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Conversational commerce, chatbots and voice assistants….oh my!  Given the growing demand, emerging solutions and evolving consumer preferences related to this area, how should you approach digitization of your customer service and sales function? We believe the best answer, for the foreseeable future, is one that blends human (H) + digital (D) to provide an experience that neither could possibly achieve on its own (3).  In other words H+D=3!But before we dive into the potential and efficacy of this growing arena, lets first define the Conversational Commerce space.  At Primacy, we define it as:

Digital-enabled, two way, conversations……to help people across their journey with a brand……enabled by a growing array of technologies (live chat, chatbots, voice assistants)…and informed by Human Intelligence, Rules and/or Artificial Intelligence

And here is a breakdown the current ecosystem of technologies and solutions: Conversational Commerce Given the growing options and hype in this area, you might think the days of humans providing customer service and/or sales support are numbered.  As one proxy, it is clear that smart assistants are getting a lot smarter...Smart Assistants Are Getting Smarter And a lot more pervasive: Amazon Echo Skills And for good reason.  Consumers see lots of benefit in the immediacy provided by chatbots, making channels positioning digital channels like email and web forms seem like digital dinosaurs.Response Time by Communication ChannelAnd though you might expect that the rise in this technology is favored by younger consumers, there is a lot of potential value seen by older audiences as well: Potential Benefits of ChatbotsAdditionally, many consumers foresee significantly increased usage in the coming years: Respondents who would replace human interactions with a personalized voice assistantAnd the potential cost and efficiency benefits are not lost on marketers: Cost and efficiency benefits of chatbotsAnd this is not simply an ecommerce play.  Growth in the market is anticipated and already happening across a wide spectrum of industries according to Grand View Research: Chatbot market by verticalBut despite the hockey stick grown, rapid improvement in accuracy and clear benefits across demographics and industries, there remains much that virtual assistants and chatbots cannot attempt to answer or answer correctly.   At the end of the day, people want correct answers and, sometimes, human advice, empathy and counsel that cannot (yet) be delivered digitally. In fact, there are many valid reasons why consumers are reticent to use automated digital services like these: Potential blockers to using chatbotsAnd customer satisfaction, while growing, remains often below average when compared to other channels: 

“Customer satisfaction on the traditional front-end bots is below 70 percent, which is really low for customer care and sales.” - Robert LoCascio. CEO, LivePerson

So, given the growing demand and evolving consumer preferences, how should you approach digitization of your customer service and sales function?  Prioritize and Experiment: If you haven’t started experimenting in the world of voice assistants and chatbots, the fast rising maturity and promise of the category warrants getting smart (some pun intended) in this area and dipping your toes in the water with a pilot. Perhaps choose a portion of your journey to focus on with a few critical use cases where human intervention is of little value.  Choose simple transactions and steer customers through a limited set of interactions. Look at your call logs to prioritize use cases based on volume and simplicity of execution. The interest in bots is not without reason: Bots promise natural language interaction at scale, automated and personalized engagement, greater efficiency, and cost savings; they have the potential to transform all stages of the customer life cycle, from discovery and purchase through usage and support. Align: In designing your initial conversational experiences, consider your Brand North Star, personality and  value proposition. Make sure that your tone and conversational experience, whether expressed via text or voice, reflects your core brand values. A great, albeit risque, example of this comes in the form of Rose, the virtual assistant and ‘resident troublemaker’ (in her own words) at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas who pays off in spades on their provocative brand promise of ‘just the right amount of wrong”. Check her out at your own risk here. Blend: Conversational commerce is a journey, not a sprint.  As consumers, talent, process and technology catch up to the promise of AI-centric service, likely over the next 5 to 10 years, the value of human touch across the customer journey from acquisition through retention remains alive and well.  Experimentation should therefore not be directly at the expense of your human channels, but more so trying to find the optimal blend of human and digital across your journey. When done right the blending of digital and human service is creating some truly delightful experiences today. Iterate: As you move forward in the dynamic world of conversational commerce, it should be iterative, incremental and filled with continuous experimentation, learning and improvement.  Develop a Learning Agenda and Roadmap to guide your efforts strategically.To bring the promise of this blended conversational experience to life, here are a few current day examples showing the potential of digital and human service to complement and enrich each other for the benefit of the customer:PollfishB2B survey vendor Pollfish combines in-context, proactive, intelligent messages with live chat to deliver a fantastic experience across the journey from lead generation through service and support.Example 1: On the human side of things, Pollfish live chat is available throughout the prospect experience to answer questions and remove barriers.  On the tech side of things, Pollfish provides a way for prospects to quickly self serve with an FAQ engine embedded in their chat.Pollfish chatbot screenshot Example 2: Once becoming a customer, Pollfish’s intelligent support messaging automagically and contextually identifies common user errors in survey set up and redirects the user thus avoiding need for additional searching or live contact.Pollfish common user errorsExample 3: When users have issues that cannot be resolved from their smart assistant or FAQ engine, Pollfish live chat extends and is available seamlessly to customers.   Pollfish FAQ Overall, Pollfish provides a great example of keeping it’s customers in context, avoiding human support for common issues and provide on demand human service for more complex issues.  One word for all of this - delightful.QuiltInsureTech provider Quilt also offers a robust chatbot and live chat service starting at you first interaction with the company and following you through to quote and purchase:quilt live chatIf you are interested in an even broader assortment of examples, Forrester has identified a wide range of conversational experiences across a spectrum of complexity: Forrester Research Chatbot ApplicationsIf the above examples are not interesting enough, Amazon has recently launched AWS Connect using the same natural language processing and speech recognition technology that power Alexa to understand caller needs and channel their calls appropriately. So, you can call a car rental company and say “I’d like to change my rental” and be directed immediately to an agent to walk you through your options without have to punch through an annoying call menu.  This is another example of a service that combines humans and digital to enable an experience that neither could accomplish on their own. In conclusion, all in all, it is a wild and crazy time for Conversational Commerce. The potential and promise is enormous. The experience is evolving. Just like waves of social and mobile took time to gather steam, but then ascended quickly, the Conversational Commerce train has left the station - with both bots and humans on board.  If you are not already along for the journey, we suggest you at least start planning your trip. And imagine the ways you can leverage the best of digital and human experiences to deliver something better than what you have today and better than either could achieve on their own.  H+D = 3.