Trend Watch: How Top Retailers Are Using Chatbots

Conversing with ELIZA in 1966 was almost like talking with a real person. The first chatbot — a computer program that converses with humans — mimicked human conversation by recognizing key words or phrases in user prompts and matching them to preprogrammed responses that moved conversations forward in a meaningful way. In the decades since, Watson, Siri and Alexa have built on ELIZA’s user interface to solve problems, make recommendations and perform actions in increasingly complex situations.

Today’s chatbots have become sophisticated enough that they’re helping e-commerce retailers build their business and improve the overall shopping experience.

Customers love the chatbot trend, too: 90% of customers surveyed want to use these messaging services instead of talking to a human when communicating with businesses. So whether retailers are using their own chatbots or one of the 33,000 that have been developed for Facebook’s Messenger app, chatbots appear to be the wave of the communication future for retailers. Here are seven ways today’s top e-commerce retailers are leveraging the power of chatbots to build their business.

1. Offer Reliable Customer Service

E-commerce happens 24/7/365 — and customers expect customer service to be available at all times, too. But what happens when a customer has a question in the middle of the night and you don’t have the financial or staffing resources to support an always-available customer service center?

If you’re waiting to respond to their email or phone call until after opening hours, you might find that you’ve already lost the sale and the customer has moved on to another retailer. But at the same time, it might not make sense for your business to have someone on staff at all times just in case a question comes in.

Chatbots can offer retailers the ability to maintain basic customer service support at all times in any language and at a low cost without having to rely on human staff. Your customers get the answers they need, when they need them — and you improve your chances of making a sale.

2. Deliver Personalized Content

There’s a good reason why brick-and-mortar stores remain popular: Customers like to be able to see a product in person before they purchase it, and they also appreciate being able to speak with an employee to find out whether the product will actually meet the customer’s need. Even better, store employees can offer cross-sells and upsells to help ensure the customer is getting exactly what they need.

Without any human interaction to guide purchasing decisions, e-commerce personalization has traditionally been much more difficult. But by integrating chatbots into their sales platforms, merchants can analyze the customer’s purchase history, preferences and other factors and direct the chatbot to automatically display the recommended and related products that can drive sales.

3. Route Customers to the Right People

Retailers using chatbots can help customers with a wide range of questions and concerns; unfortunately, chatbots can’t address every issue or resolve every concern. But when chatbots can’t help a customer any further, what they can do is follow predetermined routing rules to make sure the customer’s message quickly reaches the right people or department for resolution.

4. Answer Common Customer Questions

Chatbots can also come in handy when it comes to answering product and company questions. By pulling information from your company’s knowledge base, chatbots can quickly provide answers to specific questions, ranging from those on product details to order updates to shipping costs.

5. Advertise Promotions

Some merchants are even configuring their chatbots to keep customers aware of changes to the website, notify them about new products or promotions, and even follow up with customers after a predetermined amount of time has passed.

6. Develop Customer Relationships

The questions that customers ask chatbots — and the actions they take after their conversations — can be invaluable to e-commerce retailers. They offer insights as to what customers are looking for, what they’re buying, and any issues they may be having with navigating your website. Not only does this give you more information about the customers you’re attracting, but it also improves your ability to improve the customer experience, lower cart abandonment and develop lasting relationships with shoppers.

7. Protect Customer Data

With privacy concerns on the rise with customers, it’s no surprise that shoppers are reluctant to share personal data with strangers. But they might be more willing to share that data in an automated interaction when they know the data is kept securely away from human eyes, reducing the risk it will be leaked or misused.

Whether retailers are using chatbots to make product recommendations or to facilitate returns and exchanges, this technology is a smart addition to a robust customer service strategy. And it’s not the only emerging technology that merchants should consider integrating into their business. Learn more about the e-commerce technology that’s shaping sales in 2019 and in the future by downloading ClearSale’s free white paper: “The e-Commerce Technology Trends That Will Shape 2019.”

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