If you’ve been anywhere near the web lately, you’ve noticed a round chat button or a chat window popping up on the lower right-hand side of your web browser when visiting company websites. Rarely has a trend taken hold online as quickly as live chat has for company websites. These chat windows are suddenly everywhere.
And with good reason: consumers love chat, and it’s great for business.
There are more than 2 billion messages exchanged each month on Facebook Messenger alone; this doesn’t include other chat apps such as WhatsApp or text messaging. The reason so many people like chat is simple: it’s faster than asynchronous communication such as email, and it has few of the downsides of making a call or talking with someone in person.
This has led many consumers to prefer chat over calls or email when they need support or have a sales question. Businesses have taken notice, and are adding chat apps into their marketing project plans.
What is Conversational Commerce?
First coined by former Google employee Chris Messina in 2015, conversational commerce is the use of real-time communications such as live chat for easy online customer service at the point of sale.
Whether it’s live chat software with real humans on the other end or artificial intelligence-based chatbot technology, conversational commerce is a way for customers to interact with a brand in real-time as they browse a web site instead of having to make a call or wait for an email response to questions. It is the digital equivalent to having a sales rep in-store to answer questions and provide support as needed.
“Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” wrote Messina when he first introduced the concept.
The Importance of Conversational Commerce
One of the main reasons that businesses have taken so quickly to using live chat on their web sites is that conversion rates without conversational commerce are typically poor.
Smart Insights has shown that the average conversion rate for a website is less than 3 percent of traffic. That means that after Facebook or Google ads, after customers have reached a company’s website, most online sales opportunities go unrealized.
Live support at the point of contact improves these odds because it lowers the bar for interaction between the customer and a company, which can give brands an opportunity to overcome the objections that might be holding back a sale. When a site visitor is seesawing between the merits of various options, for instance, a customer service interaction via live chat can make all the difference.
There’s more to conversation commerce than just helping customers with the buying decision, however. There are also social trends that are affecting sales and pushing businesses toward conversational commerce.
Shopping Habits are Changing
Buying habits have shifted a lot since the days when customers visited brick and mortar shops to make purchases. One of the biggest shifts is that now, unlike before, customers routinely conduct their own research before making a purchasing decision.
The average customer now visits company websites, watches YouTube videos, consults comparison sites and reads Amazon reviews when considering options. This is where sales are won or lost in many cases.
This presents a problem for businesses, because there’s no opportunity for the business to easily engage with these customers during the crucial selection process.
Conversational commerce addresses this issue, though, by bringing back the customer service role during the buying decision in a modern, digital way. When customers are browsing and need help, they can just click on the chat button and get instant interaction in a low-stress way (no more pushy sales staff or waiting on hold with chat).
Mobile Shopping Also Demands Conversational Commerce
Then there is the move to mobile shopping. Increasingly, smartphones are serving as the gateway to the online world. You just need to look around you, or observe a millennial, to see that mobile phones have supplanted computers as the main way to go online.
This is a problem for customer service, though, because mobile shopping doesn’t easily facilitate customer service phone calls. Smartphones may be phones, but stopping an online shopping session to place a call and wait on hold is not a compelling option for most.
Live chat right on a company’s web site gets around this mobile constraint, though, again making it easy for buyers to interact because they can perform the chat easily from their phones while on a company’s website. Conversational commerce becomes a form of customized online presence, letting customers request the info they need instead of merely relying on what the company thought the customer wanted.
The Future Belongs to Conversation
Conversational commerce is good for all involved. For customers, it makes online purchasing easier and customer service more convenient. For businesses, it opens the door to deeper customer interaction during the crucial period where sales are won or lost, and it gets around the challenges presented by mobile browsing.
It also helps businesses by reducing sales and support costs. Since multiple chats can usually be performed at the same time, businesses can deliver sales and support with less staff.
So, there’s a reason that you’re seeing so many live chat buttons on web sites today: conversational commerce is a win-win for all involved, and there are few downsides to it.
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