Searching online for hours looking for that cute shirt or pair of shorts. Strolling reservation sites to find the perfect hotel and there are many more comparisons we make online. It is no surprise that the time we spent online has increased enormously in the last couple of years. Even though websites and apps make it a lot easier to filter all information, searching or navigating still remains a lot of ‘work’ for the end-user. But there is a trend that is going to do something about this.
What do digital assistants do?
There is a rise of apps and websites that do the online tasks described above for you. But how does this work? Before you go to Booking.com for example, you are looking for a place to stay, at a certain time and in a certain place. The end result should be the reservation of a place to sleep. With a digital assistant you indicate that you want to make a reservation in-or around a certain location on a certain date. The digital assistant will then give you suggestions for possible reservations, so you don’t have to compare all the different options yourself. Furthermore, the digital assistant can be independent and can also collect offers from different reservation sites and hotels. In some cases, the digital assistant even books the hotel for you. When in dialogue with your assistant, you can agree on the price, the number of rooms and other details. You give the input, the assistant gives the results. Apple is already doing something similar with Siri, Google uses the assistant function in Google Now and Facebook recently started with “M”.
Conversational commerce is a term that arose based on this principle. The user only has to indicate what he or she is looking for. From that point on the dialogue starts to offer that which the user is looking for. Because we are so used to sending messages, the barrier to do this is relatively low.
The interface of these applications therefore doesn’t need search bars, filters or other applications that make it easier to find what you are looking for. The app simply does the searching for you and the results are filtered by your assistant.
The big question is off course how you are going to organize this. It is impossible to process all these conversations manually. But you do want to communicate on a personal level and make use of the opportunity to do more than just answer the question. Examples of conversational apps are partly ‘human’ and partly based on technology. To be more clear; they are based on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Algorithmes, powered by data, determine which suggestions have to be given to which user or which questions have to be asked in order to make the suggestions even more precize. There is so much data available (for example API’s) that it is increasingly easier for AI applications to make their suggestions correct and precise. Of the examples below little is known if it is a human or a computer you are having a conversation with. This will probably remain a combination of both for a while.
A few examples
I just presented Booking.com as an example. However, this travel assistant helps you with assembling your journey. From booking flights to making hotel reservations. In this app you are connected to a personal assistant with a name, making you feel like you actually have your own assistant. The assistant helps you with your flights, hotels, restaurants and attractions in the area of your destinations, making it an all-round assistant.
Vida is an app that coaches you about your health. In a conversational way, you are guided to keep track of your health progression and it gives you tips. The Vida app also connects you to a ‘personal’ coach who is going to help you achieve certain goals. Those can for example be weight loss, lowering your cholesterol, reduce stress or just improving your overall fitness. The app also connects with wearables to collect data about the health of the user. Based on that, the user gets regular tips on what to pay attention to.
The Cloakroom / Outfittery
In the fashion category there are two well-known examples that are a bit closer to home; The Cloakroom and Outfittery. Two websites that shop for clothes based on your input. You select the style of clothes and the personal shoppers get to work to put together several outfits. They also order these for you. Users therefore do not have to search through all online webshops. These two examples are however less conversational than the Native and Vida app. Based on the style you choose they send you clothes. If the personal shopper would ask you one or two questions after ordering to improve the selection of outfits, that would be a great benefit. Then, the personal shopper becomes more personal and can make sure less items will be returned.
What does this mean for marketeers?
The customer service and webcare departments have grown considerably the past few years. However, they have been set up to be reactive. In many cases these departments only get in touch with their customers after the products have been bought. When the assistant function is offered directly on the website or in the app, these departments might get a more proactive role. Imagine for example that Booking.com would offer option on the website where the assistant would give suggestions for places to stay and would also take care of searching and booking your stay. That would take a lot of AI to help employees give the right suggestions and give it a personal tone of voice. This would have huge impact on the organization but if Booking.com doesn’t do it, someone else will.
The conversational digital assistants do not need a complicated interface. A messaging interface would be sufficient to give input about what someone is looking for. It will save the user a lot of time instead of looking through all the options and possibilities themselves. The user only has to screen the suggestions and confirm the right product. Because of the open data developments in combination with AI and smart algorithms, the human actions will be easier to organize. Besides that, the assistant function will work best on complex tasks for which multiple options have to be compared. You do have to ask yourself how and where you will use this service. So no apps or websites with a lot of visible content, navigation bars, search tools or filters, but a digital service that will help you find what you are looking for based on a few questions. The future of the digital assistant will soon become more clear.