This post was originally published in Chatbots Magazine.
There are few industries as large, as exciting and as crucial to the economy as ecommerce. By 2020 ecommerce will be a $4 trillion dollar industry.
While ecommerce is filled with giant companies, few have had the influence on ecommerce and customer acquisition that Google has. The Google search bar remains the bridge that connects most people to information, especially so in ecommerce.
The rapid rise of chat interfaces, however, has the potential to disrupt this. Conversational commerce, as it has now come to be known, can change how we find products, how we learn about them and much more.
Micromoments in Commerce
Sales hinges on a few key moments in the customer journey. In an era where content is increasingly the salesman, Google has coined these as “micromoments.” Micromoments are critical touchpoints in the customer acquisition cycle where consumers are open to being influenced by brands. Each of these moments is an opportunity to nudge a consumer towards a purchase, or in the worst case scenario to lose a customer. Google calls these all sorts of names from “If-only-I-had-this moments” to “how-does-this-work-again moments.”
But these amusing names embody something crucial about commerce: intent. The reality is that most commerce happens not through consumers being shouted at by sales reps to buy a product, but rather, organically discovering a need or want, and gently being persuaded into buying during the search for a solution.
But micromoments don’t disappear after the purchase. Customer success and retention is defined by micromoments as well. The first time you realize the true value of a product is a crucial one. The first time a product fails or needs upgrading is also crucial. The full customer lifecycle is defined both before purchase and after by a series of micromoments.
Micromoments in Chat
Chat interfaces create ways for retailers to better capitalize on these micromoments.
The first of these is making information capture and customer signup and onboarding more seamless. Typeform Chat is a good example; it is unique because it adds chat to an existing information capture platform. Chat changes the experience of being asked for information, replacing the usual webform with a series of question-and-answer interactions.
Similarly, signing up for an account or being onboarded to a product has typically involved some combination of forms, buttons and pages packed with text and links to knowledge bases. Through chat this information could be repackaged and served dynamically throughout the customer lifecycle. Even content, the holy grail of noninvasive marketing, could be dynamically served up to customers at critical moments.
More powerfully, chat empowers brands to have real-time adaptive engagement with consumers. Brands can make knowledge bases accessible to customers to accelerate customer success via chat. They can push data and analytics at request to mobiles in a way that mobile dashboards have struggled to do. Brands can be present at moments that were previously not possible, and responsive faster than before (companies like Drift already enable this directly to employees, although you can now use DriftBot).
Challenges for Micromoments in Chat
Conversational commerce has huge unrealized potential. But conversation is a complex, dynamic beast. Aside from the natural language understanding and generational challenges (which I have written about before), conversational commerce faces the challenge that most of human communication is non-verbal. Body language, tonality, intonation — the list goes on. How then can conversational commerce create and sustain powerful micromoments without this crucial information?
In many ways, the existing sales process lacks much of this crucial information to start off with. Every sales rep tries to drive leads to a first exploratory phone call. While on the call, the sales rep also lacks the body language indicators, facial expressions and many other elements of nonverbal communication. Nonetheless, first phone calls are turned into second ones, into meetings and finally into sales in spite of this limitation. Thus, conversational interfaces could conceivably begin to bear much of the top of the funnel load.
A more fundamental question to be answered is whether conversational commerce can eventually handle all the micromoments that make up a customer journey.
Chat Assistants, Your New Sales Rep?
One of the most exciting developments in the world of chat is the rise of chat-based assistants. Apple got there first with Siri, but Microsoft, Google and Amazon have all released competitors of a similar quality. Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant are both natively deployed in the latest generation of operating systems from both companies. Google in particular has opened a rich vein of opportunity for conversational commerce with Actions by Google. Actions allows third parties to build engagements on the Google Assistant. You can pull in content from other websites/servers and serve it up in the Assistant. You can also customize the voice you use for your response – among other things.
Google Assistant could end up killing the traditional search bar centric approach to online search. More than 50% of Google searches already happen on mobile. Conceivably, Google Assistant could be your personal sales rep in your pocket. It could learn from you and how you buy. You could select the brands you want to have access to your Assistant, creating something like a chat-based newsletter. You could connect Assistant to a business’ customer success bot and turn Assistant into a customer support/success agent for every product you buy.
Conversational commerce remains a nascent space. Significant technological progress around natural language understanding remains, and wider adoption of chat as a medium for interacting with businesses will take time. But with every major messaging platform now supporting bots the path is paved for conversational commerce.