Live chat for ecommerce has been around for a while and it has been used mostly by customers to ask questions about the product or service being offered or for after sales and support. Still, customers acknowledge its usefulness. Sometimes product descriptions or reviews don’t necessarily cover specific concerns and being able to connect with an actual person helps. An eMarketer survey revealed that 63% of customers are more likely to return to a site that features live chat.
There are now numerous live chat services that can be integrated with just about any ecommerce platform today. Most even now include advanced features such as surveys, analytics, transcripts, queuing, and reports which are all useful to measure how effectively customers’ concerns are being handled.
However, the use of chat for ecommerce is taking a new evolutionary step. Social messengers are emerging not only as an alternative to what these chat services currently provide but to online shopping carts as well.
The Rise of Conversational Commerce
The pervasiveness of messaging apps like Facebook Messenger make them viable channels for businesses to connect to customers. There are 1.86 billion people who are already on Facebook, and despite un-bundling Messenger as a separate mobile app, the service has over 1 billion active users.
Facebook even made available the Messenger platform for developers so that sites and services can embed Messenger on sites and in other apps. One high-profile integration was when Uber tapped into Facebook Messenger back in 2015 to allow users to book rides within the chat window.
This use of messaging apps is what ex-Uber developer Chris Messina dubbed as conversational commerce. What we seeing is the use of chat beyond asynchronous communication. Chat use isn’t limited to Q&A and support anymore and a variety of business functions can actually be conducted within the chat window.
Improvements in Chatbots and AI
Conversational commerce carries a lot of potential especially when combined with the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI). All the big tech players – Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon – have all made significant investments in developing machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to be part of their cloud platforms.
Now, businesses are harnessing these technologies to use across all business functions. For example, enterprises subscribed into cloud platforms like IBM Bluemix are free to create their own messenger bots, draw from a variety of Bluemix services such as the Watson AI, and integrate them into popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger. The bot can be used by the internal HR support system to handle common concerns. Rather than an impersonal list of FAQs, the bot can reply with personalized information for the user.
A common knock against chatbots is how inorganic they often sound and how they can trip when encountering nuanced language resulting in either humorous or frustrating interactions. However, the progress being made in ML and NLP are making this a thing of the past. Chatbots can now learn from interactions and adjust for future interactions. Just seeing how sophisticated Apple’s Siri has become is testament to how far ML and NLP have come. And, as a precaution, rules can also be created to allow bots to fallback to a live agent if the customer’s concerns go beyond its purview.
Facilitating the Buying Journey
Last year, Facebook announced more ecommerce integrations with the likes of 1-800-Flowers allowing users to ask suggestions for flowers depending on the user’s purpose and then order flowers within the app. Facebook also partnered with CNN for its chatbot that delivers news updates within Messenger.
There can be a wide range of applications of AI-driven bots for ecommerce. They can be programmed to facilitate buying journeys such as generating awareness, returning search results based on personalized queries, educating potential customers on product differentiators, and ultimately influencing decisions towards a successful sale. Even the purchasing can be done within the messenger.
And it is not only in retail that such applications can be done. B2B sales can even benefit from chatbots. Since most purchasing teams now perform their due diligence in researching vendors prior to making contact, chatbots could even perform initial sales pitches once visitors land on a webpage. It is common nowadays for a live chat box to pop up when visiting product pages but instead of a live agent, these soon can be taken over by bots.
After-sales activities can also be done through chat. Product support can be taken over by chatbots and even eliciting feedback such as product reviews and customer satisfaction can be automatically facilitated using chat.
Towards the Future
Facebook is continuing its support in conversational commerce. Chatbots will feature in the upcoming F8 2017 conference particularly what Facebook dubs as group bots that will feature within Messenger group chats. Some of the applications include sports bots that provide updates and ecommerce bots that could notify group members of delivery statuses.
These are only just the initial developments in conversational commerce. The chatbot platforms will only get better as developers and users get a better grasp of their use. As for ecommerce, the breadth of applications seems boundless and it is not too far-fetched to think that, if chatbots can already be used for the whole buying process, they may even be able to replace both online and brick-and-mortar channels.