Conversational commerce

Using chatbots to find and keep clients
Michelle Brisebois
April 30, 2018
Written by Michelle Brisebois
Amazon Echo incorporates a sense of humour in its programmed responses, a good tip to consider.
Amazon Echo incorporates a sense of humour in its programmed responses, a good tip to consider.
If conversational commerce is highlighted to be the next big thing in retail, it begs the question: “Then what have we been doing all these years? Ordering by mime?”  While the exchange of commerce has always been an interactive and involved conversation, it’s notable now because of one important development: We’re not the ones conversing with the customer. Machines are.


Call them Virtual Assistants, Voice Recognition, Chat Bots, Siri, Alexa, Google or call them late for dinner (as the old joke goes).  Conversational commerce in today’s marketing theory is defined as communicating in an interactive manner with businesses that you want to hear from and have questions for. These organizations can include your bank, an airline to confirm flight status or an online store to which you have an account set up.  Many of us are already using voice recognition to get our bank balances, program a trip into our car GPS and to get the answer to mathematical calculations.  

Gartner reports that 30 per cent of interactions this year will be conversation-based.  As the tools using voice recognition are exposed to more language, accents, phrasing and other nuances, they get “smarter” and more accurate.  It’s reported that an Amazon Echo in the U.S. called the sheriff for a terrified victim of an assault as she was being attacked.  While all of this may feel like a Dr. Who episode, these devices are simply pulling into their feed whatever data human beings had already programmed into them.  

When I ask my Amazon Echo how she’s feeling today and she replies “Fine, thank you.  I’m enjoying the longer daylight and more of my favourite colour, infrared,” it’s worth reminding myself that some dude named Joey with a big beard and a hoodie working at Amazon actually crafted that response, not the robot.  Here lies the important thing for you to keep in mind as this form of commercial interface grows, you are in control of what information gets repeated.

If one starts to actually believe these devices are human, then we’re giving away too much power. Businesses see what’s happening and become dejected because they don’t believe they can keep up with the technology. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact; these tools actually level the playing field in terms of competing with the big companies. They are surprisingly cost-effective and efficient at converting traffic to taking whatever action you de-sire.  To win at the conversational commerce game, here are a few steps you can take now to be ready.

Clean up your digital footprint
Remember the adage, “garbage in, garbage out” because your online presence will provide the pool from which any devices or interfaces will drink. Check all the places your hours of operation are listed, including your website, Facebook page, Google listings, Yelp, etc. Are your hours displayed and accurate? Does the listing include easy links back to your website, email or phone?  Are your social media channels linked where possible? Is your location on Google Maps accurate along with your address?  Google reports that the search term “find (business type) near me,” increased 130 per cent in 2015 over 2014.  

Optimize your website
Winning the digital race comes down to two things: being easily found and then having interesting content that results in the exchange of money.  If your webmaster isn’t regularly updating meta titles and descriptions and creating new landing pages that match your business objectives, then you are probably not connecting effectively with what your customers are searching for.  

What people forget is that we change what we search for depending on the time of year.  Mrs. Jones may be searching for “chocolate covered strawberries” in June but in October she is keen to find a bakery with great pumpkin pie. Changing the images on your site to show seasonal products is one thing. If your tags and descriptions in the coding for your site don’t have your keyword “world’s greatest pumpkin pie” attached, Google won’t index you as having “pumpkin pie” content and you will miss those people searching for you.

Start using chatbots
If you pride yourself on exceptional, personal service, the thought of using a chatbot may feel cold and impersonal. You may also feel that this type of technology is beyond your reach financially. You’d be mistaken on both counts. Think of chatbots as simply automated text messages that are programmed to respond to a set of predetermined queries.

Chatbots can converse with customers via Facebook Messenger or even be embedded into your website. This technology truly shines when you leverage it to answer routine questions like, “do you have gluten free cakes?”  Or, “where are you located?”  If you cater events, chatbots are a perfect way to capture leads around the clock.  

If a chatbot window pops up on your site with the question “Do you have any questions I can answer?”  A potential client might respond, “I’m wondering if you cater weddings?”  The bot can be programmed to say “Absolutely!  We’d love to have someone call you tomorrow.  Would you like a copy of our menu to look at before we speak?”  The bot can then take their information for you to follow up with a personal call and then the bot can email the menu to them.  Chatbots can increase conversion rates.  Overthink group reports that Amtrak had chatbots answer five million questions annually realizing an increase in bookings by 25 per cent. The lead is now much warmer than if the customer sends an email or fills out a contact form because you’ve connected immediately and have already started discussing the opportunity.Technology ideally supports human efficiency and interaction; it does not replace it. Chatbots can be used effectively to conduct a “live chat” session if people need customers support. You would be wise to inject a bit of personality into your bot-programmed responses. Amazon’s Echo device has a wicked sense of humour and half the fun is asking her opinion on various topics. Even if your responses are by text, make them sound human and you will create a rapport from the start.

The art of a good question
Any good digital marketer will tell you that having an engaged customer interact with your business is the key to the kingdom. Engagement is defined in digital terms as a reader interacting with your social media posts. “Likes” are considered the least impactful as it doesn’t require much effort on the part of the reader to click the button. You want to see your posts shared or to be commented upon. Make sure you respond to those comments and you can even prompt more engagement by asking a question in your posts.

Don’t be intimidated by the technological advances because that could cause you to pull the covers over your head and assume you can’t keep up.  You can and you must use these tools.  Start with the tips we’ve outlined here and consider buying one of these voice controlled speakers.  Ask Alexa what to do next.  She’ll probably have some good advice.


Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.



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