Two-way conversations are ushering in a new era of “magical” customer experiences.
Today, it’s easier than ever for brands to start selling and harder than ever to stand out. The fastest-growing brands I’ve spoken to share a common story of how their customer relationships evolved as they scaled.
As smaller early-stage businesses, they were able to create hyper-personalized experiences that ensured customers felt heard and knew the people behind the brand.
Automation helped these brands scale, but that growth came at the expense of authentic, personal connections with customers.
But as they grew, these brands found it harder and harder to maintain that same level of service and personalization. Automation, optimization, and templatizing conversations helped them scale, but that growth came at the expense of their personal connections with customers.
What is conversational commerce?
Conversational commerce is the convergence of text messaging and shopping. It’s defined by interactive, people-driven experiences that support the entire customer buying experience. These conversations work towards a point of conversion or commerce—from awareness and product discovery, to consideration and asking questions, to customer service and post-purchase.
Conversational commerce fulfills a core need for consumers in the e-commerce era that goes beyond being purely transactional. Traditionally, we’ve built relationships with brands by engaging with store associates. Now, conversational commerce is helping brands build 1:1 relationships with shoppers through two-way messages.
The demand for personalized shopping experiences isn’t going away
Regardless of how hard it is for a brand to deliver 1:1 interactions, consumers will continue to yearn for personalized experiences. When we were building Tone (now a part of Attentive), we realized just how often shoppers were seeking these types of interactions. So, we worked with brands to build relationships with their customers through two-way conversations at scale. Over and over, we learned that shoppers developed connections with the agents that helped them over text messaging. We became accustomed to people reaching out to our clients and saying something like: “I want to speak to Sarah,” or “Is Sarah available? She helped me last time.”
We learned that true conversations—especially those happening via text messaging—naturally lend themselves to building relationships between brands and consumers. Not only were shoppers texting back, they were actually reaching out and asking for familiar contacts to get support.
Conversations are removing friction from commerce
In addition to building relationships, two-way conversations offer a new level of convenience. We all know how it feels to go down the research rabbit hole, and how frustrating it can be bouncing between support channels or not getting a hold of someone when we just need a simple answer. Last week, for example, I wasted over an hour trying to find a baby gate that would fit our staircase. I was hesitant to place an order for a product I wasn’t sure would do the trick. Two-way conversations remove that friction.
That convenience has encouraged consumers to raise their expectations of brands. Smooth, interactive experiences with real people (instead of chatbots) are becoming the rule rather than the exception. And now we’ve reached a point where brands can actually deliver on those expectations, no matter their size.
Translating in-store experiences into elevated digital ones
Our physical and digital worlds are colliding. But the hybrid shopping experience is missing one key element—relationship-building. Two-way interactions between brands and consumers—not just brands to consumers—are filling that gap.
As soon as you step into a store, you’re usually greeted by an associate. You can ask them for recommendations, where to find the item you have your eye on, or maybe their opinion about two different pieces you’re trying to decide between. Regardless of the need, they’re always there to help if a question arises. The retail experience wouldn’t be complete with the phrase heard in practically every store: “My name is ______, let me know if you need anything.”
Brands are putting a digital spin on this traditional experience through two-way conversations. Using channels like text messaging and on-site chats, brands are interacting with consumers and lending their expertise at every step of the shopping journey.
The rise of conversational commerce
E-commerce brands that are growing fast need to maintain—and scale—the relationships that sparked their initial success. Meanwhile, established retail brands need a scalable way to translate their in-store experiences into digital ones as hybrid shopping continues to mature.
This is where conversational commerce comes into play. It’s defined by interactive, people-driven experiences that support the entire customer buying experience. These conversations work towards a point of conversion or commerce—from awareness and product discovery, to consideration and asking questions, to customer service and purchase.
Consumers are seeking out opportunities to interact with brands. And maybe most importantly, with the people behind the brand. As a result, brands are looking for ways to deliver those 1:1 experiences at scale. They’re finding that conversation-based solutions are the perfect fit, combining the traditional, human-driven shopping experiences we crave with innovative technology that takes the friction out of commerce.
Traditionally, shoppers built relationships with brands in-store. They connected with store associates who learned their preferences, answered questions, and helped them feel confident in their decision. DTC and e-commerce brands initially translated this experience into customer communities. There, brand enthusiasts took on the role of the store associate and created a sense of community with their fellow shoppers.
Now, innovations are helping shoppers build direct relationships with brands through two-way interactions, human-to-human interactions. And these conversations are driving more revenue for brands. According to our data, we have seen consumers spend over 50% more on average when they get replies—either automated or from a human.
SMS—by design—is made for conversation
SMS marketing has laid the groundwork for this shift in how brands and consumers interact with each other. Brands and consumers have already embraced SMS as a direct marketing channel, and it’s a win-win for both: the convenience and level of personalization deliver value to the consumer, while ultimately driving revenue for brands throughout the customer journey. But the future of the channel doesn’t just lie in its conversational capabilities.
We use text messaging every day to talk to our friends and family. We’re used to reacting to their messages and replying, and striking up a conversation whenever we like. That impulse doesn’t go away when we engage with brands via text messaging.
Consumers want to be able to have true conversations—two-way, personalized interactions—that help them quickly make decisions, get answers to questions, give feedback, or learn something new. As soon as you sign up for texts from a brand, you get to experience that back-and-forth. From the get-go, you know that it’s a net-new experience.
Our phone numbers are part of our identity
Another reason why SMS is a go-to channel for driving and accelerating commerce is that most of us only have one phone number. And we’ve usually had that phone number for years (I, for one, have had mine since 2004, the year practically everyone decided to get a Sprint LG flip phone).
Your phone number is also a strong identity marker. You may have different emails for different purposes, meaning it’s sometimes hard to find the confirmation number you need, or it can lead to personalized experiences that miss the mark.
Phone numbers are emerging as the single source of truth to help brands deliver the right content, to the right person, at the right time. When a consumer signs up for text messages, it makes it easy for brands to track what they’re interested in and what they’ve purchased. And when someone reaches out with a customer service question, it’s easy for them to pull up their customer profile to get a more complete picture of what their needs are.
SMS is putting “relationship” back in CRM
Consumers and brands are increasingly turning to SMS to get hyper-personalized experiences. But text messaging isn’t a one-way channel, and there’s an inherently human and authentic element to it that makes it a powerful relationship-building tool.
Personalized text messaging will soon become the core of the modern marketer’s tech stack and customer relationship management (CRM). Most of our conversations happen via text nowadays. That concentration creates a volume of data that can make your CRM even more intelligent.
Brands have already seen success with this conversational approach. My team at Tone built a solution that helped brands have human-to-human, relationship-building interactions. Now, using Attentive Concierge and Two-Way Journeys™, brands are able to have these conversational interactions at each step of the customer journey.
We’re at the start of a new era
All of these trends hint at the industry’s broader shift towards conversational commerce. Brands and consumers are looking for convenient, frictionless ways to interact and make the shopping experience quicker and more enjoyable.
When a brand delivers an experience that’s so seamless that it stands out from what we’ve come to expect, it’s magic. And when consumers get that magical experience via messaging, they’re going to want to come back for more. Personalized, two-way interactions aren’t just a matter of “quick revenue wins” for brands—they’re driving long-term growth.