Is your platform muting or maximizing your customer conversations?
There is a great quote from the legendary sales trainer Tom Hopkins that sums up the core goal of conversational marketing and sales techniques.
Whether the salesperson is a carpet seller in a dusty Moroccan market, an over-groomed real estate agent selling sunsets in Los Angeles, or indeed an AI chatbot simultaneously helping thousands of consumers to make a purchase on an ecommerce site.
What all three have in common is the conversation – a two-way exchange of information and ideas that builds a relationship and helps customers solve their problems and find the products that they need.
Notice that we said need not want . I might walk into a car dealership wanting a sports coupe, but as a carpool dad what I need is a sensible people carrier. I arrive at this realization soon after the savvy salesman kicks off our conversation with “So, have you got any kids?”
But as a B2C business with hundreds of thousands of customers all over the world, how do you have meaningful conversations with all of them? Just as importantly, how do you integrate all those interactions into buyer and customer journeys, capture key insights learned, and measure outcomes?
The answer is a tech stack that supports your conversational goals.
What is a conversational platform?
A popular definition of a conversational platform is that it is simply a type of artificial intelligence technology that allows humans to interact with computers in a way that mimics human conversation. We don’t think that goes far enough. Sure, AI is a key part of an enterprise conversational platform, but it must co-exist symbiotically with human inputs and be incorporated into all the channels that a business uses to engage with its customers.
To us , a conversational platform is a tech stack that enables conversational marketing and conversational commerce as part of an overall communication and marketing strategy.
What are the benefits of a conversational platform?
Conversational AI has already proven its worth to businesses and is currently experiencing exponential growth as more and more use cases are being deployed across every industry you can imagine from retail, to transportation, to banking. Here we describe some of the benefits that businesses are enjoying with a truly conversational platform.
Organizations usually start their conversational journey with customer service chatbots to scale and enhance their contact centers. Chatbots can provide immediate responses to many queries or hand over to a human agent for more complex issues, with all the supporting detail they have already learned.
This is what Forrester calls a hybrid approach where the objective is not to replace or prevent human conversations, but to make optimal use of human agents to provide a better overall customer experience.
Engagement – the sky is the limit!
Conversational marketing does not have to be a passive tactic where you wait for people to initiate a chat with you. The options for engaging with your audience are only restricted by your imagination!
There are the traditional approaches including PR activities, newsletters, digital ads, and social newsfeed announcements, and then there are more direct tactics, including:
- Ads on web and social channels with buttons that automatically start a chat. Meta does this very effectively by linking Facebook and Instagram ads with WhatsApp. Check out this piece that explains how. Google has a similar feature for organizations with a Google Business profile which allows people to message them directly from Google search results.
- On a more micro scale but also extremely effective, some of our customers have even employed guerilla marketing tactics to generate both engagement and intrigue. On a launching a new product Unilever put up posters all over Sau Paulo with a WhatsApp number that people could message to initiate a chat to find out more about the new range.
Practical conversational use cases
- Cart abandonment: Studies by Statista have shown that cart abandonment is as high as 98% in some industries. Perhaps we have become a bit immune to the standard tactics that brands employ to entice us back to complete a purchase. A conversational approach to this use case has shown to be far more effective. Even if a person cannot be persuaded to complete the sale, the data gathered from the exchange can provide a deeper understanding of why people abandon and can inform pricing, provide competitor insights, and guide future promotional campaigns.
- Service sign-ups: Signing up to a service the old-fashioned way was no fun. Filling out forms, working out which sections applied to you, and providing information that the company already knew about you. Using conversational AI for this use case is a game changer and can radically reduce abandonment rates as people can be guided through the process step-by-step. See how Bolt used a conversational WhatsApp chatbot to optimize their driver sign-up process and increase conversion rates by 40%.
- Product registrations: When we buy a new product, we are often required to register it in order to activate it for use, or to validate the guarantee. It can be a tedious process when all we want to do it play with our new gadget. Rather than fill out an online form or phone customer service, it is so much easier to simply scan a QR code on the packaging to initiate a chat and be guided through the process conversationally.
Some of our telecom customers are using this approach extremely effectively to allow customers to register SIM cards, which is now mandatory in many countries. With a chatbot designed specifically for the purpose, they simply upload a photo of their ID card or passport, take a selfie to verify their identity, and the chatbot does the rest. All the information needed for successful registration is available on the ID card, and if there are any issues then the chatbot can always transfer to a human agent to sort them out. This is a classic example of how using a conversational approach can make a tedious task easy and enjoyable!
Lead nurturing and in-chat sales
As online retailers increasingly use chatbots to simulate the in-store experience, a few key differentiators are coming to light. Even the most capable store salesman would have trouble remembering the name, details, and CLV of every person that walked into their store.
Chatbots can do this without breaking a sweat, and businesses are realizing the benefits of a conversational approach in fostering long-term relationships with customers that lead to repeat business and brand advocacy.
This is especially true with the imminent demise of the third-party cookie. To enable effective online marketing and personalization brands are ramping up efforts to encourage the sharing of zero-party data, and a conversational approach is playing a key role.
As consumers get the help they need and feel valued, they are more willing to provide their information and the consent for it to be used to create even more personalized and engaging experiences. For the brand, more data means more opportunities to enrich their customer data platform (CDP) and inform nurture plans, and sales outreach activities.
Conversational AI therefore becomes one of the key enablers of effective hyper-personalization at scale.
Some say that the ability to sell products directly in chat is the end game for conversational commerce, but we think it is just a part of a greater whole. Sure, it is great having a virtual assistant help you find what you need and to complete the entire transaction in the chat window, but the true value of a conversational approach is a connected experience across all channels that fosters a sense of trust and intimacy between brands and their customers, for the benefit of both.
6 conversational platform must-haves
There are several features that truly conversational platforms need to have to support the goals of enterprise business. We have picked the top 6 for a closer look.
1. Channel coverage
As we have alluded to already, a conversational approach is not just a checkbox that you can satisfy by simply bolting a chat interface to your existing tech stack. It is about facilitating conversations across all channels and throughout the customer journey, with the option to switch channels when it makes sense to do so.
Imagine a customer Googling your sales support number to enquire about a product – the search results include a chat link which allows them to connect instantly with a WhatsApp chatbot, which supplies the answer they are looking for, but also suggests an alternate product that may be a better option for them.
The chatbot is able to display product information in the chat with the option to purchase or click through to the website to view more detail and product reviews. The person purchases the product and opts in to receive order status updates by SMS and related product news by email. Their full details and interaction history are saved to the customer database and a few weeks later the marketing automation solution selects them to be included in a new Facebook campaign based on their customer profile and purchase history.
The person shares the post on their social feeds, triggering a whole new set of conversations and opportunities for engagement – all facilitated by a conversational platform able to support all channels in the mix.
2. Chatbots (that are easy to build)
A key component of any conversational tech stack is the ability to build and deploy chatbots for any channel – easily. This means a chatbot builder with a no-code interface that enables business users to build, train and deploy chatbots at maximum velocity with no need for developers to get involved. Users should be able to build simple rule-based chatbots or more sophisticated ones that use natural language processing (NLP) to understand customer intent and respond appropriately.
The platform should allow you to deploy chatbots to multiple channels from the same base architecture and customer data platform (CDP).
3. Contact center friendly
For most organizations, the contact center is the human face of their operation and where most conversations with customers happen. Any conversational platform needs to have an enterprise-ready contact center component. Covering both traditional channels like voice and email, but also including live chat, chat apps, video calling, and social media.
Add to the mix real-time agent assist tools so that humans and AI work seamlessly together for a conversational experience that is memorable for the right reasons.
If the solution is hosted in the cloud, then all the better – it makes it pandemic-proof and allows your agents to work from anywhere that they have internet access.
4. Easy to integrate
Conversational AI’s worth grows exponentially the more information that it has access to. This means integrations – lots of them. Real-time access to payment and account systems for account queries, biometric systems for ID verification – all made possible by a thorough and flexible API that is easy to work with. Adding new use cases with integrations is a key driver for success.
Possibly the most attractive feature of conversational AI is the ease and low cost of scaling it. While it would extremely expensive and time-consuming to double the headcount of a human contact center, doubling the number of conversations that a chatbot can handle is just a matter of provisioning extra server space.
A conversational platform should amplify this strength rather than hinder it by making it simple to increase the bandwidth of the solution and roll out additional use cases.
Every organization is unique, and this is certainly true of how they capture customer, sales and operational data, and how they use it to create actionable insights and reports.
Quite simply, an effective conversational platform needs to be able to extract, aggregate and incorporate key data from conversations to enrich existing data sources and metrics, whether that be customer preferences, activity and purchase history or marketing stats like lead qualification, engagement rates, or conversion metrics.
Bring an end to awkward silences
Conversational platforms are not trying to re-invent the wheel – they simply enable businesses to embed conversational elements into both the traditional and digital channels that customers already use and trust – the company website, mobile app, contact center, and social channels are all prime candidates.
The ‘last mile’ is to ensure that these conversations are not just transient chatter, but serve to enrich customer understanding and inform core marketing and sales activities.
Is it time that you considered a conversational platform? We think the answer is “Yes!”.