A New Era of Customer Service Arrives as Consumers Fully Embrace Messaging and Conversational AI
Like everything else last year, retail brands were forced to learn to live with a new reality. Since the beginning of the pandemic, as consumers adapted to quarantines, social distancing and masks, they also adapted how they interact with brands. More than ever before, they took to conversational artificial intelligence (AI) — the technology that lets computers and humans talk to each other through speech and text — as the way to shop with and get assistance from brands. In fact, the recent LivePerson 2020 Consumer Preferences for Conversational Commerce survey of more than 5,000 adults in six countries found that using messaging and conversational AI to engage with brands is now more widely adopted and trusted than ever before.
The overwhelming majority of consumers of all ages now report a strong desire to message with brands, with 85 percent of consumers worldwide saying they would like to the option to connect via popular messaging channels such as SMS, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger, Google RCS, LINE, and WeChat, or even through native messaging on brand websites and mobile apps. That’s up from 65 percent last year — a seismic jump that reflects just how much things have changed.
In addition, vast majorities of consumers now report they’d be more likely to do business with brands that allow them to message rather than call. With 75 percent reporting they would spend more with brands that offer messaging (up from 49 percent), this has big implications for retail brands’ bottom lines. Even more surprisingly, for the first time older consumers report the same level of interest in messaging with brands as younger demographics, meaning this phenomenon isn’t just limited to millennials and Gen Z
All of these shifts are happening as the realities of the COVID pandemic remain entrenched, forcing customers to remain out of stores and employees out of traditional call centers. Some brands are still scrambling to rapidly roll out new ways for consumers to stay connected by pivoting to AI-powered messaging, but innovative brands have been navigating these challenges all along by scaling their reach through messaging and providing faster, more convenient experiences fronted by bots available 24/7 for consumer inquiries and purchases on the messaging channels they prefer. The brands that have adapted are reaping the benefits of meeting consumers where they are. In fact, LivePerson data reveals that conversation volume on Cyber Monday 2020 grew 186 percent compared to Cyber Monday 2019.
Still, while positive sentiment toward conversational AI is up and the number of people with negative feelings toward it has dropped from around 28 percent in 2019 to 18 percent in 2020, there’s always room for improvement. Consumers report that they value the speed, ease of use, and convenience of bots, but are wary of a lack of human touch and personality — a key weakness of bots that are created with too little attention to conversational design.
To address these weaknesses, brands need to pay attention to conversational design to deliver more helpful, personalized experiences. Brands that embrace conversational AI and infuse it with human qualities like empathy and understanding will outperform their competitors and reach the cutting edge of customer service, marketing and sales.
The LivePerson 2020 Consumer Preferences for Conversational Commerce survey makes it clear: consumers are rapidly evolving their behavior and embracing conversational AI to connect with brands via their favorite messaging channels, just like they do with family and friends. By layering in automation and conversational AI, which is now more trusted than ever, brands are finding it easier than ever to scale these experiences and make them more personalized, more convenient, and more in tune with the new reality for retail.
Mariam Reza is senior vice president, enterprise solutions at LivePerson, a provider of conversational AI-powered chatbots and messaging tools help businesses understand customer intent, increase conversions and reduce costs.