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Conversational Marketing: Let’s Chat About It!

While its potential to help businesses create more meaningful relationships with their customers is universally acknowledged, not crossing over that thin line from ‘helpful’ to ‘frustrating' is crucial in conversational marketing, says Tata Consultancy Services’ Amit Tiwari

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Conversational marketing helps cut through the advertising clutter and enables brands to interact and engage with customers in a more personalised and immediate way—anytime, anywhere. At present, most businesses use conversational artificial intelligence in the form of chatbots, virtual assistants, and on social media platforms. After all, it humanises customer experience, increases customer engagement and is an effective sales funnel booster. According to Markets and Markets, the market for conversational AI is projected to grow at a CAGR of 21.9 per cent from around USD 4.8 billion in 2020 to nearly USD 13.9 billion in 2025.

 However, it’s critical to understand that not all conversations are equal, and if not done right, this martech tool can end up annoying your customer or worse, send them straight into the arms of the competition. For example, conversation bots have become a staple of most websites and apps today. It’s a quick and easy way to connect with customers so they can understand more about your service or product. It’s also a handy tool by businesses to offer instant support to customers regarding their issues, as well as round-the-clock access to your business even outside of operating hours. And herein lies an important distinction—to prioritise customer satisfaction over live chat speed metrics. After all, customers won't care more about getting their issue resolved, even if it takes a bit longer. These customers are more likely to remain loyal, engage in positive word of mouth, and spend more with businesses that provide effortless live chat experiences. Brands need to remain goal-oriented and actually provide value for their customers, rather than just implementing a new technology as a fad.

One of the most successful examples of a chatbot done well that I recall is HDFC Bank’s EVA. Launched a few years ago in 2017, and powered by AI technology and advanced NLP techniques, EVA successfully addressed over 2.7 million customer queries in a span of just six months since it started. Along with these staggering numbers, the bot was also found to have an accuracy of over 85 per cent which is a feat in itself. According to Business Insider, chatbots will save the banking, healthcare, and retail sectors up to USD 11 billion annually by 2023. Also, 70 per cent of consumers will replace their visits to shops or banks with their voice assistants over the next three years, as per Capgemini.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of conversational marketing is its ability to aid a customer on their brand discovery journey and keep them engaged. Have you recently searched for a pair of running shoes from a well-known brand? And within minutes, you receive content in your inbox or your social media feed about running shoes from brands you never knew existed. Or perhaps you bought a packet of your favourite coffee grinds online? And soon after, there’s a personalised message on WhatsApp or via SMS asking for feedback and sending you delivery updates. If you’re getting ads and content relevant to your recent searches and purchases, then the brand’s AI is doing both of its jobs — listening (analytics) and engaging (personalising) — well enough. The important thing to get right at this point is to meet the customer where he/she is. The brand discovery as well as the CTA have to be hyper-personalised and enticing. This is where conversational marketing really shines. Whether it's email, social media, chatbots, voice assistants, or messaging apps, brands that can seamlessly leverage conversational AI to create unique interactions with maximum audience centricity have definitely won a seat at the table.

It is also imperative that businesses and brands understand the drawbacks in chatbots and other such conversational marketing tools. Probably, the biggest drawback that conversational AI suffers is that it cannot handle complex queries or hold conversations with humans—it can handle only basic questions for which it has been programmed. Conversational AI is also not built for decision-making capabilities. For example, Alexa can tell you what the weather is like today but it won’t be able to help if you ask it "Alexa, what should I wear today?”.

For now, from a brand’s perspective, a successful conversation is one that engages (the audience), understands (the want or need) and recommends (product, service, solution). And of course, repeats. Chatbots, virtual assistants, and other such NLP-assisted AI tools may someday soon know as much about our lives and our preferences as we do. Perhaps it is time we all joined the conversation!

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Magazine 23 August 2022