Chatbots are a key part of conversational commerce.

Your customers want to be able to converse with you, on their terms and in their channel of choice. Whether they’re buying from you, need your help or just have a question — they’re ready to talk. Now, new channels make it easier than ever to have a two-sided conversation with them. These customers have become used to instant replies over text, messenger apps and social from their friends; they expect the same from the brands they interact with.

These expectations aren’t limited to when they’re making a purchase or asking for service. Customers don’t neatly divide the different kinds of interactions they’re going to have before they reach out. Asking a question can turn into making a purchase or asking for a return can turn into an exchange. If your commerce is going to become more conversational, so must your service. In today’s age of voice-activated transformation, your entire experience needs to become conversational.

When people shop, they have come to expect fast, efficient replies backed by human insight. The same is true for when they need support. Today, this is made possible by chatbots, automated outreach and AI. Customers can get quick answers or easy problems fixed with a few messages to a chatbot, or by following a link in an automated e-mail. This is as valid for a customer who has a question about the sizing of a pair of jeans as it is for one who can’t get their new device to connect to Wi-Fi.

As soon as things become more complex or emotionally charged, an empowered human agent needs to be able to enter the conversation with all the necessary context and deliver that higher level of service.

Conversational service or commerce on its own is good, but it is not enough. If you don’t have a complete view of the customer that spans both the service and experience, then it’s almost impossible to build the necessary rapport in agent/customer conversations. If an agent doesn’t know that a customer is trying to return an item they’ve had multiple problems with, they can’t know that their problem is being caused by a factory error and advise them to exchange it with free shipping instead.

The customer may have a want, but the agent needs to solve their real need. Conversational shopping or service on their own can’t close that loop and ensure your experience is holistic. With a single customer view, you can start to offer a real conversational experience.

Let’s see what this looks like:

Troubleshooting a Problem

Your customer just bought a new set of smart speakers, and they’re dying to try them out. Once they’re out of the box and they’ve set up their account, their speakers keep showing low Wi-Fi connectivity. The app brings up an FAQ article. After following the directions and restarting the device, your customer still has no luck. Good thing you have a protocol that sends an e-mail to your customer with an instructional video after they’ve reset their device three times in a row. They try what it suggests, but they still can’t figure out what’s going on.

Now, they’re prompted to connect directly to an agent to help them out. Your system automatically assigns them a high-priority, so they connect almost instantly. On the other side, the agent knows that this is a customer who has been struggling with connectivity issues and has already received both the FAQ and instructional video.

Instead of walking them through all the same tests again, they can ask deeper questions. Turns out the problem is the speakers are too close to the customer’s new smart fridge. After moving them across the room, the problem is gone, and the agent can see that the customer’s speakers are now blasting tunes just as they should be. These kinds of cases are common in cable television, IoT, telecom and furniture, but can apply to any consumer goods or services used case.

Changing a Subscription

Your customer gets their freshly made Kettlebell Kitchen meals delivered to their gym at 1 p.m. every day. Due to a meeting, they’re going to need to pick up their meal at 11 a.m. instead. Easy — they send a chat message to a bot over Facebook Messenger, and it’s automatically updated. Maybe the next week they’re going on a business trip, but they end up having to prolong it for an extra day. Now they need to skip their delivery on Tuesday, then deliver at 5 p.m. the next day, then resume their normal schedule.

Your chatbot can’t easily parse the request, so they’re seamlessly connected to an agent over chat, who can make the change for them easily. Then the following week, your customer decides to try out a low carb diet for the month. When they send a message asking to change their menu preferences, they’re pushed to connect with an agent over the phone. Now the agent can act like a consultant, suggesting new recipes and answering questions, updating the customer’s profile for them to deliver a standout, quality experience.

Agents as Consultants

Let’s say you work for pre-owned fashion supplier Material World. Your customer wants to change their delivery for their monthly Material Box, which contains a new outfit. Your agent can easily give them what they want and change the date, but if they’re in a more conversational mind-set, they should ask why they’re changing it.

Turns out your customer is going to be interviewing for a new job and wants to get some new clothes delivered beforehand for a new interview outfit. Now that the agent knows this, they can suggest some pieces that match with some of their earlier buys and work together to put together a custom interview outfit. Now, when that customer aces their interview and gets their new, more professional job, they’re more likely to upgrade to a higher subscription tier to get even more clothes that are hand-picked by a stylist-agent that match their new, more formal look.

Deliver Delight

A conversational experience increases your odds for truly delighting your customers. Real delight isn’t repeatable or predictable — it can’t be manufactured. But you can make it more likely. Listening to, conversing with, and understanding your customers all make it more likely.

Being available, accessible and human to your customers is the real secret — technology is only a means to an end. It’s not about using chatbots or texting your customers more, it’s about creating an all-encompassing service and shopping ecosystem that will increase your chances of really delivering a memorable, unique interaction that builds loyalty for life.

Alon Waks is vice president of marketing at Kustomer.