Conversational Commerce as “The Next Big Thing” in Omnichannel
BY BEN RUND
My first column in The Produktkulturmagazin should be about a ‘next big thing’, I thought. For me, this big thing is clearly Conversational Commerce. Why? We have all experienced the hunt for new terms that has been taking place over the past few years. First, there was talk of single-channel, then of multichannel, of cross-channel and finally of omnichannel.
Whether or not you believe the terms and marketing messages of the consultants and software providers is of little importance; but one thing has continued throughout the process. Communication with customers in B2C and B2B is becoming increasingly complex, high speed and more personalised. But you know that already, dear readers. When it comes to the digital transformation, what sets the winners apart from the losers? For me, it is the flexibility and agility to be able to act based on new trends, and even influence them. Added to this is the mindset and the courage to try something new. Today, when I talk to executives in marketing or eCommerce, I discover that many are aware of Conversational Commerce, but they still do not know how to integrate it into their customer engagement strategy. Soon it will be mainstream, and customers expect relevant and fast communication in this additional channel as well.
Every CEO has the topic of customer experience on their agenda and consults with the CDO, CIO and CMO about the ‘how’– even if the CEO performs all these roles themselves. The new paradigm is known as ‘own your customer experience’. It has not just been through Facebook and WhatsApp that vast amounts of messages are generated each day in every enterprise. Emails and comments are sent via various apps – among employees, vendors, customers and business partners. This fact harbours huge, unused potential. Messaging offers the opportunity to put this to better use. Combining a 360-degree messaging platform with the 360-degree view of customers, products, services, locations or more, customer engagement is made newer, faster and more individualised.
In a conversation with the ‘leftie’ co-founder of Smoope and Forrester, analyst Laura Naparstek, I learned that 36 per cent of customer communications revolve around products or services. So, without the relevant data, they receive poor advice. Michael Stolte, Chief Digital Officer at Hawesko, the most successful German wine retailer, told me that his business via traditional ordering channels is booming, but his challenge is to tap the market of tomorrow. The market of Generation Instagram, the people who already ask: “Fax? What’s that?”. The thirst to stay with ‘old wine’ – continuing to use messaging to communicate brands. But many companies are not yet clear about the processes and expectations they want to generate. Many cannot get past a “thank you for your request” or “thanks for the follow” message. The customer waits, gets little to no feedback, and then they are gone in a flash.
When it comes to new things, us Germans are always critical at first. Facebook frightful, Google ghastly, Alexa almighty. The machines are going to kill us, like Sarah Connor in Terminator, anyway – and if not, then they will take over our jobs. Our vision of the future is a dark one. Alibaba founder Jack Ma recently said at the World Economic Summit in Davos that although we cannot compete with artificial intelligence in terms of knowledge, we humans can still differentiate ourselves through “values, conviction, teamwork, compassion”. Which provides me with the greater benefit? Which provides me with the optimal answer to my question in Conversational Commerce? A chatbot of the kind used by Levi’s, or a real fashion advisor? I order my favourite brand of suits, for instance, almost exclusively through WhatsApp, because they make it easy for me.
My test of the Levi’s bot quickly leads me to the 505c, a model I haven’t been able to find in stores yet. Still, the bot was unable to furnish me with the used style variant. At the end of the day, man and machine can deliver good answers only if the data pool holds true. But let us take things another step further. Messaging connects employees across different departments. Slack is the instant messaging service I use, by the way. Imagine a customer service representative receives a request. Because this question is factually or technically too detailed, though, they must enlist an expert’s assistance. But the actual handling, problem-solving or a sale must be performed by a local account manager. This must be done quickly, and with the right offer or spare part for the right customer. Try it out for yourself. The question quickly arises as to why the voice commands for the in-car navigation system do not work very well. Voice commerce is more than just the spirit of an age. In future, we will just state a wish or simply express an instruction and say “please transfer 20 euros to Ben” or “please send me the t-shirt that was delivered to me today in size XL, too” – without needing to fill out any complex forms whatsoever. The only way this can work, though, is if my AI-enabled device has also been populated with the correct data. Which shirt was delivered today? Who is Ben, and what is his PayPal ID?
What will remain? Whether you like Conversational Commerce or not, whoever wants to communicate with their customers must keep at it. Boundaries between data and communication are becoming more blurred all the time. The new motto is “from collect to connect”. Those who want to equip themselves for tomorrow must allow for scalability and flexibility. Make sure your business remains an all-round success.
Ben Rund is a specialist in business and public relations and has more than 20 years of experience in data management. With a superb command of all of the major disciplines of modern corporate communications, he ranks among the top omnichannel influencers. He has spent a great deal of time in Silicon Valley in recent years, working on joint tenders and partnerships with companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. In November 2017, Ben Rund was appointed General Manager DACH & VP Business Development Europe at Riversand Technologies.