail through the order and handle it end-to-end, from discovery to payment and tracking.
Adoption Curve
While over 40 large retailers have adopted conversational commerce in the US alone, the technologies that constitute conversational commerce are already present in various settings today. For example, most IT departments use a chatbot today, self-service portals are being interfaced with intelligent search technologies, and almost 58% of enterprises investing in chatbots are B2B companies.
The adoption curve has shown a steep rise on both sides - customers show a greater comfort with interacting with their voice assistants for ordering a meal, booking a taxi or an appointment, or making payments for services. At the same time, enterprises are expanding the capabilities of their informational chatbots to do more. For example, a B2B Nordic bank recently expanded its chatbot’s capabilities from merely disseminating information about its policies and product offerings to handle mortgage broker requests from customers.
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Market Potential
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) make further advancements, the capabilities and potential of these front-facing chatbots and intelligent voice systems will only move upwards.
 
An increasing maturity factor in enterprise technology and cross-functional integrations between software systems will ultimately open up conversational front-ends to the orchestration of customer queries and requests downstream.
However, there is a soft side too to conversational commerce - some of the most successful use cases have demonstrated the value of making AI-backed conversations human-like, demonstrating emotional intelligence and context-awareness through interactions, and adapting to multiple personas in multi-user device environments. While some features do exist in the labs, only a few early adopters have commercialized and rationalized the spend on such advanced capabilities.
Today, over 66% of internet users have already interacted with chatbots, and half are satisfied with them. And by 2023, over $112 bn will be spent through chatbot-powered e-commerce transactions, according to a study. In the coming years, conversational commerce is expected to disrupt almost every industry - an increasing intelligence and skill factor on virtual home assistants like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana, coupled with the 99%+ accuracy of speech-to-text technologies - only consolidates the case for investing in conversational commerce.
How Conversational Commerce Works?
Conversational commerce is supported by several technologies, which are leveraged in a channel-appropriate manner, and integrated with the enterprise technology depending on the expectations from their deployment.
Deep Dive
Conversational commerce essentially automates interactions between a customer and the enterprise by emulating human-like conversations through various media - for example, an app inside a physical outlet, over a voice through a connected home device, messaging apps, car infotainment systems. Such systems usually consist of an interface that allows the customer to interact with the brand. The customer’s responses are converted into text, which is then processed using NLP.
This is how the customer’s intent is inferred, following which human-like responses to a query are generated and rendered in text or voice. Conversational commerce is based on loosely modeled customer journeys that inform the conversation flow design - that sits at the core of such a system. When integrated with the enterprise CRM and ERP systems and automated revenue/quote-to-cash software, such a system can orchestrate a fast and highly responsive sales experience end-to-end for both the customer and the enterprise.
Typical Digital Levers For Conversational Commerce
Conversational commerce can be deployed across a variety of channels. Here are three typical levers that demonstrate high RoI on deployment from day one:
Chatbots
Over 74% of customers prefer using chatbots when hunting for answers, and 69% feel comfortable handling issues without human agents backing them up. This comfort with chatbots is being leveraged to guide assisted sales on various channels - from e-commerce stores on enterprises’ websites to their mobile apps and physical stores. Conversational chatbots allow enterprises to download a vast amount of capabilities into a single intelligent system that can transact with users when they want targeted information about a product they are about to buy, purchase-related queries, service modifications - and offload a significant volume of unintelligent tasks from the front-office.
Messaging Apps
Messaging apps allow enterprises to engage their users in their most-used, highly engaging digital application ecosystems. In 2018, over 0.3 million chatbots existed on Facebook alone - and today, enterprises can leverage APIs to build chatbots on various messaging apps - like Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook. Conversing with customers on a messaging app resembles a conversation with their friends/acquaintances - thus, eliminating the need to move to an external application environment. This brings a greater focus on responsiveness, intelligence, and capabilities that a business can offer through conversations on these channels.
Digital Assistants
Digital assistants combine the ease of access with location and context-agnosticism - for instance, voice assistants on a car or a smartphone allow customers to place an order for groceries or subscribe to a new service on the go, without having to type or even look at their screens. Simultaneously, interactions through these channels must stay aware of the users’ emotional and contextual needs - for example, what tone should the voice response convey as the user makes a purchase when they are at a hospital?
Common Digital Levers For Conversational Commerce
Common Digital Levers For Conversational Commerce
Conversational Commerce Examples
Here are a few examples that demonstrate cutting-edge conversational capabilities geared for success in today’s digital era:
Service inquiry, followed by scheduling
A person commuting from their home to office asks their automotive manufacturer when their service is due through the intelligent infotainment system built in their car. Checking the records and the stats from the odometer, the system informs the customer that their service is overdue. At the same time, it also locates the nearest service center on the customer’s daily commute and offers them to schedule a drop and pick-up that fits their work schedule. The customer’s taxi service app spots this opportunity and offers a couple of bookings that bridge the commute from the service center to the customer’s workplace.
The Definitive Guide to Building Effective Conversational Commerce Roadmaps
Assisted selling in high complexity environments
While shopping for home decor, a customer is confused. On spotting zero items in the cart over a long period, a text pops up, asking the user if they would like help with their shopping. When the customer agrees, the chatbot asks the customer about their taste/style and what they would like to buy. On understanding this, the chatbot suggests a few looks-through pictures followed by the links to items that are contained in these pictures.
Intelligent appointment scheduler over messaging
A woman goes for a routine complete body checkup and spots an abnormality in their blood work. Seeing this, they reach out to their healthcare provider to book an appointment through their Whatsapp bot. The bot asks her if she would like an appointment with a specialty practitioner or a general physician. Confused, she uploads a snapshot of her bloodwork - the chatbot infers and predicts that an appointment with a hematologist would be ideal for her and offers to book an appointment during an available slot.
Common Examples of Conversational Commerce
Common Examples of Conversational Commerce
Benefits of Conversational Commerce
In the coming decade, conversational commerce will bring significant gains for enterprises. Here are a few ways through which this will happen:
  • Experience delivery: Conversational commerce brings responsiveness and 24x7 readiness to enterprise-customer interactions - and consequently, transactions. This can significantly boost the NPS score and retention rates.
  • Interaction continuity: Compared to static interaction media like emails and costly continuous interactions like phone calls, conversational commerce brings continuity to customer interactions, allowing brands to demonstrate a high degree of contextual understanding and empathy towards the customer.
  • Lower costs: Conversational commerce drastically reduces the spend on assisted selling and zero-touch transactions. It doesn’t deploy humans to front-facing situations and for orchestrating simple tasks such as pre-sales query resolutions, confirmations, and transaction orchestrations.
  • Expanding reach: By interacting with customers within the confines of their preferred app environments, conversational commerce reduces brand app fatigue and makes the business visible and available with ease.
  • Personalized experiences: Conversational commerce allows brands to deliver highly personalized experiences that speak directly to the customer’s needs in that moment and context.
Benefits of Conversational Commerce
Benefits of Conversational Commerce
Conversational Commerce: The Future of eCommerce
Conversational commerce has shown a fast-paced adoption in the Fortune 500 over the last five years, but 2020 and the pandemic have given a fresh and robust impetus that further accelerated adoption. The need for delivering no-touch experiences at physical stores has led to the implementation of digital interfaces that have replaced sales personnel at many retailers and service providers.
Simultaneously, the blurring of boundaries between the home and the workplace has given rise to smarter home environments geared to make people’s lives easier. Smart devices and home assistants are rapidly expanding their skill sets, thereby opening up the possibility of delivering innovative experiences to customers in their own space and time. Borderless commerce (as conversational commerce is often, alternatively called) is, therefore, beginning to truly live up to its name.
In the future, as AI platforms sees further developments, the frontiers of NLP technologies will be pushed too - which means that smarter automated conversations will come at a lower cost. The fraction of interactions that deserve human attention within the enterprise will go down too. This is where the fundamental cost-saving proposition lies. Enterprises must speed up their conversational commerce adoption to deliver their products and services through innovative mechanisms in an omnichannel world.
How to Build Your Conversational Commerce Roadmap?
Conversational commerce is not a cluster of technologies that can be adopted for value delivery. The sum will be greater than the parts only when a well-strategized roadmap informs adoption and further innovation. Here are a few steps in this direction:
  • Enterprise technology evaluation: First, the CTO, along with the board members, must conduct a thorough readiness evaluation of the enterprise technology - cloud-based ERP and CRM systems will pave the way for automated orchestration and transparency between teams. This is a significant prerequisite for cost savings through automated orchestration of transactions.
  • Journey mapping and conversation modeling: If the enterprise has existing chatbot deployments and customer interaction data, this data must be collectively analyzed to brainstorm the most valuable and automatable customer journeys. Two criteria that must inform this evaluation in the early stages are: enterprise spend that can be saved on delivering an interaction and the revenues that correspond to an end-to-end journey for the enterprise.
  • Channel evaluation and incremental adoption: Not all channels will bring equal success for enterprises across industries. First, a thorough evaluation of a customer’s readiness to interact with a brand across a channel must be made - following which capabilities must be added to the degree of success.
Building Your Conversational Commerce Roadmap
Building Your Conversational Commerce Roadmap
Key Takeaways
The conversational commerce market has been growing at 20% year-over-year, and most brands are leveraging these technologies to exhibit agility, responsiveness, and trustworthiness to customers. As more customers turn into expert digital navigators, enterprises must also take conversations to where their customers want to have them. Early adopters are already bringing innovative experiences to life by making their customers’ conversations increasingly human-like and writing record satisfaction scores.
In the coming decade, conversational commerce will overtake in-store purchases across many countries, and competitive advantage will be defined by companies’ ability to hyper-personalized, empathize, and customize - because speed and responsiveness have already become deal-makers and breakers, and consequently, the pillars of success in the era of digital business. Enterprises must act now and allow their customers to speak to them whenever and wherever they want to - to stay relevant and emerge as CX leaders in the coming years.
 
 
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