As a young child, you may have probably dreamt of having a toy that responded to your commands.
Little girls wanted dolls that chatted with them, boys wanted toys that thought intelligently and as kids grew up, the dream grew with them; this is why we have conversational technology among our midst today.
It is all the result of a dream!
Here is an example: Kids enjoyed when they received the Radio Rex as a gift. It is a toy dog made of celluloid that jumps out of its kennel when you shout its name. This was way back in 1922, when Elmwood Button Co. manufactured and commercialized the toy.
Imagine the changes that have come over this technology in the past 95 years. You can even say that’s how speech recognition technology or conversational technology came about initially.
Through conversational technology, enterprises make it possible for users to collect information at any time by talking to devices in a natural, human-like manner.
The conversation would more or less be like talking to a normal person as you have sophisticated language applications for conducting intelligent dialogs. With the help of this and through Artificial Intelligence, users can entertain themselves, conduct meaningful conversations and make transactions by “talking” to a computer.
The most attractive feature about conversational technology is that users can utilize the technology anywhere, even when they are travelling. The device will converse with them in a realistic human voice, making it convenient for people to make use of the technology.
The main purpose of conversational technology is to enhance user experience and create value, so even if people use complex sentences or ask multiple pieces of questions where more than one request exists, then they can be easily processed with intelligent answers. If at all necessary, a customer representative can take over.
Check out these statistics:
It would be interesting to note how conversational technology works. The ingredients of a proper conversational technology are:
Think of Google Assistant as your personal assistant. Unlike Alexa, Cortana and Siri, Google Assistant doesn’t have a personality or any illusionary character, but rather a tool that your users can use in their device. More details on these tools will be discussed later.
Keeping that in mind, let’s do a review of the various services offered by virtual assistants and in what fields they will be mostly useful:
1. Entertainment – The virtual voice personal assistant on your device would respond to your conversation, understand what you need and plays music, television shows or movies. The program even has the capacity to utilize your search history in order to understand your preferences and provide customized responses.
2. Shopping – Virtual assistants are like virtual salespersons. All your users need to do is to tell them the requirement and the VA would follow the responses to come back with items requested by the user. The VA can bring up items exactly as you want.
Here is an example of it, with Amazon’s Alexa:
Hello Alexa, I’d like to order a pair of shoes from Amazon
<<Okay, What type of shoes – casual or sportswear?>>
<< Which brand do you want?>> Lists out some brands
<< Which variants do you want?>> Lists out some Puma variants
<<Which color?>> Lists out the colors available
<<What’s your size>> Lists out the available sizes
<< Okay. The price is $59.00. Shall I order it?>>
<<I’ve ordered it>>
3. Information – VA can present the user with information regarding the weather, tell them which movies are playing where, the best restaurant to eat at, booking tickets and so on. For example, you can activate Siri by saying “Hello, Siri” and complete your request. The best thing about Siri is that it can integrate with third-party apps and follow queries to give accurate answers.
4. Household work – Virtual Assistants can help in household tasks as well. In the mornings, you can just lie in your bed, and command it to switch off the lights in your room or play music in another room. Or request it to read out the traffic and weather conditions.
Here’s a video that demonstrates how Amazon’s Alexa can perfectly work as your personal assistant:
Big enterprises have already started leveraging the benefits of virtual assistants and this has ushered in an era of conversational commerce. You can say that two main trends –
(1) the expounding popularity of mobile messaging apps, and
(2) the breakthroughs made in Artificial Intelligence – have made the seemingly impossible tasks possible.
Brands can communicate with their customers in a much more effective manner by utilizing the power of machine learning, live operators, natural language processing to provide sales support, customer service and other e-commerce functions.
Many top giants like Facebook, Slack, Skype, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have already declared their platforms as a medium of conversational technology. They have also launched their range of virtual assistants.
The best feature of virtual assistants is that they integrate well into different platforms like:
Speakers have gone a long way from providing just music to your ears. For example, they can answer your questions, set alarms, provide weather updates in real time, etc. Through smart speaker solutions, you can bring intelligent, intuitive speakers with voice-enabled home assistants.
Both Google Home and Amazon Echo are examples of successful smart speakers that respond to user commands and instructions.
Chatbots have revolutionized the way machine learning and artificial intelligence are being used to communicate with customers. A company that has been using this feature to its maximum potential is Facebook M and Messenger app. M is a new virtual assistant powered by AI and it is designed to answer every request that is put to it. Users can send a note to M, just like they would message anyone and that’s how the human element comes in.
Mobile phones have “smartOS” attached to them. The perfect examples are Apple’s Siri on iOS devices and Cortana on Microsoft Windows.
Both these are intelligent personal assistants that can help get things done for your users. If people want to know the time in another country or the latest exchange rates, they can just tap on the VA and the information is at their fingertips.
Smartphones have become even smarter through AI. Take the case of Google Assistant on Google Pixel and Samsung Bixby on Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. These VAs are inbuilt in smartphones independent of the operating systems.
Bixby is a revolutionary VA from Samsung. Users can text, give voice commands or use touch to communicate with Bixby. The program is integrated into Samsung S8 and S8+. You can use it to make calls, search on the internet, set alarms, change the settings in the phone.
Though Bixby made its debut on Samasung Galaxy S8 devices, it will work across various products manufactured by the company. In May 2017, Samsung announced that Bixby will be integrated in their Family Hub 2.0 refrigerator as well. Through this feature, users can search for recipes and weather updates with their own voice.
The program by Google Assistant is called “Actions on Google”. It has a single API and can support all Android devices tablets and phones. The program responds when the user asks something generic and the Google Assistant engages in to gather all the details.
For example, imagine a user who wants to hire Uber. The Google Assistant can moderate this conversation by enquiring where the user is going and what kind of service he/she is interested in. Though Google Assistant is almost equal to “Ok Google” voice interface, it is the more humanized form of “Ok Google”.
Users can order what they need by using the voice command and leveraging the features offered through VA. Google Allo and Dom (from Domino’s Pizza) are perfect examples of this technology.
Google Allo is an instant messaging app delivered for both iOS and Android mobile applications. It lets you send messages and emojis through stickers and huge doodles. The interesting part of the app is that your users can shout to emphasis their point or whisper if they wish so. Dom on the other hand is a voice-controlled assistant that helps people order pizza.
Wearable devices have become more intuitive and manufacturers have come up with devices that respond through specific gestures, touch and voice commands. Users can set alarms, check their fitness level, monitor heartbeat, count calories and enjoy a number of features. Perfect example of this would be Android smart clothing, integrated with chips and connected via Bluetooth to user devices.
Software-defined innovations are still going strong and when developers were able to explore the options through voice recognition platforms and Artificial Intelligence, something really huge came out.
Here are four conversational platforms that are turning out to be top leaders in the field:
Google Assistant, the brainchild of Google was exclusive to Pixel phones, but in February 2017, the company revealed that Assistant would be available on Marshmallow and Nougat.
Google aims to make the user as an agent, where he is given the power to decide what he wants. The program asks the user what he wants to know and then provides information after engaging in a customized conversation.
Worth mentioning here is Google Assistant SDK, a broad ecosystem released by Google to help developers build Assistant’s smarts into various hardware prototypes by providing the API. However, to commercialize this, developers need written permission from Google. This is apart from the fact that Google already offers an API to talk to the Assistant through “Actions on Google” API.
Now Assistant is available on devices like the LG G6, Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 3T. The full device is not yet released, but users can expect the best. Users can also wait for Assistant to start functioning on all devices using Android Auto, Android Wear and other Android devices.
Released in 2014, Alexa, developed by Amazon has an interesting story behind it. The company, while developing the Echo device wanted to choose a name that makes people sit up and take notice. The name Amazon was tentatively chosen, but it backfired and that’s how Alexa came into existence.
Amazon also created an Alexa Skills Kit that contains code samples, self service APIs, tools and documentation exclusively for developers looking to develop in the Alexa platform.
The Alexa controlled Echo has intelligent voice technology that lets users order food, answer questions, play their choice of music and virtually convert their home into a smart home. And that’s not all. Alexa lets users listen to books, thanks to Amazon’s integration with Audible, another Amazon company.
Microsoft first presented Cortona around the same time as Alexa. In 2015, Cortona was included within Microsoft 10 desktop and mobile platform updates. In 2017, Microsoft made Cortona possible with Skype. The advantage of Cortana over Siri is that, the former works with common applications like Facebook and Hulu Plus, while the latter works only with Apple’s iOS apps.
Cortana helps users set reminders on the devices owned by them, apart from responding to the regular voice commands like opening an app, turning on the music and so on. For example, if the user wants to buy flowers, the program will remind the user when he is near a flower store.
Launched in 2010, Siri and Apple were inseparable, ever since the latter bought it. Initially, Siri was created through a DARPA funded CALO project by Dag Kittlaus and his team at SRI International. Siri is mainly used for voice-based interactions and voice-controlled natural language interface with recognition capabilities.
Users can connect Siri with a number of programs like VoIP calling, Apple Pay, Google search, Maps, send emails, update to-do lists, create location based reminders, make a shopping list and so on.
Conversational interfaces come with the features of voice recognition and natural language interface integrated into them. This allows for the perfect mimicking of a conversation with a customer support professional in real time.
Voice based UI creates a new dimension in the way people communicate with machines, and the technology is also given the opportunity to think intelligently and communicate to the consumer by remembering their personal preferences and making optimal use of contextual understanding.
Through Natural Language Interaction (NLI), we mean that the machine will understand the nationality of the consumer and respond accordingly through the Natural Language UI. For example, consider the word “trunk”. It has one meaning in the US and another in the UK. NLI makes it possible for the machine to distinguish the language vagrancies and respond accurately.
NLI also makes it possible to get deeper into the mind of the customer by collecting the data from all the available sources and analyzing their context in real time. This helps in providing better and accurate customer service.
In order to understand the context better and to forgo cultural differences, Google has teamed up with API.AI. It lets them handle problems like speech recognition, context management and intent recognition. API.AI works with almost 15 languagesincluding English, Spanish, German, French and Chinese. According to Google, over 60,000 developers have used API.AI toolset by integrating it with SDKs or making use of the one-click integration modules available at the API.AI website.
Some best features of conversational interfaces are:
1.Cross platform – Conversation APIs is made cross-platform, so conversations happens across channels through a unified API and built-in integrations. It offers a true cross-platform experience by functioning across smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers and other devices.
2. Smooth integration with all major services – Apart from having a streamlined design, they can be integrated with Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms as well.
3. Less tedious for the user – Conversational technology makes it possible to eliminate the need to use icons, menus, downloading apps or filling out forms. Users can talk to the voice assistants and get things done in a systematic manner.
4. Two way dialogue process – Chatting with a virtual assistant is almost like talking to someone residing within the device. Intelligent conversations through NLI makes it more real.
5. Saves time; instant response to queries – With new technologies, there is no time lag. Users no longer have to wait for a response to their queries because the interaction is almost like face-to-face.
Over the years, the retail sector has witnessed and adopted a lot of new technological trends that attracted consumers and eventually boosted sales. If IoT provided a seamless retail experience and iBeacons opened a new wave of possibilities in retail sector, now, it’s the turn of conversational technology to take ecommerce and retail by storm.
Brands that always listen and talk to their customers will always be popular. Conversational commerce is the future of commerce because it offers real-time communication through two ways – chatbots and voice assistants. Hence, it involves a combination of messaging apps or voice based visual UI with Artificial Intelligence and is used by brands to ‘talk’ to their customers.
E-commerce websites have begun to use chatbots to communicate with their customers by providing a real and personal discussion. It is almost like getting into a large store and meeting a salesperson who guides you through as you make your purchases. But the best thing about this conversation is that the “salesperson” remembers customer preferences through previous purchases and makes shopping a pleasant experience.
Let’s look at the main goals of using chatbots or instant messaging apps in ecommerce are:
Enterprises can gather insights about their customers and help them go through different options in shopping and aid in purchase decisions.
Customers who prefer silent communication over verbal, are leveraging the benefit of conversational commerce, specially since they no longer have to wait in line as the next customer to clear their queries. The customer engagement is thus massive; according to Forrester Research, more than 3 million consumers already use instant messaging platforms.
Conversational commerce is literally becoming the customer’s friend now and instant messaging apps have become more popular than social media. While it took 7 years for Whatsapp to reach the 1 billion monthly active users mark, Facebook reached the milestone within 5 years. The wider outreach is probably because customers can enjoy a natural conversation and they get quick answers to questions.
Chatbots offer the following advantages for online retail:
For the Customer,
There are bots powered with Artificial Intelligence or driven by a set of predefined tools to help provide unique and tailored experience for customers during shopping. Customers will be able to chat with the bot in the same way they chat with a salesperson.
Chatting is mostly done through instant messaging apps and aids in making a purchase decision by recommending products on a personal level, by noting their requirements. It is possible to provide personalized shopping experience through chatbots in the messaging apps. The fact that customers spend 85% of their time on apps in their smartphones is also a major boost.
When customers are ready to share their location, it becomes easier to provide personalized experience. Through personalization, the bonding between the customer and the company is strengthened. And naturally, personalization leads to customer engagement.
An example- IBM Watson created chatbot known as IBM Dialog services to help retailers interact with consumers through cognitive capabilities.
Through enhanced customer experience and engagement, upselling and cross-selling is made possible. Chatbots can analyse the preferences of the customer by checking their purchasing behavior. And when the customer expresses an interest in a product, it can present relevant offers at the right time, so they would be tempted to buy.
An example would be Amazon. When users purchase a product, they will be shown related products or products that they can use with the one recently bought. If the customer purchases an OTG, chatbots aids in the cross selling process by motivating them to buy other products related to it like cake molds, silicone brushes, oven mittens, etc.
An abandoned cart happens when a customer exits the store without completing a purchase. Unless you know what caused the customer to do that, you may be having a disillusioned customer on your hands.
If a customer leaves the store without making a purchase, retailers can keep track of the abandoned carts with the help of chatbots, and send personalized emails motivating them to come back. Chatbots can ask the customer what caused him/her to leave the store without making a purchase, and solve any problem that the customer must have faced at the time.
When there is an out of stock product that leaves with an incomplete purchase, chatbots can inform the customer as and when fresh stock comes in.
Customers can enjoy answers to their standard queries and questions with the 24/7 response service, replacing HR and customer service teams. An example would be Radisson Blu’s Virtual Host, known as Edward. Edward responds 24/7 to guests through an automated and intelligent text-based interaction made possible via a self-service interface.
Customers wanting to place a complaint can do it on the chatbot itself. They don’t have to go the longer route of typing emails or waiting in line for telephonic conversations.
For Online Stores,
As a machine that operates on previously fed information, it is not possible for a chatbot to make a mistake. They can accurately identify customer behavior and respond aptly. So, chatbots can be utilized to engage your customers and cater to their demands. They act as your brand representatives that you can rely on when you need help of some sort.
For example, your customer comes to your online fashion store to purchase a party wear. Your chatbot can help the customer choose an outfit or deliver an inspirational idea based on her physique, hair color and other parameters. As it is powered by artificial intelligence, it is almost like chatting with a real person on the other side.
Every store goes through a situation where a customer leaves them without making a purchase. This sets the retailer into thinking what went wrong and why the customer exited. By monitoring this behavior, retailer can make another try by positioning ads, sending emails or SMS and motivating them for a purchase.
With chatbots, the story is different. While it is not exactly easy to market your products through emails, SMS and ads, you can go closer to them with chatbots. You can remarket your products by chatting with the customer through Facebook Messenger.
The bot can answer all the queries the customer has and it can understand exactly why he left without buying. The bot will then segment customers into different groups based on why they left and try to win them back through messages.
Chatbots are the most cost-effective option as retailers don’t have to hire sales reps to attend to customer needs. The cost of building and using a chatbot is considerably lesser than hiring a team of people.
Moreover, the availability of chatbots round the clock, as compared to sales reps who work for fixed timings, is definitely an added advantage for online stores. Chatbots are definitely a one time and a long term investment.
Which is the best place to have steak in Bangalore? When a user asks this question, it is not a human that responds, but a bot, and the conversation is between a human and a computer program. Similarly, users can book tickets, do hotel reservations, shop online and do a number of activities with excellent precision through the features offered through conversational interfaces and chatbots.
People have accepted bots and voice assistants as part of their daily lives. From Facebook Messenger, bots built on Slack (a type of conversational interface), to the virtual assistants on Amazon Echo and Google Home (another type of conversational interface), this trend is evident everywhere.
Conversational interfaces are revolutionizing the way retailers communicate with their customers and the fact that third-party integrations work seamlessly with messaging applications like WeChat, Facebook Messenger etc., has enabled brands to reach millions of people. Through these integrations they can reach users on the same platforms that they were employing before.
Together with conversational technology and use of chatbots and other virtual assistants, online retailers can open a new channel of communication with customers and increase sales.
They can provide customers with a wonderful shopping experience that is highly personalized; so that they will come back for more. So, join the movement to foster conversational technology to reach your business goals.
Thinking of developing a chatbot for your ecommerce website? We can get you started!
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