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Unlocking the power of conversational commerce, this holiday season and beyond

CX ideas for retailers and e-commerce players to be more relevant for their buyers, at the right time, at the right place.

Over the last 5 years, we’ve witnessed that customers are already moving beyond the branded website and the mobile app. As customers become more mobile and social, going beyond mobile downloading and texting, their expectations for interacting with retailers are also changing. Their “always-on” social behavior means that they are constantly accessing easily digestible bits of contextual information through multiple devices. They favor images and/or video rather than just pure text. This has led to the adoption of an everyday “conversational” style — short bursts — with friends, families, peers, colleagues, and the world at large. And they are increasingly expecting a more conversational style of interaction with brands and retailers, on digital channels.

Covid-19 has prompted brands across the globe to enter a multi-experience era,  lowering the friction of product discovery and purchase. Acceleration of digital commerce will continue beyond the pandemic as customers are spending more time on a mesh of digital touchpoints like Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Alexa, Google Assistant, and beyond, to even include voice.

In fact, the number of companies investing in the omnichannel experience has jumped from 20% to more than 80% since 2020. Customer Experience (CX) is now the center of focus as more and more brands embrace digital transformation.

So how can retailers and e-commerce players be more relevant for their buyers, at the right time, at the right place?

#1 Have customer-facing conversations, where the conversation is

Unified retail commerce embraces the various options for browsing, acquiring, transacting, and exploring the consumption of products, creating endless permutations in what was once a linear purchase path. Presaged by the boom of smartphone adoption, commerce is getting closer to customers, across tier 1,2 & 3 cities. But more recently, the smartphone boom is joined by voice-driven smart home devices, connected cars, and “smart things” in public places such as malls and stores.  The way consumers interact with digital commerce tech is moving beyond point and click, touch and swipe, and the search loop to include the natural language interface — that of text and voice.

At Yellow.ai, we’ve launched over 300 brands to adopt Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs) for their customer-facing sales, marketing, and support functions, thereby leading to an increase in engagement and revenue, while reducing costs.

#2 Deploy Virtual Customer Assistants that deliver commerce

The peak season for retail and e-commerce companies is here, and the fourth quarter is often the busiest and most lucrative time of year. Last year the pandemic drastically accelerated the shift towards online shopping and produced lasting changes in consumer retail behavior. To that end, there is a huge opportunity for retailers and e-commerce players in the upcoming festival and shopping season.

The shopper’s research and buying journeys are fluid where they switch between online stores, social media like Instagram, channels like WhatsApp, FB Messenger,  review sites, physical stores, mobile apps, along the path to purchase.

The onus is on the retailer and e-commerce player to deliver the right experience at the right time. And this is only possible if you are able to connect the dots of your customers’ purchase history across channels and gain a real understanding of their behavior and needs. Virtual Customer Assistants (VCA’s) are AI-powered chatbots and voice bots that engage, deliver information, and/or enable end-to-end sales. There are five elements that come together to make smarter automation a reality: a conversational customer-facing user interface that receives and delivers inputs and outputs, a natural language processing engine, a dialogue manager, a search engine that traverses data repositories through enterprise integrations, and a machine learning capability.

#3 Happier Employees = Happier Customers

Beyond impacting the customer experience, VCAs are poised to transform workflows in retail enterprises as well, as they have the potential to ensure that employees receive the information they need in a timely manner.  Intelligent bots increase employee engagement, as it allows them to focus on the more non-routine critical tasks. This, in turn, improves the customer experience. For example, with deep learning capability, chatbots could be individualized to specific stores and eliminate any data that’s not relevant. Instead of going through lists, printouts, or portals to complete tasks, associates can quickly interface with chatbots for information they need. It’s possible that chatbots will make the typing into online search engines or hunting through email things of the past.

A successful digital commerce strategy entails adopting an ecosystem approach to deliver compelling and unified experiences for customers, employees, and partners while remaining responsive to growing business needs. We’ve seen the impact at yellow.ai, with renowned brands like Spencer’s India touching the lives of ~5M consumers over WhatsApp during the Covid-19 outbreak, Domino’s India save $500K in a year by automating customer experience, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited receiving 500K LPG bookings leading to $10M in sales via their multi-lingual and omnichannel VCAs.

#4 Weave in the best of AI and Human Intelligence

The future state of digital commerce will necessitate supporting so many channels that it will be impractical and likely impossible to dedicate individual teams to each one. And that is where, a new age, yet proven technology like Conversational AI-powered commerce can become a tactic and strategy both, to strengthen digital commerce in the long run.

However, amidst all the digital transformation, brands shouldn’t forget the human touch as they rush to provide digital self-service. That means having AI and human agents work together as one team. And this has become even more important now that customer service agents are mostly working from home. With an AI co-worker, help is always at hand. Retailers that combine artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital experiences with efficient and effective human-assisted service will build stronger, more valuable customer relationships — and significant competitive advantage.

This article is authored by Vartika Verma, Global Vice President Marketing, Yellow.ai

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