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The basic structure of ecommerce dialog is shifting in a major way, moving from a disjointed you-talk-then-I-talk model of exchanging formal and often in-depth messages to a far more modern approach that’s influenced by (and designed to fit) the social media world; an approach of fast and convenient exchanges that’s given rise to the term conversational commerce.
And as much as ecommerce retailers who’ve become accustomed to the old ways might want to stay in their comfort zone, it’s becoming increasingly non-viable, with customers quickly coming to expect a greater and more flexible degree of engagement from the stores they frequent.
To keep up with this expectation, it’s vital that forward-thinking retailers seek to use the appeal of conversational commerce to bolster their platforms and inform tactics for winning and retaining customers.
Here’s how you can go about developing a strong conversational commerce strategy to make the most of this sea change in internet sales:
Get Prepared to Rethink Everything
What we’re talking about here isn’t a minor adjustment. It isn’t a mere addition or an accessory. It’s a fundamental alteration in approach that will have knock-on effects on everything your business does; your sales, your marketing, your brand identity, and even your product selection.
Because of this, everyone involved in the planning needs to take it completely seriously and commit to giving it the time and resources it needs. If you take it lightly, or try to execute some kind of plan without fully thinking it through or costing it properly, you won’t get anywhere near the benefits you could receive from giving it your full attention.
What’s more, a half-hearted effort will establish a precedent in your company for thinking that conversational commerce isn’t that big a deal and doesn’t warrant further investigation, potentially leaving it to be meaningfully addressed far too late to reap the rewards of being among the relatively-early adopters.
Do you want to look after the short-term, miss the opportunity to grow, and end up as just another business for sale? Or are you prepared to put in the work to develop everything about your operation, down to the smallest detail? Sharks have to keep moving or they’ll die, and there’s a significant parallel between businesses and sharks.
Learn About Action-Optimized Copy
Many ecommerce stores are used to writing relatively-bland copy that covers the bases but not very well. In many ways, they see the content as filler that’s necessary to tick a box. This kind of formatting doesn’t work for conversational commerce. Not only does it fail to do much to resonate with users, but it also fails to suit the style of information preferred by voice assistants, chatbots, and other AI-driven software.
Think about how a voice assistant works; the user asks a question or issues a command in plain terms, and the software is then tasked with interpreting that input and interacting with a website or API in order to deliver the anticipated result. If it can’t parse the structure or content it finds, or simply can’t march the input to anything there, the whole endeavor will be unsuccessful.
Copy written and formatted to suit conversational commerce anticipates natural language queries and commands and identifies answers and functions as straightforwardly as possible. If you ask Google Now a question, it will run through all the answers it can find to single out just one top answer to give you, and the more you cater your copy to natural language inputs, the more likely your content will be to fill that spot.
To apply this approach to your ecommerce copy, stay completely focused on what your customers want and make it as easy as possible for them to get it. If there’s an action they might want to take, make sure it’s obvious how they can do it. If there’s a question they’ll probably want answered, pick it out and position it front and centre. Whatever they wanted to achieve by reaching your website, you’re going to deliver it with minimal fuss.
Identify the Platforms that Matter
Regardless of how you go about being conversational on a technical level, the need to connect with other platforms and media is a constant, and of course you can’t achieve that unless you know which channels your customers spend the most time using.
There aren’t that many likely candidates, admittedly; you’re mostly going to be looking at Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Twitter, but it will depend on the field you operate in. If you deal with a lot of enterprise clients, for instance, then a more formal platform like Slack might be a good avenue to pursue.
Imagine a client wanting to have an easy way to place a bulk order on a frequent but irregular basis, for instance; having the ability to do that directly through their business communication software could be extremely useful for them.
To go about figuring this out, use a combination of user feedback, strategy, and analytics. If your customers often mention you on Twitter, and you advertise on Twitter, and a good portion of your traffic comes from Twitter links, then it’s abundantly clear that Twitter integration is a matter of some priority.
This does rely on you having an existing customer base, admittedly. If you’ve only just set up your store (or you haven’t actually begun, whether you’re planning to have on developed, go for the do-it-yourself approach, or even buy an existing website), you’ll need to approach this with as much as theoretical research as possible.
Identify a Suitable Chat Model
There are various ways to provide more conversational options for your users, and which one you should pick depends on your preferences and requirements.
Firstly, you can implement a chatbot on your website and program it to carry out certain basic actions (there are some great chatbot reviews here). You can integrate it with the relevant social media accounts and enable it to handle the most trivial and common requests to take some of the load off your support team. It will take some work to set it up, though, so there’s a big time investment involved.
Secondly, you can set up a text-based live chat system to allow expedient support and bolster your marketing efforts. This is going to to be the best option for most retailers, as it can scale quickly and easily but supply enough sophistication to handle all but most the complicated of support tickets. It is also viable to hire remote support assistants to handle some or all of the support matters for you, though that does invite further complexity of arrangement.
Thirdly, you can provide a VOIP option for communicating over audio (or even video) with your customers. This could, in theory, work well as a replacement for a standard phone-based call system, but since there will always be users who want a phone line they can call, it isn’t a substitution you can realistically go for.
You can mix and match, of course— even set up all three if you feel that’s the best configuration for you. It really comes down to the resource investment you can commit to the project, and the needs of your customers. Even if you can afford to add a feature, if it doesn’t add much value to your customer experience, then it isn’t cost-effective to use.
But if you’re going to implement a chat system, do everything you can to ensure that it gets used correctly, because if you provide a chat option that offers a bad experience or leaves customers waiting for long periods to get assistance, it will actively damage your brand. Be sure to follow best practices and listen to all the feedback you receive, negative or positive.
Openly Embrace the Change
When I talk of embracing it openly, I don’t just mean inside your company structure: I mean in your interactions with your customers, your industry, and your peers. It’s one thing to have a live chat window on your website, but you need to be mentioning in your promotional materials that it’s a service you offer.
There are three reasons for this:
- Firstly, it will let prospective customers know before they even visit your website that you have a good support system.
- Secondly, it will reassure people that the live chat window on your website is there by design and not the result of a piece of malware (anything that pops up is going to alarm some users; it hasn’t been prevalent for a fair while, but live chat formats have been abused for fraud before).
- Thirdly, it will communicate to everyone that you are invested in providing a good customer experience, which will help your brand image.
In rolling out a conversational commerce strategy, you’ll forever alter the way in which you interact with your customers, as well as both how they perceive you and how you perceive them. You’ll naturally become more attuned to the minor annoyances that frustrate them, and they’ll come to see your company as a group of people rather than a faceless corporate entity.
And if it becomes clear through the increased level of feedback that your operation could benefit from a significant pivot, then it’s something to consider. If you define yourself a certain way, but customers see you as something else, then why stick so stubbornly to your preferences? Isn’t it ultimately the customer’s perspective that matters for your success?
Conversational commerce is pushing companies to move from impersonal product-or-service providers to responsive entities that have more in common with traditional salespeople, and it’s ruffling a lot of feathers across the ecommerce world.
But while it’s not exactly new at this point, it’s still in its early stages, and there’s plenty of time to take advantage if you’re willing to be flexible. Follow the steps we looked at, do your best to create copy good enough to satisfy both people and AI-driven software, and you’ll set a great precedent for the future of your business.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.