What is conversational business?

By Jesse Martin, Content marketing associate

Published April 8, 2020
Last updated September 9, 2021

Messaging helps people foster strong relationships with their family and friends. Now messaging platforms are open for business. Conversational business comprises the different ways messaging channels can be used in support, marketing, sales, and beyond. Customers, shoppers, prospects and leads want to communicate with businesses with the same ease and convenience that they experience when talking to their friends and family. Popular messaging apps make it easy for customers to do so, and it’s now possible and easier than ever before for businesses to use these channels to create personalized and meaningful customer experiences.

Below is a quick explainer for the different types of conversational business, and how different messaging solutions can be tailored to a business’ unique needs.

Applications of conversational business

Conversational commerce

Conversational commerce has evolved since the term was coined in 2015. Early on, novel rich messaging features like image carousels and chatbots made it possible to complete purchases inside a conversation. 2019 saw the emergence of messaging-first personal shopping services that relied on a blend of automation and human-intervention, a niche especially suited for luxury and high-end shoppers.

Now, conversational commerce can mean any interaction at different points in a shopper’s buying journey. Being able to communicate with a brand to ask questions while completing the purchase in another part of the app, for example, might be a more natural way to shop than relaying requests to a bot, but both methods are common.

Purchases aided by messaging provide valuable insight to companies collecting conversational data, part of a unified customer profile promised by leading brands foraying into conversational business — the benefits of which include visibility into important data across the organization.

In Business 2 Community, writer Hannah Wren lays out some key stats: “4 out of 5 consumers shop on their mobile phones, and 87% of smartphone owners use messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat. 65% of shoppers would buy from a business they can message, and 40% of shoppers started shopping because of conversational commerce,” Wren explains, citing the Facebook survey "Why Conversation is the Future of Commerce".

Companies like H&M, 1-800-Flowers, and Pizza Hut have all dipped their toes into conversational commerce by experimenting with bots, proprietary chat in their own apps and sites, and by making themselves available on popular messaging platforms. Today, conversational commerce is aided by payment features native to messaging platforms — like Apple Pay, Google Pay, WeChat Pay, Payments in Messenger — and in third party integrations like Shopify’s Shop Pay, CashApp and Venmo. To address growing concerns surrounding data privacy and encryption, payment information is not visible to retailers — companies like Stripe store credit card details, while brands like Apple require simple authentication using FaceID or TouchID. Payments are already part of the conversation — it’s up to retailers to follow suit.

Conversational support

If you’ve ever had a clunky customer service experience on the phone, you’re not the only one. According to Forbes, this is a common sentiment. The case for conversational support, however, isn’t simply that phone calls are horrible. Like all support channels, they have a time and place. Contact centers are changing, however, and they’re opening up more channels to improve agent experience and customer experience in one fell swoop.

Chatbots and automation can alleviate the weight of conversations and other low complexity interactions that don’t need too much attention. Queries can be triaged and sent to the appropriate agent or self-service method. When a customer needs to speak to a person, that’s when modern conversational support solutions can thrive.

Modern conversational support is asynchronous, convenient, and personal. Perhaps most importantly, it’s accessible. Many brands and organizations are relying on the same popular messaging apps you use to chat with friends and family as support channels.

When we say asynchronous, we’re drawing a distinction between messaging and live chat. Asynchronous refers to being able to stop and start conversations when convenient. That means conversations can occur in real-time if necessary, but more often than not, the user can concentrate on other things. Most conversations we have with our family and friends are asynchronous, taking place on apps like Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram — you name it. Imagine treating a conversation on WhatsApp the same way you would a phone call or even a live chat session, unable to experience any sort of interruption or multitask. That would be a nightmare — but it’s how we treat customers when live chat is the only option.

Session-based conversations pose a problem when the conversation ends. Once it's over, it’s really over. Have another question, or your problem hasn’t really been solved? You’ve got to start from the top.

Still, live chat has its moments. It’s great when it works, and heaps of brands still use it. It’s the predecessor to modern conversational experiences. In a way, asynchronous and modern messaging solutions build on live chat’s problems: Dropped conversations, the onerous task of having to repeat oneself, and the feeling of wasting time waiting for a response. It can’t all be instant. For people using asynchronous messaging channels, a support conversation can be left and attended to at the customer’s convenience. No more being held hostage by a live conversation that takes up your time.

Conversational marketing

Have you ever been hit by a strange-looking text message that purports it’s from your bank, but it looks scammy, but then you discover it’s actually from your bank?

Using messaging apps as a marketing tool gets a bad rap because until recently, there has been little regulation in place to prevent brands from misusing it. Last year, WhatsApp announced penalties for brands misusing its business API for spam and created a protocol for outbounding customers. Still, the ability for a brand to proactively engage with its customers is a great chance to turn a push notification into a conversation. After all, It’s easier to retain customers than it is to gain new ones.

Some brands use messaging apps for creative conversational experiences as part of marketing campaigns. For example, H&M’s kik bot, lets its customers play with styling tools. In China, Wechat has an entire economy built around conversational experiences with Mini Programs. Mini Programs are essentially apps within the Wechat app. They can lead users through pieces of content, like Vogue Business, or allow them to play branded games.

Conversational sales

Chat allows salespeople to be proactive, personal, and friendly. More importantly for your business, conversations on web properties can increase conversion by 29%.

Conversational solutions for sales reps integrate into their systems and allow them to chat with prospects visiting their websites — without leaving their interface. Web chat clients can aid sales reps in lead generation, and reps who can create meaningful connections with prospects through chat can close deals faster.

When sales reps have access to relevant conversational data and the customer is registered in their database, sales reps have visibility into key insights like how long the visitor has been a customer, which products they’ve purchased, and how many times they’ve visited that specific pricing page. Access to conversational data means being able to send targeted and personalized messages — and this is crucial in an era where personalized experiences are a key differentiator.

As sales software vendors begin to incorporate asynchronous messaging channels alongside traditional live chat, we will begin to see natural conversational flows allowing for prospects and leads to be nurtured and converted at their own convenience.

What’s the ROI on conversational business?

Messaging is good for agent experience

Unhappy agents mean unhappy customers. Phone calls require all of the agent’s attention, and when conversations are escalated through phone calls, it’s likely the customer is already unhappy. Nobody wants to be on the other end of that call. Asynchronous messaging channels can soften that blow, while agents can focus on more conversations at the same time. With the right automation, they can also focus on higher-quality conversations. As Zendesk senior customer advocate Cécile Zongo puts it: “As an agent, I care about using my brain and critical thinking skills — not being bored out of my mind by doing things that could easily be automated by a bot.”

The ability to triage requests with automation like chatbots means agents can spend more time focusing on high complexity and high-touch conversations. In Relate, Ruth Zive writes “AI can diminish the low-value inquiries, and accompanying frustration, that agents face,” arguing that automation actually enables agents to deliver higher quality support. Further, properly equipped agents have an overall better experience, which also affects customer experience. Agents are able to impact the bottom line, rather than focussing on churn and retention.

Messaging solutions that offer full context and unified customer profiles aid agents in their productivity, and ultimately result in better CX.

Messaging will save you money and help you scale

30% of companies offer messaging for a faster time to resolution, while 27% say it’s for 24-hour support, and 22% believe it improves agent efficiency, according to the State of Messaging 2020 report.

Businesses who deploy asynchronous messaging solutions can balance more conversations than on session-based live channels. With access to full conversational history and context, across the organization, customers aren’t at risk of repeating themselves. Alongside better customer experience, this same data lends important insight into Voice of Customer initiatives.

Apple Card, for example, rolled out 24/7 support via iMessage — a rich asynchronous channel that also allows customers to make payments on platforms like Venmo as easily as sending GIFs and emojis. The Apple Card message CTA is inside the Wallet app, and customers can ask questions in natural language, and receive an intelligent response.

Tools for conversational business

The Sunshine Conversations developer platform makes it easy for brands to communicate with customers on their customer’s terms. The flexibility of the platform allows integrations like payment platforms such as Stripe, Apple Pay, Shop Pay, Google Pay, bot platforms like Ada or Landbot, real-time translation engines, and customer data sources like Sunshine. Conversations are a canvas that amazing customer experiences are painted on. With support for all the world's messaging channels, nobody is out of reach.

Take a deep breath!

The conversational possibilities are endless. If you’re curious about how to use conversations to boost satisfaction, retention, and create awesome personalized customer experiences, check out our Let’s Get Conversational ebook.