Apps are for Saps: Messaging Commerce is Where it’s At

Who has ever said, ‘You know what I love to do? Download Apps (App.lication.s)! I love that I have to go to each one for a unique product and/or service — even though my initial ask could trigger solutions for tangential needs I most probably will have. I like jumping from App to App, and putting the same — or different — information into each site!’ Stop the Madness. Could Messaging Commerce be the first real step away from the digital duplicity devouring our daily lives? Could conversational commerce be a pivotal move toward a truly seamless future? Let’s take a closer look.

“As mobile, online checkout, and in-app payment adoption has matured to become a consumer expectation, it has also laid a foundation of digital payment capabilities available to accelerate the growth of messenger commerce platforms.”
Brad Begin, Managing Consultant, IBM

Digital experts are predicting that advertisers of Big Brands will ‘double down’ or increase their presence on messenger apps as more and more users retreat from traditional social networks, and flock to growing messenger communities. The rise of Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp speaks to that transition. Juniper Research estimates that Application to Person (A2P) Messaging will overtake Peer to Peer (P2P) Messaging in 2017, creating a market worth more than $70 billion. Over 2.19 trillion messages will also be transacted globally by 2018, a 56% increase from 2013. Commerce messaging will allow individuals to easily interact with brands, companies and service providers all within a quick and trusted route for communication,” Juniper reports.

Ecosystems Made Effortless

It seems like we all know the story. ‘Start providing a service — and then… bring in the bothersome Ads for things we don’t want or need!’ But…what if the information concerning products and services — actually served the customer? Sort of the other way around, you know? What if people could speak with product and service providers — the same way they talk to friends. Wait. What if groups of friends could talk together with the best product and service providers given their needs — and everyone, together, could make all the best decisions for everyone involved? To some degree — this is exactly what’s happening in messaging commerce, largely due to the ease of messaging platforms. Chris Murray, Senior Consulting, IBM, adds, “Messaging platforms can uniquely integrate every brand a consumer is looking for in a single digital interface without the clutter and memory space of separate apps.”

Imagine this. You and your 5 best friends decide to go on a hiking trip. From a group chat on your Messaging App, you and your friends reach out to HelloGbye, a travel concierge — “Hey, what if all 6 of us want to fly out of NYC April 9th — arrive Butte, Montana and return 10 days later? Except for Maggie and Elizabeth — they can only stay til Sunday at 6pm. Coach is, good! We’ll need hotels in town for a night on either side of the camping trip — let’s make it at least 3-star hotel please — Thanks.”

Moments later, your group receives a return message. ‘Here is an itinerary meeting your needs and preferences. Anything you want to change? Or can I book for you now? Would you like to split the bill 6 ways using the payment information associated with your Messaging App? Yes? OK! We’ll be in touch over the next couple of weeks to make sure you have everything you need to have a great trip!’ Wait — what just happened?

Well, exactly what should — “From a consumer perspective, a seamless shopping experience should be contextual and relevant and in the channel of choice, the actual payment should be no more than an afterthought," Begin adds. Before a presentation prepared for WSJDLive, The Wall Street Journal’s global tech conference, research firm Activate CEO said this, “Due to the fact that providing access to digital content will generate the most revenue growth over the next five years for businesses, messaging strategies could reshuffle the deck for service and product providers.”

The Trifecta of Messaging Commerce

So if messaging commerce strategies are going to be of key importance for revenue growth in the immediate digital future — what will providers need to do to get interactions right? There seems to be an almost perfect trifecta right now that makes messenger platforms ripe for commercial monetization. That triad is social collaboration, humanized engagement and the ‘persistent thread.’

Social Collaboration

Firstly, the thought of introducing a commercial slant into an already established social network is genius. Friends are already talking, and they’re probably already talking about clothes, trips and dinner — so why not just make those conversations — and those plans and purchases — easier?

As messaging apps surpass social media networks in number of daily active users, messenger platforms provide the most logical and friction-less way to collaborate with peers at any time during a purchase journey, without having to go through multiple channels. Merchants can leverage existing social identities and provide value-added data and connections to streamline and strengthen social collaboration.

Humanized Engagement

A strong network is important, but what really makes the difference when it comes to user experience? What leaves the user feeling like they have just accomplished their goals and had a valuable discussion that fostered loyalty and trust? Many would tell you — it’s advanced cognitive analytics. Artificially intelligent bot-based engagement has been quietly transforming the messaging industry. Platforms, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are proving to be the perfect feeding ground for AI assistants to cut their teeth. The bots, that interact with users as any human would, are now smart enough to answer thousands of natural language questions on their own, letting front-line staff focus more time addressing complex issues.

Colin Lieblich, Senior Managing Consultant, explains, “Similar to how in-store associates talk through purchase decisions with shoppers, Messenger Commerce leverages AI to conduct natural language conversations with users to answer questions, which in turn drives conversion for merchants.”

In his article, The Future is Here, Now, Yousef Hashimi, an IBM cognitive expert says this, “The fact is that after years of development, we are finally reaching the point where intelligent digital agents can discourse with humans, using natural language — in a very human way — and that reality is poised to fundamentally transform customer engagement.”

The Future is Here, Now

Hashimi continues, “These virtual agents are pro-active solutionists, conscientious workers and are dedicated to putting customer needs first, so they’re truly satisfied with the experience and the outcome. By providing these virtual agents, businesses can transform haphazard service interactions into empathetic, understanding, personalized experiences with a best in class representative — every time.” Add the fact that AI Assistants are constantly searching for patterns presenting new opportunities to interact, and are automated without human intervention, and the potential compounds further. Think of the potential to market and sell products and services to a whole new population of upcoming customers without the need of human interaction — and it’s downright amazing.

Perhaps it is good to look at examples of emerging new entrants thought to be market leaders in client engagement. Spring, for instance, describes itself as a ‘digital shopping destination where people can discover’, promising not only a shopping experience, but an opportunity to help you imagine what could be possible. The breadth (1000s of providers) of selection lets customers see an endless array of choices that they might never have thought of — but based on algorithmic analysis of the shopper’s likes and behaviors — really hit the mark. Returns and shipping are free — and Spring’s helpful intelligent assistant is delighting users with outstanding and highly personalized service.

Apps like these that creatively and seamlessly make interactions, as well as increasingly complex tangential interactions, simple, are winning over customers — at a an alarming rate. Murray points out — “By creating a humanized experience in which a consumer can get instant purchase reinforcement, conversational commerce literally brings the joy of shopping at the mall with friends to a digital channel.”All things considered, from the savings to the increased revenue opportunity, AI Assistants delivered using mainstream messaging apps are here to stay. And they’re the channel of choice for lots of coming customers.

Persistent Thread

The third leg of the stool for messaging commerce is something called ‘Persistent Thread.’ Unlike emails and or phone calls, which usually have a finite ending, messenger threads are kept open-ended. This presents an opportunity for businesses to sustain an ongoing dialogue across the end-to-end consumer lifecycle, which in turn allows merchants to leverage an open line of communication to continuously engage with customers for feedback and cross-sell/up-sell opportunities. KLM Airlines is an industry leader in sustaining a ‘persistent thread’ application. Their digital assistant checks in with passengers along the entire air travel experience, from booking through landing, and is always available to answer questions, deliver service… or suggest subsequent travel ideas based on the lifestyle of the customer.

Brands are seeing terrific results by leveraging the open line of communication available through mainstream messenger apps. The concept of ‘persistent thread’ is giving traditional brands a new way to continuously engage with customers, learn from important feedback loops and optimize crucial cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.“Chatbots encountered by smartphone users today might seem fairly crude. But their automated conversations are going to get a lot more useful,” technology strategist Michael Wolf says, “Who succeeds at messaging commerce will determine the landscape for one of the internet’s largest battlegrounds.”