The shopping process is getting more convenient for consumers by the day, with millions of products and services just a few taps away. However, shopping still requires some manual research, browsing, and a check-out process that can cause your leads to lose interest before they convert. To make shopping with your brand both convenient and effortless, it’s vital to offer a conversational commerce experience.

Conversational commerce can be implemented by just about any business. It simply refers to the use of messaging apps and voice assistants to facilitate the shopping experience—a practice that can turn your company into the preferred brand in your industry.

In this guide, you’ll get a deeper look at this new customer support and sales method, as well as how you can take advantage of it to increase your sales.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce is the practice of using digital communication between a brand and a client to drive sales. This communication can happen on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, or through simple text messages. It can also happen through devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Hashtag inventor and former Uber leader Chris Messina is credited with coining the term in 2015, in reference to the global trend toward concierge-style services that help users make purchase decisions on the go.

Conversational commerce enables your shoppers to hand off the most complex parts of the customer journey—including the research phase—to experts on your team. By doing so, you can make the shopping and checkout process far more straightforward, resulting in a better customer experience and four times more conversions than before.

Why is conversational commerce important?

Conversational commerce matters because it’s intimately related to customer service and the customer experience—what 96% of customers say determines their loyalty to a brand. And customers have proved it over and over again. Consider the following stats relating to conversational commerce:

  • 84% of consumers say that the overall experience with a brand is as important as the product or service itself.
  • 75% of customers will increase their spending with a brand they follow on social media.
  • 40% of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out on social media.
  • 53% of consumers say a local business’ failure to offer pandemic friendly services (convenient pickup/dropoff services, messaging, mobile payments, etc.) has led them to seek out and work with/purchase from a competitor, or discontinue patronage altogether.
  • 73% of consumers say that an exceptional experience with one business changes their expectations of other businesses.
  • 80% of consumers would like local businesses to continue offering curbside pickup post-pandemic.
  • 78% of consumers would like local businesses to continue offering contactless payment.
  • 70% of consumers who had an unpleasant customer experience during the pandemic say they are less likely to purchase goods or services from that business in the future.
  •  77% of customers have a more favorable view of brands that ask for and accept customer feedback.
  • 86% of consumers expect local businesses to offer more convenient communication and services now than they did prior to COVID-19.
  • 66% of consumers think that texting makes working with a local business more convenient.
  • Loyal customers are 5x more likely to purchase again and 4x more likely to refer a friend to the company.

How to use conversational commerce

Businesses can use conversational commerce to build a great user experience in many situations. After all, customers already want to use the digital tools they have to make every part of the buyer’s journey easier. All you need to do is take action.

Before diving into situations where you can use chat apps and smart speakers to your advantage, let’s review how conversational commerce happens in the first place.

In most cases, users must initiate the interaction, perhaps by opting into text messages or by asking Amazon Alexa a question. Then, your team can provide helpful responses in real time, steadily leading them toward an action without forcing the customer to put their full attention into the shopping process.

Ideally, your messages will be written in natural language that makes the shopper feel like they’re speaking with a real person—even if they’re not. Chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) are commonly used, though it’s ideal to have actual team members respond when possible. Doing so will bring more personalization, better relationship-building, and a human touch to each of your conversations.

Customers clearly value brands that meet their expectations for convenience and communication. But what steps will help you reach that level? And how do you manage the new leads and messages that will pour in from customers?

Now that you know how conversational commerce can work, it’s time to determine how you can implement it. Here are several ways to help drive sales.

1. Offer recommendations

According to Messina, one of the greatest benefits of conversational commerce is the fact that it offers users “decision support.” In other words, it allows you to guide users toward making a decision based on their specific needs and preferences.

For example, if a user messages a local boutique in search of a gift for a friend, the boutique’s team members can ask (or automate) questions to narrow down one or a few suggestions.

Through your recommendations, your potential customer can have an exact product or service in mind to purchase. This brings them one step closer toward the actual sale while keeping them committed to buying from your brand.

Companies can use just about any tool, from SMS messaging to WeChat, to provide guidance that saves shoppers much of their research time.

2. Simplify check-out

Once you have a customer who’s fully committed to making a purchase, your conversational commerce strategy can help them complete the transaction before they change their mind. With a digital tool like Podium Payments, your shoppers can complete a sale just by using a messaging app.

Implementing an SMS payment solution can allow your business to naturally text invoices to customers as part of an ongoing two-way conversation. The customer can then conveniently pay with the smartphone they already have in hand.

Following the payment—or even before they get the chance to pay—you can still interact with the customer and encourage them to develop an emotional bond with your brand.

3. Allow for appointment bookings

Conversational commerce techniques don’t have to lead to a sale directly on your communication platform of choice. You can also use online communication tools to steer potential buyers to your physical location, too. After all, with mobile cart abandonment rates as high as 85.6%, getting online shoppers from your e-commerce store to your brick-and-mortar can help you land a successful sale.

Facebook Messenger is a prominent chat tool that has launched an appointment-booking feature, allowing companies to install a bot that automatically puts customers on their schedule.

Whether you’re offering car repair estimates, consultations, haircuts, or similar services, you can give users the power to put time on your synced calendar by sending a social media message. This way, they’ll never have to wait for you to check your availability over the phone.

With the data you collect from a message or voice-based appointment booking, you can automate personalized reminders to make sure clients follow through.

4. Send promotions

Your conversational commerce strategy can also introduce shoppers to limited-time deals on your products or services. As long as your customer has opted into messages from you in the past, you can follow up with targeted deals when it makes the most sense. This will drive the customer to browse your brick-and-mortar or online store and take advantage of the deal.

Promotions should be sent sparingly or mentioned as a natural part of your conversation with customers. Plus, your deals should be somewhat personalized to users based on their past purchases, shopping behaviors, and any other data you’ve collected.

Irrelevant promotions can easily read as spam, especially if you start sending them more frequently. Remember, your goal is to build a relationship through two-way communication—not to send messages that don’t inspire interaction.

5. Provide updates

Sometimes, conversational commerce isn’t directly tied to your sales funnel. It can also be part of your overall customer service strategy, as it creates the customer experience that all your shoppers want to return to every time they need your products or services.

You can take advantage of messaging platforms and voice assistants to give buyers updates on shipments, let them know when an item has restocked, or even just thank them for a visit or purchase. As you continue providing the convenient support that your competitors aren’t, your customers may increase their loyalty toward your brand.

6. Enable text messaging for your business.

Our suggestion is to start small. Simply enable customers to text you through click-to-message features on Google My Business or Apple Business Chat. You can manage the incoming messages from the respective platform’s mobile or desktop applications. Use bots to automate responses to FAQs regarding returns, business hours, or pandemic services like curbside pickups. From there, live agents can be available to answer more specific or complicated customer inquiries, often based on a specific store’s location.

Businesses typically use phone calls or emails to communicate. But the truth is that customers prefer texting. Adding a textable line (even to an existing landline) is not complex to set up. And the increased leads, revenue, and customer satisfaction will reassure you of this decision.

7. Add chat capabilities to your website.

Nothing adds friction to the customer experience like unnecessary phone calls, email interactions, or trips to the store. Use web chat to quickly resolve customer service concerns or even complete transactions from a mobile device. It’s a personalized touch that meets the expectation of 84% of consumers—connecting the online and offline retail experience.

8. Ask for customer feedback.

Customers notice when you care about their experience. Feeling unappreciated is one of the top reasons customers switch brands. You can improve the customer experience and increase the likelihood of a repeat customer by implementing feedback requests post-purchase.

In quick and casual text conversation, ask for feedback from customers and make their suggestions part of the performance review for every transaction. In a matter of minutes, you can demonstrate to customers that you value them. And in turn, they will value your business.

9. Respond to your customers.

Opening additional channels for customer communication may seem overwhelming—especially when the expectation for speed is high and competition is fierce. This is where customer relationship management software is crucial. Many interactions with customers don’t require human contact. Bots can provide personalized help and experiences that customers appreciate. Or if a human response is necessary, you can automate a message to assure customers (in the meantime) that your team is working on a response. This kind of communication delights customers and establishes a foundation to acquire and retain loyal customers.

Drive sales through conversation

With the use of text messages, voice messages, and smart devices on the rise, it’s crucial to adapt to keep up with changing consumer behavior. Implementing a conversational commerce strategy will allow you to convert your target audience, whether they’re on the go with little attention to spare or at home looking for the most convenient way to shop.

With a platform like Podium, you can view and respond to all customer interactions (think reviews, social media messages, feedback, texts, emails, webchat, and more) from one centralized inbox. You’ll generate new leads and be equipped to respond with ease. See how it works with a free demo

Matt Boyce
Matt Boyce Head of SMB Marketing

Matt Boyce is a marketing and business professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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