You’re going to need a better bot
The verdict on bots is in: consumers like them. Seventy-four percent of them prefer chat bots when asking simple questions, 65% feel comfortable with them handling issues without human agents, and 69% of consumers prefer to use them because they deliver quick answers to simple questions.
But if you notice carefully, the operative word in all of this seems to be: “simple.” Consumers have plenty of quick questions they want answers to, and they’d much rather go to a handy chatbot than wait around for a live agent. But not every situation is like that. How many times have each of us sat in the middle of the phone tree, desperately trying to get to a live agent because our query didn’t fit into a slot recognized by AI?
This problem is particularly acute when we move from the world of customer service to sales. In customer service, AI has been fantastic in delivering answers and solutions to people at scale. Brands, of course, would love to repeat this in a sales context, dispatching AI chatbots to assist people who would like to see a different colour or understand whether a complex feature would fit into their lives.
This hasn’t quite worked out, however. In sales, the queries can be tricky and individualised, which is why, for generations, stores have relied on skilled salespeople. Rather than providing answers to a set of known queries, they are trained to read situations, understand psychological needs, and make suggestions to meet them.
Still, let’s not throw out the bots with the bathwater. There is a way we can use them in digital sales, and it’s probably an unexpected one: pairing them with live and conversational commerce. This involves real people communicating with customers via either chat or, increasingly, video. They have proved particularly effective (3 to 5 fold increases in conversions) In contexts where the purchases require thought and consideration. An example might be Gucci Live, an environment where live agents in the brand’s signature bowties and red gloves demonstrate the quality and features of the brand’s costly products through video.
Surprisingly enough, live commerce is also quite flexible and scalable. While you can set up a dedicated showroom, you can also use apps to connect customers with employees of the company. While initial queries may all go to trained salespeople, they scale to any number of employees.
This sort of system can solve a lot of the issues that AI bots alone might face. Here’s how it could work.
Start with AI. Initial queries about a product can be handled by an AI chatbot. These should all be the kinds of simple queries that people prefer to deal with through AI.
Make it easy to shift. In customer service, generally the hope is to reduce volume to a call centre. As a result, the systems force customers to exhaust every possibility before being grudgingly shifted to a live agent. In sales, the goal is not to decrease cost, but to increase conversions, so the user should always have control over whether or not to shift to a large live agent.
Make it accessible. A good live commerce solution should have the ability to accommodate a range of abilities, whether that’s text chat, image metadata, and so on. Live solutions are a great way to offer a more inclusive experience.
Scale through an organisation While live commerce does not scale as effortlessly as AI, it does scale pretty well. Arm nearly everyone in your organisation with an app and some sales training. That way you can always keep wait times down and the conversation flowing.
Collect data and feed it back into the system. Each interaction, of course, produces its own data, typically involving text, spoken word, and images. This can tell you not only what kinds of queries customers have, but also what blockers and sticking points you may encounter. Whatever it is, that information could be fed back into the AI bot, making it more effective at handling queries.
Because consumer tastes and options continually change, AI can play a limited but still valuable role in the sales process. When combined with agents, it gains the flexibility to adapt with the times and evolve to support new opportunities and issues. This combination of scale and flexibility is likely the best use of both AI and live agents moving forward.
Too often, we tend to see things in a binary, either-or state, when they can be combined into something greater than their constituent parts. AI and live agents can fill complementary roles in the digital sales organisation. Used properly together, they can efficiently process simple queries, while retaining the flexibility to have more valuable conversations that lead to increased sales.
I'm an entrepreneur and marketing communications expert with 15 years of experience as a strategic planning director. I have vast experience in building product and brand strategy from scratch for some of the largest international advertisers including: P&G, Unilever, Loreal, The Coca Cola Company, Mars LLC, Renault and Audi. I'm also an...