More than simple chatbots
👉 Read the original article on the EHI website (in German)
Translation from the article of Imke Hahn
Instant messaging, chatbots, live shopping – in Asia, conversational commerce, i.e. digital communication with customers, is already an everyday reality in retail. The WeChat messaging platform is particularly powerful there. Today, increasing digitalization gives an impulse to its development in Germany as well.
“Conversational commerce is mainly associated with utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, services or chatbots that heretofore have had no real place in the asynchronous messaging context,” defined Chris Messina a few years ago.
Messina, who famously invented the hashtag on social media, was then Developer Experience Lead at Uber. Uber, an intermediation service specialized in passenger transportation, introduced in 2015 the possibility to schedule rides directly on Messenger. Today, conversational commerce is most often used as a generic term referring to direct communication between businesses and customers based on technologies and platforms.
These technologies can be based on text, video, or audio messages. The spectrum ranges from chat and messaging services such as Signal or WhatsApp to A.I., usually taking the form of chatbots, clickable videos, live shopping, and voice assistants. “To us, conversational commerce encompasses all customer journeys that at one point offer an online conversation with an automated agent, such as a chatbot, or with a human advisor” explains Bertrand Stephann, CEO at Alcméon. The French business messaging company has developed a platform that unifies the engagement of B2C brands on social networks and mobile devices.
Bert Schuiling: “The Covid-19 crisis acted as a catalyst.”
Standard in Asia
“The goal of conversational commerce is to foster a closer customer relationship and to be more responsive to changing consumer expectations” explains Bert Schuiling, CEO of CM.com. For the cloud software provider, the notion of conversational commerce brings together the two worlds of messaging and payment. The company’s communication and payment platform automates customer interaction on several mobile channels and combines it with a payment feature.
In Asia, and especially so in China, conversational commerce is already a standard, principally on WeChat, an app with over a billion users. It is comparable to WhatsApp and offers more features than Facebook and Instagram. In 2020, for instance, over 50 million companies used the “WeChat Pay” payment module, generating one billion transactions per day. This trend is also developing in the Western world, notably because of the progressive digitalization that followed the Covid-19 pandemic. Emile Litvak, VP of Business Messaging at Facebook, announced at the company’s annual F8 developer conference that conversations between users and businesses on Messenger and Instagram have increased by 40% in 2020. “The Covid-19 crisis acted as a catalyst for a number of online services and conversational commerce,” said Bert Schuiling of CM.com. During the pandemic, Intermarché hence experienced a large increase in the use of its messaging services. To control the ensuing additional costs, the French food retailer has collaborated with Alcméon to implement a chat window on its website.
Intermarché: Intermarché makes different communication channels available to its customers.
Use chatbots in a targeted way
One of the most well-known forms of conversational commerce is chatbots. Nevertheless, today, the retail sector agrees on the fact that a hybrid solution, founded on human advisors assisted by A.I., is the best option, as Bertrand Stephann emphasizes: “Even the most advanced chatbots do not replace good salespeople and advisors.” According to the expert, frustration builds when the user does not receive an answer to his question or if A.I. misunderstands him. Stephann suggests using robotized conversations to respond to frequently asked questions and to automate specific services. The French national postal service La Poste for instance successfully reduced the number of requests to human advisors by fully automating the tracking of parcels on Facebook Messenger. Small, inexpensive steps can quickly simplify communication with customers: for example, nail polish retailer Maniko has integrated a WhatsApp chat channel on its website that directs customers towards a sales adviser.
The concept of conversational commerce today goes way beyond chatbots and also applies to live shopping formats, used for example by Douglas or Tchibo, and to recommendation features for products or gifts. Husqvarna, a retailer of outdoor and construction power tools, has launched a battery sales agent on its website, which uses a questionnaire to guide users to the product that meets their needs. This product finder for instance asks for what task and how often the device will be used.
Bertrand Stephann, CEO Alcméon :
“Even the most advanced chatbots do not replace good salespeople and advisors.”
Bertrand Stephann of Alcméon believes that conversational commerce will take off in Europe in the coming years. “With new features and formats such as Instagram Shops and live shopping, conversational commerce will develop considerably, as we have witnessed in China with WeChat.”