Even though more sales are taking place online, shoppers have as many questions to ask as when they went in-store. This Q&A with Marie Sagarzazu (pictured below), UK country manager, iAdvize, looks at how conversational marketing tools can fill this gap, and help e-commerce sites match the in-store experience.
RetailTechNews: How does conversational marketing work and how does what you offer differ from automated chatbots?
Marie Sagarzazu: Conversational marketing is centred around actual conversations between brands and their customers that are at the heart of the online buying journey. It has risen in prominence as brands have to date only expressed themselves to customers in order to sell their products and services, yet this is very much a one-way communication.
A key selling point of conversational marketing is that it has no barriers, as it’s not limited to just one channel, such as a customer chat support, or to a platform, like Twitter. Yet conversational marketing does not focus on the channels and technology, but centres around the content, emotion, and experience of the online customer journey.
However, with the shift to conversational marketing now well underway, given that there are so many channels now available to consumers to engage with brands, chatbots are increasingly being relied upon to handle large volumes of conversations. As of 2017, more than 200,000 chatbots have been created on Facebook Messenger, pointing to how commonplace they have become.
To see how chatbots can fit into conversational marketing, look at Facebook’s now defunct M product, a text-based virtual assistant that used human workers to train an artificial intelligence system, that was able to automate 20% of conversations. Yet, 2,000 agents were still required to oversee this chatbot, which shows that while the technology has huge potential, humans are still an essential part of driving conversations with customers.
Chatbots are also able to handle low-value questions and then seamlessly escalate them to a human respondent when the questions become more complex and a chatbot is no longer able to provide a satisfactory response.
How are retailers leveraging this to better engage with their customers?
Overall, e-commerce has an engagement problem. While 27% of hard-earned web traffic arrives on a site planning to purchase, just 2% of these visitors convert. When compared to traditional in-store commerce, this looks quite stark, as the average conversion rate in a physical store hovers around 40%.
There are two main reasons for such a drop off. Firstly, there’s huge disparity in the personalised, human touch experience that can be offered in-store, which is simply lacking when shopping online. Secondly, there is a misplaced assumption that the customer’s online purchasing journey is finished once you get them to your website. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, given the ubiquity of choice online available to consumers, they don’t take the decision to buy something lightly, meaning brands have to assist them as much as possible in coming to this decision.
Meanwhile, in addition to this engagement issue faced by brands, we often see huge budgets are poured, sometimes solely, into digital advertising in a belief that this will solve the acquisition problem. However, I believe that simply advertising products and services online just won’t work anymore. The purpose of online ads is to drive clicks; yet such ads are now so ubiquitous they generate just 0.05% clicks on average and, in fact, just three in 10 digital display ads are viewed by anyone at all.
Instead, by focusing on talking to their prospects and customers through conversational marketing, where human interaction, personalisation, and transparency are at the core of the relationship, this can drive real, tangible ROI. Our own research has found that within the retail sector a fifth (22%) of visitors who were supported by messaging assistance place an order after a conversation.
How can retailers measure the effectiveness of conversational marketing on their bottom line?
It is quite simple. With iAdvize, brands have access to what we call a ‘supervision panel‘. This provides an instant snapshot of performance metrics, including a satisfaction rating, number of current customer contacts ongoing, and also the turnover generated by these contacts.
All of these metrics are measured against the brands’ own KPIs within this panel. Generally these KPIs are broken up into three key areas. First is what we call ‘missed opportunities‘, whereby we track the number of contact opportunities brands are missing over any period of time, because there are not enough agents available. Secondly, we analyse team organisation, in order to make sure brands are always able to support website visitors when they need the most help and, importantly, stop missing out on transactions. Finally, we crunch the data to assess the average turnover generated for each contact. This empowers brands to take a much closer look at the conversations that lead to transactions.
This approach means brands have a complete overview of how conversational marketing is affecting their bottom line and, thanks to this supervision panel, they can send tips to agents who might need an immediate helping hand too.
While instant access to performance metrics is essential, iAdvize can also put results into perspective. All conversations with customers are saved, meaning that brands can compare performance over specific time periods. Again, this is all easily accessible on our platform. For those businesses just starting to implement conversational marketing, we also provide sectoral benchmarks, to see what others in an industry are achieving.
For example, thanks to iAdvize’s supervision panel, House Of Fraser, a current customer, was able to measure the effectiveness of its conversational marketing campaign quite easily. The brand’s challenges were to reduce incoming emails, improve customer satisfaction, and boost online sales. By using iAdvize, House Of Fraser was able to convert 29% of visitors who chat on their website, and this was all accessible from our reporting tools.
We really feel that our approach puts brands in total control of their conversational marketing campaigns; yet it also adds real transparency, where they can see firsthand the value being generated by using iAdvize.
How can your technology pick the optimum time to ask a shopper if they need help?
Technology is now critical in knowing the optimum time to ask a customer if they need help and it is able to do this based on behavioural targeting rules. This is where the technology builds a profile of users, based off a variety of factors.
For example, if some shoppers are displaying high levels of basket abandonment, or hesitating to purchase a certain product, iAdvize is able to detect this, through our targeting rules, and we will then initiate contact in order to try to generate a conversion for a brand.
However, iAdvize is also able to provide an online visitor with the best customer representative to help them with a purchase. For quite simple queries, we will provide a chatbot that can easily answer frequently asked questions. However, if the conversation goes beyond the parameters of what a chatbot can handle, we’ll seamlessly transfer this to an agent. In addition to this, we also provide an on-demand pool of experts, who act as agents, who are savvy enthusiasts who are paid to enhance customer experience and boost online sales.
Due to this, iAdvize is able to handle any query a customer may make, or simply help them along the purchasing journey.
What does the future hold for conversational marketing?
The future is bright for conversational marketing and we’ll see huge growth in the area in the coming years, especially as more and more brands see the value in this approach.
Companies will increasingly look to conversational marketing as a core part of their business strategy, leaving the days of solely relying on advertising far behind. This is because conversational marketing can transform the online customer journey, while also helping brands to create innovative, real-time customer experiences that resonate.
For me, conversational marketing is the new marketing.
We’re already seeing companies changing their organisations profoundly in order to address the customer-acquisition paradox online, as conversational marketing really is an issue shared by marketing, digital, and customer experience. For example, two of our clients are already making conversational marketing a strategic priority. This is because customer lifetime value (CLTV) is critical for a retailer. As a retail CEO, you should be focusing on two key areas right now. Firstly, reduce customer acquisition cost and, secondly, increase CLTV. As conversational marketing grows and becomes an essential approach for more and more brands, iAdvize will be one of the only companies that can answer both of these challenges effectively.