Conversational interfaces are at the center of customer experience innovation. Over the last two years, the growth of conversational commerce has been exponential, with the COVID-19 crisis acting as a major digital accelerant.
97% of enterprise decision-makers say that COVID-19 has sped up their company's digital communications strategy by an average of six years. As a result, the global conversational AI market size is expected to grow from USD 4.8 billion in 2020 to USD 13.9 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.9% during the forecast period.
This rapid growth solidifies what tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple already know to be true; the way people want to transact and engage with businesses is fundamentally different than it was just a few years ago.
Conversational interfaces for a zero-friction future
People expect on-the-go, on-demand convenience, and they have zero tolerance for friction. As such, we're seeing a shift towards self-service options (and towards the automation that enables it).
Conversational interfaces are uniquely positioned to help brands adapt. While we know that 9 out of 10 consumers want to message brands, we also know that app fatigue is real. It's not enough for brands to create fragmented digital experiences or branded apps that require yet another download.
Journalist Stacy Higgenbotham's experience with app fatigue is one that is all too familiar. "I cannot bear to put another app on my phone. I don’t want another connected device that requires me to set up a password-protected account in exchange for some marginal level of convenience," she writes.
"I already have more than a hundred apps, tied to my everyday smart home products, the one-off light bulbs or sensors I test — never mind those associated with travel frequent flyer programs, delivery services, fitness tracking, and productivity."
Tapping into the global presence of messaging apps
People would rather communicate with brands using messaging apps that they already know and love. And of course, Facebook, Google, and Apple are eager to help facilitate this. They've each made strides in enhancing their business messaging solutions, creating a framework for connected, seamless experiences.
In a blog post, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would build more ways for people to interact on top of messaging, “including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.”
This interconnectedness is what makes conversational interfaces unique. They integrate back-end systems to provide information to users, acting as a portal to an ecosystem of technology and processes.
Conversational interfaces are well on their way to becoming marketplaces in and of themselves. Soon, they will be thriving hubs for conversation, commerce, entertainment, and much more. Instead of building new conversational interfaces and separate apps, the opportunity for brands is to tap into these existing "markets."
The success of conversational interfaces in China
If it sounds like conversational interfaces are just hype, all you have to do is look East for a reality check. In China, for example, WeChat is the clear winner in the race to build a robust conversational ecosystem.
78% of people in China aged 16-64 are using WeChat. What started as a messaging app quickly evolved into an "app for everything." WeChat users now make plans with friends via instant messaging, make dinner reservations, book movie tickets, order taxis, and pay for every transaction along the way -- all using one single app.
Among its monthly users, 500 million have tried the WeChat Search function. When users search on WeChat, they are retrieving information published on the messenger as well as Tencent’s allies like Sogou, Pinduoduo, and Zhihu, rather than the open web.
In short, WeChat is the portal to a user's digital world. There's no need to hop between apps or download a business' brand app. Instead, the conversations are the interface where commerce takes place.
The opportunity for businesses in the West
Tech companies like Facebook and Apple are making it easier for businesses to access their business solutions. Many of them are taking a thoughtful approach in rolling out their APIs to ensure the experience is helpful and consistent.
For example, businesses that want to use automation on WhatsApp need to go through an Official Business Solution Provider (BSP). BSPs help businesses navigate the issues of compliance and data privacy. They also help businesses understand the technology that best suits their use case(s).
With WhatsApp as a conversational interface, businesses unlock an entirely new level of B2C communication. They can automate queries, integrate payment solutions, connect to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, and much more. It is a flexible solution that can grow with a business as the needs inevitably change.