One of the topics we’ve touched on over the past few weeks in this column lies at the intersection of chatbots and eCommerce. From Domino’s Pizza to ATB Financial and more, there have been several developments over the past year when it comes to these two forces joining to provide an enhanced customer service offering.
The ability of both chatbot technology’s natural language and artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret what is being said gives businesses a more succinct way of analyzing and moving the ball for collected customer data. As more people enter details into chatbots, the ability to personalize each experience greatly expands.
What’s happening here is the creation of a new type of commerce many are dubbing chat-commerce (also referred to as conversational commerce). One of the better definitions of this was found in an early 2016 Medium posting where social and digital architect expert Chris Messina defined conversational commerce. He said that it “pertains to utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e., voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”
Although many have noticed chatbots aren’t a new phenomena, the combination of intertwining them with commerce is starting to catch on, especially following Facebook’s F8 developer conference in April of last year. At this conference, Facebook announced it was partnering up with the likes of CNN, 1-800-Flowers and other retailers to provide a more enhanced offering. The availability of Facebook integration undoubtedly has changed the game for those developing chatbots. One company that’s helping to expand the eCommerce and chatbot space with its recent partnership with Sam’s Club is digital platform developer Rockfish. We sat down with Rockfish’s CEO, Michael Stich, to discuss the impact of fusing chatbot technology with eCommerce.
As with any new technology, there are various wrinkles to iron out. Stich commented on how training chatbots to behave in the way businesses want them to is something that we’ll likely continue to see moving forward. He said, “The introduction of chatbots in eCommerce is like turning on any new channel — with any new technology or innovation, there’s going to be certain kinks that have to be worked out, but early adopters will have the advantage which is the training aspect of these experiences. The real beauty behind the training is that it’s done through pure user testing and allows certain unique elements to come up during development that you didn’t foresee. You have to constantly train the chatbot, as it can accelerate the user’s path to purchase through this customized experience.”
What we’ve seen becoming more prevalent in the use of chatbots today is to act as either an intermediary for customer service or as a unique sales tool. Think of Domino’s Pizza offering its full menu or ATB Financial allowing for bank inquiries — all through Facebook Messenger. Businesses are simply taking advantage of a heavily used app in the hands of nearly two billion people globally.
Stich said, “Think of it as having a 24/7, always-on representative of your eCommerce footprint that a consumer can trust — it can influence them in a two-way conversation. It can present things in a way that’s compelling, and masterfully so. It can answer questions on the fly and help think for the consumer so they can make smart decisions. It can steer toward faster tracks to purchase or subscription models — and can help accelerate the shopping experience.”
Given the ability to help both businesses and retailers enhance the overall consumer experience, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see partnerships with popular third-party apps like Facebook Messenger. Stich shared with us his thoughts on the advantages of partnerships and a breakdown of how those will evolve.
He said, “The real value behind chatbots will always be the training aspect — you have to have a partner that is willing to monitor, train and develop the product as you turn this new channel on. We see a potential for third-party partnerships that help to monitor and train the product long-term. These chatbots can only be as good as you train them to be — all of the unique circumstances that come up over time have to be monitored and adjusted. The partners have to improve the intelligence they’re bringing to the technology — bringing more contextual awareness of the consumers and their intents. One thing that will help gauge success is a separation of specialties. Right now, major players are doing all the major things in AI and chatbots. Eventually, they’ll start specializing and gravitating towards what they’re good at — some will migrate towards conversation and dialogue, some toward recognition, and some toward real-time analysis of intent.”
It seems as though we’re at the beginning of seeing just what chatbots can do for retailers in the eCommerce space. With Gartner predicting 85 percent of all interactions with businesses will be managed without human interaction, the only way for chatbots to likely go is up and onward, and the impact on the retail space will be imminent. Stich indicates that there may be a retail revolution over the next few years with the addition of chatbots in the eCommerce space.
He said, “It’s going to force retailers to be smarter. The engines have to be smarter, but retailers have to be strategic and quickly learn consumer behaviors and intents to be able to answer their questions confidently by learning to infer and give correct answers. It will force retailers to create new models of business, new support groups, and new technology enablement by putting a shoulder into making reactions responsive. It will also revolutionize how retailers will capitalize on value. Right now, we see value in terms of dollars, but they will have to recognize value differently — depth of loyalty and engagement, time to resolution, etc. This will not be just a performance indicator for chatbots, but many other enablements down the road; it will force them to adjust how they measure success.”