To stand out during the high-stakes holiday season, merchants should start a conversation with shoppers — literally. Conversational commerce that combines human and machine intelligence is crucial to delivering the interactive customer experience shoppers crave.
The conversational commerce revolution is underway. Fueled by the swift adoption of voice-activated “smart speakers,” which Microsoft predicts 75 percent of U.S. households will own by next year, shoppers can now interact with brands through a naturalistic Q-and-A exchange rather than clicking through static e-commerce pages.
Social messaging chatbots, live chat tools, and interactive SMS messaging apps can also support conversational commerce. Artificial intelligence (AI) enables these tools to recognize questions and retrieve answers. And, when combined with e-commerce personalization, delivers a highly relevant experience that can reduce customer service costs for merchants.
Instant, round-the-clock access to individualized customer service information is a powerful incentive for shoppers to try automated services, given their need for efficiency and convenience — especially during the holidays. Linc estimates that fully 70 percent of customer service interactions can be fully automated, from order status updates to requests for store directions to questions about return and exchange policies.
To tap into the potential of automated conversational commerce for the holidays, merchants should consider the following:
Start With Flawless Execution
Shoppers still prioritize in-person service. Eighty-three percent of consumers said interacting with real people will become more important as technology improves, according to consultancy PwC. For that reason, merchants should highlight the availability of live agents and transparently flag handoffs from AI-driven tools to humans.
When inquiries do require human intervention, customer service reps should prioritize time savings and access the conversation’s prior questions and responses so they avoid repetitive information gathering, which is customers’ top peeve, according to Chatbots.org.
Start Conversations That Guide Gift Choices
Holiday shoppers have specific products in mind for just half of the gifts on their lists, and routinely turn to retailer and manufacturer websites for research guidance, Deloitte found. This behavior gives sellers a big opportunity to suggest relevant items. Shoppers increasingly appreciate proactive guidance from sellers. For example, technology researcher Forrester found openness to proactive live chat invitations has grown 63 percent over four years.
The key, of course, is to make suggestions relevant and timely. On the e-commerce site, merchants should calibrate automated prompts to engage with live chat for help with gift picks, basing the timing on factors such as which products and categories shoppers are browsing, time on page, or time on site. Merchants can also proactively message shoppers who have consented to receive SMS alerts, prompting them to explore potential gift categories relevant to their prior interactions.
Once dialogue is initiated, automation can help address questions about SKU availability, product usage, product recommendations, questions and care, and delivery options, saving live agent assistance for situations requiring deeper human insight.
Ace the Fulfillment Messaging Test
The question “Where is my order?”, aka WISMO, accounts for some four in 10 customer service interactions — information that can easily be looked up and delivered via automated conversational channels. Automated service for order tracking is already on the rise, with between 20 percent and 30 percent of shoppers having used chatbots already to address fulfillment questions, Linc found.
However, merchants should implement the service carefully to ensure it meets customers’ needs. For example, more than 60 percent of WISMO inquiries occur before orders have been assigned a carrier tracking number, Linc found, so merchants should estimate time frames for the steps prior to shipment so customers can start receiving updates sooner.
If shoppers opt for store pickup, automated dialogue can help them navigate to stores, parking spaces and pickup counters, as well as deliver information on local promotions, locations of the aisles of add-on items, and holiday services in-store such as gift wrapping and personal shopping. Apt cross-sell and add-on promotions interspersed in informational fulfillment dialogue can earn conversion rates of 5 percent, Linc found.
Help With Gift Assembly, Installation … and Returns
Consumers want to hear from merchants post-purchase, not only for delivery updates, but for help using their products. In fact, smooth delivery and installation matter more than product reliability once items are purchased, according to research from the CMO Council. However, more than half of consumers are underwhelmed with post-purchase support, giving merchants an opportunity to differentiate their brands. During the holidays, merchants can win points by helping customers put gifts to use by automating proactive links to how-to demonstration videos, installation guides, and user-generated content showing how others are using products.
Even when assembly is a cinch, not every gift purchase hits the mark. Returns spike to 28 percent of all retail purchases during the holiday season, according to Optoro, so merchants should smooth the process as much as possible, both to reduce costs internally and provide a positive experience for shoppers, who are apt to give sellers a second chance if returns are hassle free. Sellers should fine-tune automated scripts for returns processing and prominently position access to help via chat and messaging services after Christmas.
Optimize Your Site for Pre-Purchase Solutions
While the post-purchase experience is important for merchants, automation is also crucial pre-purchase by providing answers to FAQs, store locator, product recommendations, and consultative buying. Furthermore, having a first-responder chatbot as part of your live chat experience also allows you to begin building the data history that you need to create one-to-one relationships with your customers.
Customer experience is a crucial differentiator, especially during the competitive holiday season. Automated conversational tools can help merchants stand out with responsive, individualized service that wins sales and loyalty.
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer.
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer. Linc Global has served over 15 percent of U.S. shoppers, creating a competitive advantage, reducing customer service costs, and turning service interactions into new engagement and revenue. Linc Global's clients include Carter’s, eBags, Stein Mart, Lamps Plus, JustFab.com, Tarte, Hugo Boss, Vineyard Vines, and P&G Shop.
With a passion and relentlessness for improving the customer experience, Fang brought together a seasoned team of technologists and product-minded people to empower brands with the ability to serve and engage shoppers and to drive profitable growth in the face of rising competition and customer expectations. With a Ph.D. in bioinformatics from NYU, Fang previously co-founded a business acquired by Amazon, and prior to that, she worked as a hedge fund manager.