Chat bots and the age of conversational commerce

Alex Allwood explains chat bot technology, and how brands will utilise the conversational commerce it enables.

Customer experience as we know it is set for further disruption with the introduction of conversational commerce. This future technology is set to deliver frictionless digital interactions where a bot can assist real-time, respond 24/7 and help without human intervention – all within your favourite social platform.

Coined by Chris Messina of Uber, the term conversational commerce refers to using digital messaging platforms to seamlessly perform everyday activities such as banking, shopping, booking or solving customer service problems within a single interface.

Customers today have become accustomed to personalised experiences.

Facebook, Google and Apple are the pioneers of personalisation, collecting every click, swipe, post and purchase to improve engagement. Now these tech platforms are evolving their messaging interfaces to ecosystems and enabling enterprises to create the next generation of brand touchpoints using chat bots.

Simply put, chat bots are programs that imitate conversations using artificial intelligence (AI). Fast, cost effective and scalable, chat bots are designed to sit within a customer’s preferred messaging platform: Facebook Messenger, WeChat, SnapChat, etc. and enable effortless brand interactions without users needing to visit a website to purchase, download an app for information, remember a password or wait on-hold to have an enquiry answered.

Related: Local trade services directory Oneflare recently launched a Facebook Messenger chat bot

Bots have been around for more than fifty years now and are geared to make people’s lives easier using automation. With over 2.5 billion people now using a messaging app and smartphone users spending more and more time in social networks, chat bots in messaging interfaces are becoming increasingly relevant, by providing highly personal and contextual customer interactions.

Cloud based productivity platform Slack, automates tasks traditionally performed by support staff in the workplace such as actions to requests, responses, conversations, transactions and workflows. The platform’s personal assistant is a Slackbot that manages project reporting, quick answers, to-do lists and can even coordinate a lunch order – tacos anyone?

Social media platform Twitter has been using bots for years, users can use @timer on Twitter to have a direct message sent to their phone; @Spotibot can grab Spotify playlists; bots on the platform tweet earthquake warnings and Domino’s bots allows customers to order pizzas by tweeting a pizza emoji.

Earlier this year Microsoft launched their chat bot, Tay on Twitter. Specially built to converse, entertain and engage Millennials through casual conversation, mischievous followers fed Tay racist and sexist language causing her to regurgitate inappropriate views on the platform – consequently Tay is now offline.

Global research company Gartner, predicts that by 2020, 85% of customers will manage their relationships with companies without human interaction. Early this year, Facebook Messenger launched their chat bot API to enable enterprises to create self-service customer interactions. Within the Messenger ecosystem, users can now purchase clothing from Spring, book an Uber and order flowers from 1800-Flowers.

US Company 1800-Flowers is an early adopter of bot technology, leveraging its power to enrich a one-to-one customer experience. Bots on the platform provide conversations in natural language without customers realising that they’re chatting to a bot rather than a person. The company’s service model integrates the ease of shopping in Messenger with additional live-agent customer service support that ensures their customers have a great experience that they recommend to peers.

The influence of technology continues to revolutionise the way people experience brands; reshaping the way business is done. Increasingly, as digital behaviour evolves, customers are seeking contextual, relevant and highly personal interactions that make their lives easier.

Alex Allwood
BY Alex Allwood ON 12 July 2016
Alex Allwood is CEO of the Holla Agency.