An Introduction to Conversational Commerce and Bots

Conversations.

These days, there is a lot of chatter about talking – and it’s not that surprising considering the forays in AI, machine learning and natural language processing have made interactions with technology more conversational, more human. Bots are now capable to think, but also view, speak, and listen. So businesses are discussing how they can, could, will, and should be using bots to drive more personalised conversational interfaces with their customers.

“By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.” – Gartner Predicts

I already prefer to use an ATM at the bank and I go to the self-checkout when doing my groceries. It doesn’t seem like that far fetched to see how conversational bots can become an extension of a self-service interface to your brand across the platform and channel your customer choose.

Bing has already a few chatbots integrated directly into the search results page, creating new, deeper engagement with the brand right here where the customer intent is verbalised. As I was planning my latest trip to Seattle, I’ve found it pretty useful to interact via the bot to quickly discover the parking availability for the restaurant I was heading to and to make sure it offered gluten-free dishes for the colleague who was joining me:

What are bots and chatbots?

There is no difference. In the beginning bots were just pieces of software designed to automate specific tasks. Today, bots have evolved thanks to the accelerations of our capabilities in machine learning and natural language process to comprehend and engage in conversations. They are acting as an interface that can be plugged into APIs or various data sources to deliver information on demand and help drive conversational commerce. In many ways, they are a new paradigm to how we will consume the web information. We used to go to web pages, then to interact with apps… We are about to exchange with this new interface through natural language which will, in turn, retrieve the information we are after. We will stop browsing or tapping: we will start asking.

What’s the difference between bots and digital assistants?

A digital assistant like Cortana, Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant is more advanced than a chatbot. Some call them “meta agents”. In addition to being able to parse conversational language like a chatbot they are also incorporate additional layers of artificial intelligence to help merge utility, productivity, entertainment and the ability to accomplish actions together to become an intelligent agent. It is both contextually and historically aware, which means that it can provide relevant information, proactive recommendations, tailored to your preferences and situation. As such, Cortana is a predictive and proactive agent that can, based on interactions, learn to interact with you, other people and bots.

What’s the difference between bots and skills?

What do you want to teach the digital assistant to do? A skill. A skill teaches the digital assistant how to do something or to take an action, based on a voice command. I might ask, “Hey Cortana, ask HUE to dim the kitchen lights” or “Hey Alexa, book a UBER in ten minutes!”,  “Hey Cortana, let OPENTABLE book a table for two at John Howie Steakhouse at 7pm.”

Domino's Chat Bot

Conversational Commerce – Connecting the dots

When it first launched, Domino’s Pizza Bot was super simple. Simple but effective. Customers typed the word Pizza and it would place for their connected account an “Easy Order.” The bot wasn’t really conversational in nature, but it started with an easy-to-use feature which allowed Domino’s to get their foot in the connected kitchen door in order to test and learn. Currently, Domino’s has both a true conversational commerce chatbot and Amazon Alexa skills with increased capabilities. Although retaining their ambition for a simple consumer benefit, ordering a pizza, they have upped the AI complexity to allow users to build their order from scratch, but also to track an order or reorder their most recent order.

Let’s take a high lever look at getting started with bots and what you need to keep top of mind as you get started.

Tips for getting started with bots:

  1. Plan
    1. Set goals and expectation for what it can do.
    2. Focus on interactions that mean the most to your customers
  2. Start Simple:
    1. Focus on building a feature that works amazingly and will delight your customers.
    2. Don’t reveal all the features at once. It can overwhelm your customers.
    3. Integrate the features into the flow of the conversation where they make sense.
  3. Develop your bot:
    1. Choose a frame, like the Microsoft bot framework that can help you scale across channels.
    2. Don’t try to launch across every channel at first. Take a test-and-learn approach and roll out features and channels.
  4. Monitor bots closely:
    1. Mistakes are inevitable – Learn from them and fix any identified errors/mistakes often and quickly.
      1. Examine it: What questions did people ask that the bot wasn’t able to answer?
      2. Teach it: What words does the bot not understand? Does it not get that veggie is another term for vegetarian?
      3. Humanize it: Does the tone of your brand shine through? Make the experiences more engaging?
    2. Ask your customer for feedback, especially early on. Give your customers the option at the end of the session if they’d like to participate to help make the bot better!
    3. Learn from customer interactions and feedback.
    4. Generate smarter, more personalized interactions capitalizing on the growing number of cognitive services available
  5. Iterate and Adapt. Rinse & Repeat.

Everyone loves a good conversation. Bots and skills are opening up ways to communicate directly and more conversationally with your customers – providing them a more natural experience. It also can give your business a deeper look into the customer experience – including their emotions and sense of urgency during the interactions. Bots and skills can help you provide more personalized experiences that create a more meaningful connection with your customers.

So, what if we’d stop chatting, and started coding?

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Cedric Chambaz

About Cedric Chambaz

Tasked with promoting Microsoft’s search marketing platform - Bing Ads – around the world, Cedric works closely with advertisers, from Blue Chip brands to small businesses, to help them develop effective online strategies which can boost their visibility with PPC, provide more targeted communication and deliver higher ROI.

  • ” it’s not that surprising considering the forays in AI, machine learning and natural language processing have made interactions with technology more conversational, more human “