Conversational commerce -- #convcomm -- is an emerging trend that involves using chat, messaging or other natural language interfaces to interact with brands or services directly from within the chat function. Chris Messina, former Googler, inventor of the hashtag and Uber developer has been publically shouting its praises for a while now and has declared that 2016 will be the year when conversational commerce comes of age.
Conversational commerce is already booming in Asia. China’s WeChat has more than 440 million active users who pay bills, check their bank balance and order products with just a text. Line, from Japan, has roughly 200 million active users and includes the LinePay function where users can make mobile payments, order groceries, reserve taxis and much more.
Now big western tech companies are getting in on the action too. Uber and Lyft recently integrated with Facebook Messenger. Now Snapchat wants a piece of the pie too. With that in mind, here’s how to stay one step ahead of the competition and make your startup #convcomm ready in a few relatively simple steps.
What’s the hook?
Facebook still dominates smartphone sessions in the the U.S., but according to app usage data from millions of users across 60 countries, messaging apps are the most popular type of app in the majority of developed markets around the world.
Perfectly designed for busy millennials who are attached to their smartphones, conversational commerce brings the shopping experience into messaging and social media apps, where they’re already spending most of their time.
Conversational commerce is based on the idea that since most users spend the majority of their time sending messages and using social media, it makes sense to integrate everyday activities right into the app -- mainly searching for and buying goods and using on-demand services. Switching apps, searching for products and services and entering user information and payment details over and over is time-consuming and difficult to do while on the move. Conversational commerce offers enterprises a ripe opportunity to leverage the chat platforms and streamline the user experience.
To stay relevant in the rapidly evolving world of ecommerce, startups of all shapes and sizes should already be thinking about how they can integrate #convcomm into their business models.
Related: What's Next for Ecommerce in 2016
Based on the success witnessed in the Asian market, where hundreds of millions of users can complete a huge range of daily on-demand tasks with a quick message, this forward-thinking mode of peer-to-peer and business-to-consumer communication could push sales across a wide spectrum of industries. Whether you sell vintage clothes, walk dogs or wash cars, conversational commerce offers a simple but personalized way to communicate directly with consumers in a very natural, comfortable setting.
How can you join the party?
Here's four good ways to get started.
1. Integrate with leading chat platforms.
Facebook recently integrated an in-messenger Uber feature and Seth Rosenberg, Facebook’s product manager, has hinted that future collaborations may give users the option to book flights or buy event tickets.
Leading enterprise communication tool Slack is using an innovative blend of bots, real-time communication and business collaboration to roll out a number of useful brand integrations. Microsoft has recently rolled out a Skype integration with virtual assistant Cortana.
2. Add conversational commerce to your own chat platform.
Companies who already have an app with chat functions should try to merge relevant features of their application into chat, and bring the function to the forefront of the user experience.
For peer-to-peer sales platforms such as bidding sites or second hand buy-sell platforms, using algorithms that recognize the use of keywords in chat -- how much, address, payment, discount -- could target users who seem to be negotiating within the chat function, and then direct them in-chat to the offer-making and payment interfaces. Other functions such as scheduling times and meeting locations could easily be added to the chat interfaces too.
The idea is to focus on a user's natural behavior within the chat function -- most every transaction begins with a question -- and intelligently use signals within that content to drive features and technology that make P2P and B2C interactions and transactions magical.
3. Take advantage of chatbot startups.
Over the last year, a number of new chatbot startups such as Chatfuel, Prompt and Messenger.ai have emerged in the space. Inspired by trends from the Asian market, messaging apps like Telegram and Kik have adopted bots -- linked accounts from third party brands -- to provide users with extra functions within the chat experience. The bot services are designed to easily integrate with existing services. Prompt founder Tom Hadfield states “Users can build a chatbot in 30 minutes with 30 lines of code, using our developer tools for authentication, API integration and language parsing.”
Related: How to Make Your Chatbot Suck Less
Future Prompt integrations include Viber, Skype, Line, WhatsApp and Domino's. Chatfuel is still in its early stages but has already created 120,000 bots that serve more than five million users. Techcrunch reports that Facebook has recently allowed some developers access to an unannounced Chat SDK that allows them to create interactive experiences and “bots” in Messenger for shopping and booking travel. A range of new bot integrations seems likely. While the majority of these bots startups are still in their early stages, they are making a buzz in the tech world, offering a quick and easy means of integrating conversational commerce into the business model.
4. Take the MVP approach.
Before second guessing ways to improve customer experience through messaging, startups should chat directly with their customers. Hearing customer needs and wishes straight from the horse's mouth is always best. A minimum viable product (MVP) takes away the guesswork and helps entrepreneurs start the process of learning directly from the customers they want to please.
Companies could leverage an existing chat channel, create an account where anyone can add them or add a chat service such as Layer to their app, and then deploy customer support teams to chat with customers. Lessons learned will help build a smarter conversational commerce platform that really streamlines service for customers.
Conversational commerce is the future of ecommerce and mcommerce. It opens the door to a huge range of potential advancements. Forward-thinking enterprises from almost any background currently have a window of opportunity to make partnerships with existing chat platforms and bot services that can help them create a customer experience that delights current customers and helps them convert many more.
Imagine that any time someone mentioned "need a haircut" in a message it offered them a reservation page for their local hair salon chain. Or if you typed "fridge empty" or "need to go shopping" you were directed to an online grocery delivery platform. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to jump on the #convcomm bandwagon now, or they may find themselves trying to play catchup with competitors in the near future.