The future of conversational commerce in marketing

Conversational commerce, powered by messaging apps and chatbots, is not just a trend but a transformative force in marketing. APAC marketers should recognize its potential and consider integrating it into their strategies.

Conversational commerce prioritizes real-time customer engagement and improved experiences. APAC marketers should adopt a customer-centric approach, emphasizing personalized interactions. Integrating conversational commerce across platforms enables seamless customer interactions, making an omnichannel strategy valuable for reaching a wider audience.

In this exclusive MartechAsia interview, Kate Liew, Senior Director, APAC Marketing, Vonage, explores conversational commerce, where businesses utilize messaging apps and AI-driven chatbots for real-time customer engagement.

What is conversational commerce?

Liew: Conversational commerce is all about engaging with customers and facilitating sales. It relies on messaging apps and intelligent chatbots to enable real-time conversations with customers. Businesses often leverage these platforms for conversational commerce because they provide a convenient and familiar channel for interacting with customers.  The chatbots are not only capable of chatting but also of analysing data, suggesting products, and providing quick assistance, effectively acting as round-the-clock shopping assistants.

But conversational commerce isn’t solely about selling products; it’s about enhancing the overall shopping experience. From answering questions to making purchases, it covers the entire spectrum of customer engagement. In today’s digital era, conversational commerce serves as a powerhouse that connects businesses with customers worldwide, breaking down geographical barriers. It elevates customer satisfaction, creating a win-win situation for both businesses and consumers.

Kate Liew, Senior Director, APAC Marketing, Vonage

What are the trends in conversational commerce?

Liew: Firstly, businesses are increasingly deploying advanced AI-powered chatbots with the capabilities to engage in human-like interactions. These chatbots can also go beyond providing basic responses by offering personalised recommendations and solutions. Voice commerce is another standout trend with voice command devices. Customers can shop by using voice commands, simplifying the purchasing process. Furthermore, conversational commerce is extending its reach across various channels, including websites and social media platforms, to create a seamless versatile experience for customers. Visual commerce is also making waves by incorporating images, videos, and augmented reality to enhance product displays and also by offering visual assistance during conversations.

Personalisation is at the heart of conversational commerce. Thanks to clever AI algorithms, customer data is now carefully studied to offer custom-made product suggestions and responses, all aimed at ensuring a smooth and effortless experience for each customer. This personalisation allows businesses to leverage chatbots for efficient customer support and self-service options, ensuring speedy issue resolution without human intervention. Conversational commerce has also streamlined payment processes, enabling customers to complete transactions within the chat interface. Data privacy and security concerns are also being addressed to ensure that customer data shared during conversations is safeguarded and compliant with regulations.

Conversational commerce integration into advertising and marketing has become more widespread, as businesses start to initiate interactive conversations with customers to promote products and services in an engaging manner. As it continues to expand, conversational commerce also begins to focus on supporting multiple languages and catering to local preferences, ensuring effective communication in diverse markets. Even in B2B sectors, chatbots are integrated for customer support, and product recommendations. The analytics tool has helped to provide valuable insights into customer behaviour, sentiment, and preferences to assist strategic decisions. Businesses are also using conversational commerce as a platform to communicate their commitments to sustainability.

Hybrid models that combine chatbots with human agents are also a rising trend, as it allows businesses to strike a balance between automation and personalised interactions. These trends have underscored the evolution of conversational commerce as businesses seek to elevate customer experiences by adapting to changing preferences, and by leveraging technology while upholding the data security and ethical standards.

How can marketers leverage conversational commerce to attain their goals?

Liew: Marketers have established valuable allies in conversational commerce, as it enables them to engage with customers in real-time, creating more interactive experiences for customers. This also means that chatbots and messaging apps have become powerful tools for marketers to initiate conversations, answering questions, and providing tailored product recommendations to foster meaningful interactions. Moreover, as personalisation becomes a trend with AI-driven algorithms analysing customer data, marketers can now serve up personalised content and product suggestions consistently. It’s like having a virtual personal shopper for every customer. Plus, these insights also help marketers refine their strategies and offerings.

Apart from that, sales and lead generation get a boost too! These chatbots can actively guide customers through the purchase process, recommending products, and even capture leads. This efficiency is the new game changer, with chatbots handling routine inquiries, freeing up human agents for more complex tasks. Omnichannel marketing now has become seamless, thanks to conversational commerce’s integration in various platforms. Customers can now start a conversation on one channel and pick it up on another without missing a beat. As it’s all about providing a unified brand experience. Marketing campaigns and promotions become more engaging when chatbots step in. As they can initiate conversations to promote new products, offer discounts, and gather valuable feedback resulting in higher engagement and conversion rates.

With this new implementation, gathering customer feedback and conducting market research is no longer an unbearable issue. Marketers are using chatbots to collect opinions, run surveys, and gain insights into market trends and preferences, saving a lot of time and energy. Other than that, with the data analytics, marketers now can also measure the effectiveness of their conversational commerce initiatives to help refine their strategies based on metrics like engagement, conversion rates, and response times. Using chatbots to offer exclusive deals, and provide proactive support helps to keep customers engaged with their brand.

Conversational commerce has equipped marketers with a versatile toolset to achieve their goals, from enhancing customer experience and personalization to driving sales and fostering brand loyalty. It’s all about using the messaging and chat platforms to create meaningful and profitable connections with their target audience.

Why is social media a popular tool for digital consumers at the evaluation stage of the customer journey? What does this mean to marketers?

Liew: After two years of non-stop digital transformation among businesses, social media has emerged as a pivotal tool for digital consumers during the evaluation stage of their customer journey due to its unique attributes and the wealth of information it offers. Users flock to these platforms to access user-generated content, such as product reviews and discussions, which greatly influence their decision-making process. For marketers, this means actively encouraging and monitoring these conversations as positive user-generated content can serve as powerful endorsements for their brand.  Social media is also able to provide real-time updates on products and services, making it essential for marketers to maintain an active and informative presence in social media to ensure potential customers have access to the latest information.

According to Vonage’s Global Consumer Engagement Report 2022, 45% of consumers are very satisfied with the way they connect with companies, revealing opportunities to enhance digital transformation efforts with omnichannel communications channels, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven capabilities, and more. The report shows that in Asia Pacific, communications with brands via messaging app is at 31%.

Additionally, these platforms nurture communities where users will usually seek validation and recommendations. It is a space where brands can engage to build credibility and trust. Marketers can also utilise the visual nature of social media for effective product showcases and leverage influencers to provide authentic evaluations. The interactive features, social proof, and easy access to customer support all make social media indispensable for customers in the evaluation stage. Furthermore, it serves as a platform for comparative analysis and a valuable source of feedback for marketers, helping them refine their strategies and offerings effectively. Therefore, social media’s popularity at this stage highlights the importance of digital engagement and responsiveness, offering marketers a unique opportunity to guide and influence potential customers in their evaluation process.

How does the Vonage conversational commerce solution help consumers and marketers?

Liew: Vonage’s conversational commerce tools and APIs help businesses to embed messaging, voice, video, and customer insights into every interaction, all to simplify the buying journey.

For consumers, Vonage has enabled seamless and convenient communication by allowing businesses to engage with them through their preferred messaging apps or platforms. Vonage’s technology also facilitates personalisation, by enhancing the consumer experience by providing tailored product recommendations and responses. Vonage’s strong omnichannel support, including WhatsApp, Twitter, Messenger, LINE and Instagram, as well as the additional value and scalability provided by Vonage’s communications APIs has the capability to seamlessly invite buyers to a live video interaction with an in-store associate or customer service agent in just one click.

For instance, Clarins Malaysia revamped its personalised beauty approach for the digital era with Vonage Conversational Commerce. By seamlessly integrating Messenger and Instagram Direct Message, it delivered real-time, personalised shopping experiences similar to in-store consultations. This shift has led to amplified online engagement, orders, and customer satisfaction, emerging as a potent tool fortifying Clarins Malaysia’s e-commerce strategy and delivering customers innovative, tailored shopping journeys.

Another example is HolidayPirates, an international company that sources and shares updated details for flights, hotels, and holiday packages from leading travel platforms. To ensure that customers didn’t miss out on travel packages and deals that could close within hours, HolidayPirates needed a faster, more scalable communications channel to give users access to offers in real time. With the Vonage Conversational Commerce solution, HolidayPirates is able to elevate customer experiences using the WhatsApp Business Platform, meeting customers where they are.

From a marketer’s perspective, Vonage’s services provide a versatile toolkit for marketers to engage with consumers across various messaging apps and channels, embracing a multichannel approach to reach a broader audience. Automation and efficiency are core benefits. Vonage’s chatbots and automation tools help to reduce the workload on human agents, hence, improving operational efficiency.

By contributing to an enhanced customer experience through personalised real-time interactions, Vonage assists marketers in fostering customer satisfaction, ultimately promoting customer loyalty and advocacy. While social messaging becomes more important to consumers across the globe as a quick and direct way of connecting with their favourite brands, the application meets the needs of major global brands, helping them to connect with consumers, while also turning these conversations into richer AI-enabled customer experiences.