The Art of Conversational Commerce

July 25, 2016

Contributor: Christy Pettey

Consider adding conversational commerce capabilities to your digital channels.

We talk about taking our work home, but increasingly, employees are taking their home experiences into the workplace, making the use of consumer technology hugely influential in the enterprise. This is also expected to be the case when it comes to conversational commerce.

Conversational commerce uses technologies consumers enjoy using — such as chat, messaging or other natural-language interfaces — with artificial intelligence, so that people can interact with brands or services through bots.

Stephanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner, explained that while they don’t replace humans, bots can handle discovery questions and offer solutions without the intervention of human agents.

“Bots can go as far as enabling transactions, handling payments, ensuring delivery and providing customer service,” Ms. Baghdassarian said. “Perhaps the key aspect of conversational commerce, however, is that it allows users to converse in their platform of choice, and therefore takes channel transparency to the next level.”

“ When responsiveness meets discoverability, users get the best of conversation and the internet together.”

Facebook, for example, is enabling businesses to "chat" with consumers through its Messenger platform. The idea is that users can chat with organizations to get information, answer questions and transact through Messenger.

For example, imagine a scenario in which two friends are chatting on Messenger about meeting up for dinner at a favorite restaurant. Without leaving Messenger, they reach out to the restaurant's bot to use chat to book the table. If the settings allow, the restaurant's bot could even reach out directly to the users, having spotted the restaurant mentioned in a conversation, and confirm their reservation.

This is just one of hundreds of scenarios in the consumer space in which a business would gain from being discoverable on the potential customer's platform of use at any moment in time.

“When responsiveness meets discoverability, users get the best of conversation and the internet together,” said Derry Finkeldey, research director at Gartner. “In many cases, this combination will remove the need for dedicated apps, as most interactions will go through a bot that allows the users to ’chat‘ their requests, as if they're talking to their friends, thus removing any user interface friction.” 

As with any channel to market, conversational commerce solutions will need to fit with the other physical and digital channels already in place. The brands' bots must be closely aligned with what is delivered by email and SMS, as well as by phone or at a point of sale.

It’s also important to remember that customers see messaging platforms as a peer-to-peer communication tool, so care should be taken from the start, so that customers don't see this new channel of communication as an intrusion on their personal conversations.

At the same time, customers will require reassurances that their privacy is protected, and they will want to know who — or what — is on the other side of a third-party bot conversation, what kind of information and data is being gathered, and for what purposes.

As such obstacles are overcome, new channels, such as conversational commerce will quickly find enterprise adopters, especially as the number of IT buyers from outside the IT department grows.

Ultimately, natural-language interactions will become the norm in terms of how people expect to interact with technology. This will be true at both the consumer level and the enterprise level, whether interacting internally (with CRM and HR systems, for example) or externally (with providers and customers).

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