Would you trust a bot? Conversational commerce depends on it

Messaging is huge; Around 75% of the world’s Internet users use messaging services. In markets like Asia, consumers not only chat with friends and family members, they also connect with businesses, consume content, shop, and get help with products and services.
The mobile messaging ecosystem has evolved well beyond the limits of SMS, and much of this surge in popularity has been driven by millennials. Nearly half of adults aged 18-34 believe that a text message conversation is as valuable as a phone call. But unlike occasional phone calls, the stateless nature of messaging helps maintain a feeling of persistent connection.
This connection can extend to brands as well, as long as they don’t squander the opportunity by viewing it as a one-way street. Industry practices like the ubiquitous “no reply” email address have hurt the credibility of digital B2C communication enough that consumers still reach for the phone to get customer service, despite it being enormously frustrating. Once you get past the hold music, at least you know another human being is listening to you.
Bots won’t be capable of dealing with the more nuanced situations that customers face on a daily basis for a while. In these cases, emotional intelligence trumps artificial intelligence. And companies that lean on bots too quickly could end up tarnishing their brand.
This isn’t to say bots won’t be able to do more in the future. The time between improvements in AI technology continues to decrease, and likewise, so will the number of scenarios where a human needs to take over to answer basic questions. While Siri hasn’t evolved much since 2011, her creator, Dag Kittlaus, just demoed Viv. With significantly-improved context-awareness, Viv represents a generational leap in conversational AI. Though, in some ways, it just feels like we’re just starting to catch up to what we were promised five years ago. There’s a lot of well-deserved excitement around AI and machine learning right now, but there’s still a wide gap between the hype and the reality.
Conversational commerce and mobile messaging has the potential to radically transform the relationship between people and brands, but the main focus should be on making the experience a satisfying and engaging one for the consumer. Businesses are once again learning to go where their customers are, and people are welcoming them for now. To keep it that way, brands should focus on using this engagement opportunity thoughtfully and respectfully, or they risk alienating customers.