No matter how compelling your website content and your marketing materials, it's pretty common for customers to need assistance before and during a sale. While you could funnel them to a customer support call center or message link, what if you could anticipate their questions and immediately serve up friendly assistance without leaving the page? That's where conversational marketing comes in.
What Is Conversational Marketing?
Conversational marketing is an approach that uses two-way dialogue (a conversation) between a company and its prospective customer. Using tools such as chatbots, live messengers, and real-time video to close a sale, conversational marketing takes a more personal approach than broadcast-message-style traditional marketing.
While it may not yet be as ubiquitous as email, Hubspot's State of Marketing report found that 45% of those businesses surveyed are using bots as part of their inbound marketing strategy. And it's not just consumer tech companies who are early adopters of this new approach to customer engagement. The Drift 2019 State of Conversational Marketing report found that this is not a niche marketing strategy, with a range of industries now putting chatbots to work:
- Retailers: 40%
- Healthcare: 22%
- Utilities: 21%
How Conversational Marketing Fits into Your Marketing Strategy
While chatbots can't replace a live one-to-one conversation in all cases, the Drift report found consumers are willing to use chatbots in a wide range of situations:
- Answering a question: 32%
- Getting detailed answers or explanations: 29%
- Resolving a complaint or problem: 27%
- Receiving customer service: 27%
This provides several opportunities for marketing and communications professionals to put their institutional knowledge proactively to use. For example, rather than rely on salespeople exclusively to convey new product features or promotions, your chatbot can be programmed to provide as much detail about new offerings as a consumer desires—using the same on-brand messaging you so carefully crafted as part of your advertising and social media marketing strategy.
In situations with high communications volumes, a quick response can be the difference between keeping a situation calm or escalating into a crisis. Chatbots can be a critical part of a strategic crisis response plan, giving all your audiences’ immediate access to information they need.
These applications not only lead to satisfied customers, they can also significantly decrease corporate customer service costs. Autodesk’s customer service chatbot, using IBM’s Watson Conversation platform, has delivered significant ROI, including cutting the average response time for resolving issues from 38 hours to 5.4 minutes, with the chatbot answering over 30,000 queries per month. Customer service issues that previously cost $15-$20 each when manually processed are now handled by a virtual agent for $1 per query.
The Importance of Tone and Voice in Conversational Marketing
Getting the tone and brand voice right is critical in all your content and communications, but it’s even more critical in conversational marketing. After all, its effectiveness hinges upon encouraging conversation. That means if your brand is typically formal and conservative in its marketing content, you’ll need to spend some time thinking about how to stay true to your brand while not making customers feel like they're talking to a protocol robot from a science fiction novel.
An easy way to check if you’re conveying the right tone is by having your team use your bot and read aloud their queries, followed by the chatbot’s replies. If the communication sounds stilted when you hear it read by a human being, you need to refine it. Conversely, it is also important to ensure your chatbot can recognize a change in tone from the human it’s interacting with. If a person becomes upset, which can be indicated by specific language or an increase in typos or speed of their replies, for example, your chatbot should be programmed to hand the conversation off to a trained customer service person before things escalate.
Three Tips for Getting Started with Conversational Marketing
While conversational marketing has the potential for significant improvement in customer experience and organizational cost-savings, it can also backfire. A customer who has a bad experience with your chatbot—or worse yet, never receives a response from your messaging tool, may not give your brand a second chance to make things right. With this in mind, here are three tips for getting your go-to-market plan off to a good start:
- Start small. It’s fairly simple to add a chatbot to your Facebook page, for example, that can provide answers to questions that commonly come in through that channel, such as store hours, directions, and other simple queries. Take existing FAQ documents, and expand from there to add queries that come in that weren’t on your list.
- Always answer. If your chatbot gets a request it can’t answer, make sure the system has a way to let the person who submitted the query know it needs to refer the question, and provide a commitment to respond. Drift found 42% of chatbot users expect a response within 5 seconds, and 36% within 5 minutes or less.
- Provide an easy out. Sometimes, a chatbot misunderstands a query. Or a customer has such a specific question, it’s not possible you could have anticipated it. Make it easy for someone to click-to-call or live chat with someone directly from the chat window. You don’t want your customer to feel like they’re on an automated phone tree endlessly saying “operator” trying in vain to get someone somewhere to help.
Conversational Marketing Examples: 3 Brands Who Are Doing It Right
The best way to get a feel for how conversational marketing can transform your customer experience is to try it out for yourself first-hand. Check out these three brands that show the possibilities for creating a seamless multichannel experience, with conversational marketing.
With the Starbucks app, frequent sippers can order their usual cup to go using a voice command via Amazon Alexa or through the app’s built-in messaging. When your coffee is ready, the bot lets you know and allows you to pay for your order and even tip, allowing for an easy contactless ordering experience. The app makes it easy to regularly re-order multiple drinks, and learns your preferences over time, all leading to an improved customer experience.
Not all conversations need to involve words. When you use the Sephora app, you have the opportunity to upload a photo—or take a photo live—to use a bot that helps you find a lipstick shade that color matches its hue. No, it’s not going to have the same level of color matching as bringing that bridesmaid dress into the store with you. But getting to see a color on your lips (through augmented reality technology) at home and being given a few different brand and shade options does give you the confidence you are making a smart purchase.
While the app itself makes it easy to get to where you need to go, the integrated bots take it a step further. You can order a Lyft through a Slack or Facebook chatbot or by a voice command to your Alexa. Then, the app sends you updates on the status of your ride. It’s especially convenient for Apple Watch users who can receive a photo of the car’s license plate directly on their watch screen.
For a crash course on the technology trends that are starting to shape how customers interact with brands, watch our webinar with Greg Cress, a leading digital transformation expert from Accenture.