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BizReport : Ecommerce archives : December 23, 2016

Expert: How shoppers are using chatbots to connect

Instant Messaging isn't net to the online space, but using instant messenger type interfaces as a customer service option is relatively new. Chatbots, however, are growing in popularity, and according to one expert are helping to up the engagement factor between shoppers and stores.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: We're seeing more businesses use chatbots for customer service. How are consumers using chatbots?

Amit Sharma, CEO, Narvar: Shoppers have an increasing appetite for chatbots and AI-powered technology, given the customized, data-driven, contextual experience they provide. They're using chatbots at every point of their shopping journey, from product discovery and purchase to delivery tracking and returns. An analysis of conversations with the Narvar chatbot on Facebook Messenger found that 65 percent of people communicate with bots as they would a human by acknowledging the bot with a thank you or thumbs up. Communicating with consumers in a natural, human way without being in the same physical location is a key benefit of chatbots and conversational tools. Since consumers are spending more time interacting with chatbots, we're seeing more brands adopt chatbots and conversational tools to send customers smart, relevant messages based on their past behavior and purchases.

In today's digital era, consumers expect brands to be available online 24/7. Yet, businesses are still following the old model of providing post-purchase support Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. If it's Saturday or Sunday and customers want to change the delivery address for their recent purchase or get recommendations on which products supplement their current items, brands aren't available. Consumers are using chatbots to choose the channel and time they interact with brands.

Kristina: Is this in line with where businesses are at this point, or do businesses need to dig further into chatbots?

Amit: Chatbots are still in the early stage, but brands are beginning to use the technology on platforms like Facebook Messenger to meet consumers on the channels they use most. There's still immense opportunity for brands to improve how they collect product feedback from customers about their favorite styles, colors and delivery preferences. Chatbots have the potential to create a smoother feedback loop for consumers to share what they like and what could be improved with products.

Conversational tools also help brands provide personalized, contextual information. Businesses can be more proactive in understanding consumers and customizing the checkout and return process. For instance, if you're a frequent shopper, brands can leverage chatbot technology to learn everything from your taste in clothes to your shipping and delivery preferences, and can apply those choices to future options. If you bought a new pair of shoes that you're unsure about, the retailer can let you know through the chatbot that you have one week left to return the product. Brands still have a ways to go to master this conversational commerce, especially since chatbots are not yet advanced enough to deal with unusual or unique requests, but they're moving a step in the right direction.

Kristina: Do you foresee the chatbot trend continuing growth through 2017?

Amit: Absolutely. Consumers spend 75 percent of their time on messaging apps, so it's only natural that retailers be prepared to meet them on these communication channels they prefer. But they also must be prepared to engage on their terms, meaning bots should be focused on being helpful and available rather than intrusive in that environment.

Predictive communication is about moving beyond bombarding customers with marketing promotions, and instead simplifying their shopping experience and helping them enjoy their purchases. Many businesses are introducing chatbots and AI technology to ask consumers what they need, remove clutter and provide convenience and useful insights.

Tags: chatbots, customer service, customer service trends, ecommerce, Narvar

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