If you’re in the business of selling things, chances are you’ve heard the term “conversational commerce” come up once or twice in relation to customer marketing and service initiatives.

The phrase was coined in 2015 by Chris Messina, Uber’s former developer experience lead and the man who invented the Twitter hashtag. You could say he knows a thing or two about branding a user behavior.

“Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” wrote Messina.

In short: It’s the intersection of messaging and shopping, where the bulk of interaction between consumers and retailers is accomplished via apps and chatbots. And in the last three years–as voice recognition software, AI-assisted human agents and similar tools have matured, conversational commerce has infiltrated retail.

But what if you’re not in the retail or eCommerce space? Can your brand drive ROI by applying the tactics of conversational commerce to your social customer care strategy?

At its core, conversational commerce is about offering personalized and informative support 24 hours a day.

In other words: Welcome to the new age of customer care.

Let’s Be Real: Chatbots are Table Stakes

We don’t need to tell you that customers are increasingly turning to Twitter to air their grievances or request support from companies. From the humorous to the personal, these exchanges are often better served by private messaging vs. public @mentions.

Chatbots can be as simple as an interactive FAQ section that uses data to proactively determine which initial questions your customers will have. In the meantime, the agents in your customer care department can focus on more complex questions and then apply their human insight to what customers need.

A big advantage: Using this human insight to elevate the chatbot experience to provide automated answers to more and more sophisticated questions.

Messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack and WeChat have become increasingly more popular.

“If consumers can talk to their friends and family through messaging apps, they expect to be able to talk to businesses and brands in the same way,” writes Beerud Sheth, founder and CEO of bot and messaging platform Gupshup.

The opportunity for personalized exchange has some even predicting that websites as we know them will dissolve, as brands find business elsewhere.

Big Investment Will Fuel the Conversational Commerce Revolution

As the focus shifts away from traditional digital customer care, the race is on to dominate the field of AI by assembling resources and entering the intense competition for top talent. Companies are rushing to hire specialized talent, including developers, copywriters and especially designers with expertise in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

The dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science compared job fairs to “Thanksgiving Black Friday sales at Walmart” and Paysa, a platform that uses AI to connect employers and job seekers, announced in April 2017 that their research showed the top three companies making massive investment in hiring for AI positions:

  • Amazon ($228 million)
  • Google ($130 million)
  • Microsoft ($75 million)

Those investments are predicted to yield new options for conversational commerce via machine learning APIs for Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Further proof that conversational commerce is more than a customer service add-on—it’s the backbone of what social customer care will be in the future.

An Undeniable Edge

As use of AI technology grows and machine learning ensures that it becomes more sophisticated, the importance of human influence will be impossible to ignore.

By studying human-selected customer insights, an eCommerce chatbot can evolve from answering simple questions like, “What time are you open?” to providing thoughtful responses to inquiries as nuanced as, “Which shirt would look better on me?”

“My view is that the new norm will be situational; some shopping occasions will take place without a screen (e.g. voice interfaces), some will be a hybrid experience, which could include chatbots, some will be in virtual and augmented reality and some through traditional ‘self-serve’ online experiences without the need for assistance or conversation,” RJ Pittman, Chief Product Officer for eBay, told Forbes last year. “The science of commerce converges on new tipping points of capability that will truly change the customer experience.”

No longer will it be acceptable to have a chatbot simply replace a Google search. The expectation will be that the exchange be truly conversational – that the bot will be able to understand complex questions and make inferences into human emotion.

Don’t Just Transact. Transform.

By evolving the customer care relationship to make it a richer, more valuable, more connected experience for the user, brands have the opportunity to build the kind of user-centric loyalty that only an emotional exchange can inspire.

The future of great customer care is not merely putting out fires – it’s in also purposely and thoughtfully assisting with and validating the choices people make.

By facilitating this kind of deep, emotional relationship building, conversational commerce has the power to move the brand-consumer relationship from transactional to transformative.