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Time to Talk


Much has been written about how Amazon’s Alexa, and by extension, Conversational Commerce will be the death of brands. I could not disagree more vehemently. Brands exist in the minds of consumers today through the experiences that they enable and how they craft those experiences to interact and exchange with their consumers. Conversational Commerce will revolutionize these interactions in ways not witnessed since the dawn of eCommerce. This is so much more than a new interface or an additional channel in an omni-channel world, it’s a revolutionary way to create differentiation. While we are still at the very beginnings of the conversational economy, the extraordinarily rapid early adoption will drive investment and innovation, building the path to a new way for brands to build relationships of value with customers and an entirely new way for customers to engage with brands across the relationship lifecycle from marketing to sales and customer service.

Today what we call Conversational Commerce is really no more than a series of disconnected voice-activated transactions where convenience is the key driver.

As the technology evolves to enable real conversations and contextual dialogs between brands and people, so increases the opportunity for brands to build higher value relationships with consumers based on relevance and intimacy. The very nature of dialog between a consumer and a brand will create a rich (and, with care, a continually self-enriching) source of information and insight. The insight that allows for heightened contextual understanding and empathy on the part of brands which in turn leads to greater trust and higher order, emotion-based engagement from consumers.

Competing with Amazon on the convenience factor alone is tough sledding, so don’t. Instead, build the capabilities to develop voice-based exchanges that drive the relationship with your consumers up the customer experience value chain. In the customer experience hierarchy of needs, there are basically three levels: satisfaction (meets my needs), prediction (anticipates my needs) and affiliation (high degrees of personal attachment). Needless to say, the value of the customer increases exponentially as the relationship moves up the pyramid.

Over the past several months we have been working on understanding what consumers think about Conversational Commerce along with the real opportunities for brands and what they need to do to take advantage of these opportunities. Several things have emerged, the first is that consumers love smart assistants and they have already found a place in the fabric of consumers’ lives – including in how they want to interact with brands. Asked to project themselves into the future, the consumers we surveyed confidently foresaw their relationship with smart assistants growing in both ubiquity and utility.

For brands, we have isolated the three things that they must focus on today to take advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves as the technology matures. The three areas are: the customer experience strategy – how Conversational Commerce affects the journey that your customers take with your brand. Intelligence – what learning mechanisms do you need to have in place, how will you measure progress in moving your customers to higher value relationships? Business operations – what are the implications for your organizational structure, your supply chain?

There is much to do for brands in finding their voice, some brands have already entered the fray using chatbots as a proxy for the rich voice services to come, brands such as Diageo, Campbell’s Soup and Sephora are identifying valuable use-cases and establishing and refining their brand tone in the conversational space. The key is to start planning for and experimenting with conversational interfaces now.