The Pros and Cons of Conversational Commerce

Conversation is a core part of the buying process, whether you're asking the wine clerk what red she recommends or messaging a store owner on Facebook to see if they sell gift cards.

I'm sure you've visited a website and had a chat box pop up, asking if you needed help or offering to start a conversation. Chances are, the “person” with whom you're speaking isn't human.

A chatbot allows business owners to provide responses and solutions – and even generate leads and sales – 24/7 through automated customer service live chat. According to IBM, up to 80% of routine customer service questions could be answered by a chatbot.

There are two types of chatbots:

1. Those that rely on rules and can only accept / respond in limited ways.

2. Those that use artificial intelligence to employ sophisticated algorithms to accept / respond.

One of the areas we'll see this tech more and more in is healthcare. While nothing will replace a professional – especially in an emergency – it's convenient and fast to ask a bot a simple question about a cold or what medications interact with breastfeeding.

Here's an example: Florence is a popular online personal health assistant. “She” has become focused on two main features: health tracking and medication reminders. All users have to do is start a chat with her in Facebook Messenger, Kik or Skype and she'll jump in.

Now, let's take a look at three pros of conversational commerce:

1. Fast responses, multiple options . You're able to answer queries ultra-fast and this type of interaction is possible on a wide range of platforms including Facebook Messenger, SMS, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Business Chat and WeChat.

2. Money, money, money. You don't need to work late responding to questions and you don't need to pay employees to respond to every interaction. If you want to sell through your bot people can purchase your product or service anytime, anywhere.

3. You automatically gather data. eCommerce chatbots collect data so you can offer a more personalized experience each time someone communicates with your brand. And, you gain lots of valuable insight on your users' needs, pain points and buying habits.

Caption: Domino's uses a wide variety of tools to allow pizza lovers to rapidly order, pay and track their food.

Let's balance that out with three cons:

1. They can't replace humans . Especially in the medical and legal fields, there's a concern that patients may use these technologies instead of seeking professional help. Also, you shouldn't use conversational commerce as your only form of customer service. Your clients should be able to connect with a live person, at least during your regular business hours.

2. Misunderstandings can happen. The problem is with natural language understanding, which is the ability to determine intent. Bots aren't as skilled at understanding us as our fellow humans are – at least not yet. Customers will get frustrated with eCommerce chatbots that don't work well and will take their business to a competitor.

3. They're not right for every situation. It's true that many companies can benefit from this ever-changing technology, but don't try and force it. If your services are too complex to map out in AI chat or require thorough consultations, a chatbot probably won't help lead-qualifying efforts or sales.

Chatbots are far from perfect, and while they'll certainly advance going forward, you don't want to alienate customers now. By understanding the pros and cons, you can ensure you're making the best chat-choice for your business.

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