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What Is Conversational AI: A Guide You’ll Actually Use

Learn how you can use conversational AI (virtual assistants or chatbots that can “talk” to people) in social commerce and customer service.

Tres Dean, Alanna Gurr October 31, 2022
A woman smiling while looking on her mobile device.

Customers are asking questions about products and services through Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and just about every other social media platform. Are you there to answer them? For most businesses, it can be tough to monitor what’s happening on social media 24/7. That’s where conversational AI can help!

With all those inquiries and only so many people to tend to them, a conversational ai chatbot or virtual assistant can be a lifesaver.

Conversational AI can be a major asset to your social media presence. It can increase your team’s efficiency and allow more customers to receive the help they need faster.

Keep reading to find out how your business can benefit from using a conversational AI tool for social customer service and social commerce.

Bonus: Learn how to sell more products on social media with our free Social Commerce 101 guide. Delight your customers and improve conversion rates.

What is conversational AI?

The term conversational AI (artificial intelligence) refers to technologies, like virtual assistants or chatbots, that can “talk” to people (e.g., answer questions).

Conversational AI applications are often used in customer service. They can be found on websites, online stores, and social media channels. AI technology can effectively speed up and streamline answering and routing customer inquiries.

How does conversational AI work?

Conversational AI primarily works thanks to two functions. The first is machine learning. To put it simply, machine learning means that the technology “learns” and improves the more it’s used. It collects information from its own interactions. It then uses that information to improve itself as time goes by.

The result is a system that will work better six months after you add it to your website and even better than that a year down the line.

The second is called natural language processing, or NLP for short. This is the process through which artificial intelligence understands language. Once it learns to recognize words and phrases, it can move on to natural language generation. This is how it talks with your customers.

For example, if a customer messages you on social media, asking for information on when an order will ship, the conversational AI chatbot will know how to respond. It will do this based on prior experience answering similar questions and because it understands which phrases tend to work best in response to shipping questions.

The theory may sound grueling, but conversational AI chatbots make for a very smooth customer experience. Here’s an example of how you can expect it to look in action:

A conversational ai conversation with a Heyday chatbot
Source: Heyday

Conversational AI statistics

  • By 2030, the global conversational AI market size is projected to reach $32.62 billion.
  • The volume of interactions handled by conversational commerce agents increased by as much as 250% in multiple industries since the pandemic.
  • The share of marketers using AI for digital marketing worldwide skyrocketed, from 29% in 2018 to 84% in 2020.
  • Almost all adult voice assistant users are using conversational AI tech on a smartphone (91.0% in 2022).
  • Among US voice assistant users surveyed by CouponFollow in April 2021, browsing and searching for products were the top shopping activities they conducted using the technology.
  • Virtual assistants are most widely used for customer service. Among tech professionals worldwide who have customer-facing virtual assistants, nearly 80% said they use them for this purpose.
  • Online chat, video chat, chatbots, or social will be the most used customer service channel in three years, according to 73% of customer service decision-makers in North America surveyed in May 2021.
  • Among US executives, 86% agreed that AI would become a “mainstream technology” within their company in 2021.
  • As of Feb 2022, 53% of US adults had communicated with an AI chatbot for customer service in the last year.
  • In 2022, 3.5 billion chatbot apps were accessed worldwide.
  • The top three reasons US consumers use a chatbot are for business hours (18%), product information (17%), and customer services requests (16%).

The top 5 benefits of using conversational AI tools

1. Save time

In an ideal world, every one of your customers would get a thorough customer service experience. But the reality is that some customers are going to come to you with inquiries far simpler than others. A chatbot or virtual assistant is a great way to ensure everyone’s needs are attended to without overextending yourself and your team.

AI chatbots can take care of straightforward customer service issues and allow you and your team to deal with the more complex ones. It also decreases wait times on both ends. Our very own chatbot, Heyday by Hootsuite, helps businesses automate as much as 80% of all customer service conversations!

Order tracking in Heyday
Source: Heyday

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Conversational AI can handle multiple claims at once whereas you and your team can’t. It makes for a far more efficient customer service system.

2. Increased accessibility

You can’t be available to your customers around the clock seven days a week. Equipping your social media platform with conversational AI solves this problem. If a customer needs help outside of regular business hours, a chatbot can attend to their issues. It solves a logistic problem and plays into how chatbots can save time, but there’s more to it than that.

Conversational AI can make your customers feel more cared for and at ease, given how they increase your accessibility. The reality is that midnight might be the only free time someone has to get their question answered or issue attended to. With an AI tool like Heyday, getting an answer to a shipping inquiry is a matter of seconds.

order tracking with Heyday
Source: Heyday

While not every problem can be solved via a virtual assistant, conversational AI means that customers like these can get the help they need.

3. Help your customers make purchasing decisions

Conversational AI can help solve customer support tickets, sure. But it can also assist in making and modifying sales.

One of the benefits of machine learning is its ability to create a personalized experience for your customers. This means that a conversational AI platform can make product or add-on recommendations to customers that they might not have seen or considered.

Here’s an example of what these recommendations look like in action:

Conversational AI recommending products in Heyday chat
Source: Heyday

Conversational AI solutions like Heyday make these recommendations based on what’s in the customer’s cart and their purchase inquiries (e.g., the category they’re interested in).

The result? More sales without you having to lift a finger.

4. Sell outside of business hours

Speaking of assisting customers in making purchase decisions, another benefit of conversational AI comes back to the accessibility it offers. One of the great upsides to running a business online is the fact that sales can occur at any time. The only thing that can interfere with that is the sort of shipping, sales, or product inquiries customers might have when there aren’t representatives available.

A chatbot or virtual assistant fixes this quickly. Because it’s available at all hours, it can assist anybody waiting to get a question answered before completing their checkout. It means those sales come faster – and that you don’t run the risk of customers losing interest in their purchase before completing it.

With Heyday, you can even set your chatbot up to include “Add to cart” calls to action and seamlessly direct your customers to checkout.

Shopping prompts within Heyday chat
Source: Heyday

5. No more language barriers

An underrated aspect of conversational AI is that it eliminates language barriers. Most chatbots and virtual assistants come with language translation software. This allows them to detect, interpret, and generate almost any language proficiently.

The result is that no customer service interaction is held back by language barriers. A multilingual chatbot makes your business more welcoming and accessible to a wider variety of customers.

Language detection within Heyday chat
Source: Heyday

Conversational AI best practices

Know when to get (human) customer service agents involved

An artificial intelligence tool is great for solving simple problems. But it’s good to know their limits. Not every customer is going to have an issue that conversational AI can handle. Chatbots are assistants to your customer service team — not a replacement. Make sure you have agents on standby, ready to jump in when a more complex inquiry comes in.

Optimize for social commerce

You want to get the most out of your Conversational AI. You also want to make sure your customers have as much access to the help they need as possible. The best way to accomplish both of these things is to choose a conversational AI tool optimized for social commerce.

Heyday is a tool design with the specific needs of retailers in mind. It integrates with ecommerce, shipping and marketing tools, seamlessly connecting the back-end of your business with your customers — and helping you create the best customer experience possible.

Some of Heyday’s integrations include:

  • Shopify
  • Magento
  • PrestaShop
  • Panier Bleu
  • SAP
  • Lightspeed
  • 780+ shipping providers

With Heyday, you can connect conversational AI with all of your customer’s favorite communication channels, including:

  • Messenger
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp
  • Google Business Messages
  • Kakao Talk
  • Web and mobile chats
  • Email

… and handle all of these interactions from one platform.

When optimized for social commerce, conversational AI is much more than a customer service tool — it can help you automate sales, too.

Product recommendations within Heyday dashboard
Source: Heyday

Conversational AI examples

Here’s how brands big and small are using conversational AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants on social media.

Amazon – Prompted questions

Amazon's AI-powered chatbot

They may not be a social media platform, but it’s never a bad idea to take notes from the biggest online retailer in the world.

Amazon uses a virtual assistant as its first line of customer service. The Amazon experience is largely driven by prompted questions, like in the example above. It also incorporates data on recent orders to get information on what the customers may be interested in.

Clocks and Colours – Intuitive customer support

Chatbot on Facebook Messenger

Jewelry brand Clocks and Colours uses a chatbot on their Facebook Page. When someone reaches out, the brand’s virtual assistant is triggered. Like Amazon’s bot, this one too services the brand’s customers through prompted questioning and light language generation.

Clocks and Colours’ bot is integrated with the brand’s traditional customer service channels. When a user indicates they want to chat with an agent, the AI will alert a customer service representative. If nobody is available, a custom “away” message is sent, and the inquiry is added to the customer service team’s queue.

Conversational AI FAQs

What is the difference between a chatbot and conversational AI?

Conversational AI is a tool that uses the process of machine learning to communicate. The technology “learns” and improves the more it’s used. It collects information from its own interactions. It then uses that information to improve itself and its conversational skills with customers as time goes by.

A chatbot is a program that uses conversational AI to talk to customers. But it doesn’t always need it. Some chatbots are just simple function chatbots with buttons to click for FAQs, shipping information, or contact customer support.

Is Siri an example of conversational AI?

Definitely! Siri is a great example of a conversational AI tool. Siri uses voice recognition to understand questions and answer them with pre-programmed answers.

The more Siri answers questions, the more it understands through Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning. Instead of providing robotic chatbot answers, Siri answers in a human-like conversational tone, mimicking what it has learned already.

What is the best conversational AI?

We might be biased, but Heyday by Hootsuite is an exceptional conversational AI chatbot for ecommerce platforms.

It can answer FAQs, provide personalized shopping experiences, guide customers to checkout, and engage customers seamlessly. It can support your customer support team 24/7 in multiple languages for always-on service.

Engage with shoppers on their preferred channels and turn customer conversations into sales with Heyday, our dedicated conversational AI tools for retailers. Deliver 5-star customer experiences — at scale.

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Turn customer service conversations into sales with Heyday. Improve response times and sell more products. See it in action.

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By Tres Dean

Author, comic creator, and journalist from Richmond, VA currently residing in New York. He's worked with GQ, Vulture, HuffPost, and many others.

Read more by Tres Dean
By Alanna Gurr

Alanna Gurr is a Content Strategist and associate editor of the Hootsuite blog, the industry's largest social media blog with more than 4 million monthly visitors. Alanna has been working as a full-time marketer and content creator since 2018.

Before joining Hootsuite in 2022, Alanna worked as a Content Marketing Manager at Vidyard, where she specialized in writing content about the SaaS industry, account-based-marketing and all things video. Previously, she worked as a strategic communications consultant and graphic designer for multiple municipalities and built social media strategies from the ground up.

Alanna loves helping social media marketers and content creators navigate the fast-paced world of digital marketing.

Alanna lives in Toronto, ON. In her free time, she likes to go for hikes with her dog and search for that perfect cup of coffee.

Read more by Alanna Gurr

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