Social Commerce: The New Customer Service

When we discuss the future of digital commerce, we can reasonably predict where we expect it to go. We know that tap-and-pay, the Internet of Things and the universal mobile wallet will continue to be formidable topics. At this point, we don’t know what shape digital commerce will take— which technologies, connections and functionalities will customers demand as a relevant and valuable part of their lifestyle? In a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I witnessed the usage of an application that inspired me to think of how customers may connect with brands in the future.
After a fourteen-hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong, I learned that my connecting flight would be delayed two hours. Exhausted, I struggled to keep my eyes open. Just as I began to rest, something struck my eye.
The teenage girl beside me was talking into her mobile device, maintaining a video-chat with nine individuals in ten unique locations, each person occupying a portion of her screen.
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Coming from an environment where many people struggle to combine two calls into one, the idea of conversing with ten individuals shocked me.
WeChat Facilitates Commerce
The girl in the airport was using an app called WeChat to interact with ten people at once. With over half a billion users in China, WeChat is a social app far more versatile than any that has penetrated Western Culture.
Offering text, voice, broadcast messaging, video conferencing, video gaming and the sharing of photos, videos and locations, WeChat has recently made a mobile payments play as well.
Users can type their bank numbers into the app to begin paying bills, sending peer-to-peer payments, or purchasing goods and services, including plane tickets and taxi fares.
WeChat’s much-publicized campaign throughout China around the last Chinese New Year is the go-to example for how this platform has succeeded. Every year, Chinese people send money wrapped in red packets to send happiness and bless the receiver for the new year ahead. WeChat created a digital representation of this custom, and their campaign acquired over twenty million new users.
How Merchants Approach Chat
WeChat allows merchants to create public accounts. Through these accounts, merchants can push news, chat, and provide services to subscribers of their feed.
In the screenshot below, an individual exchanges text messages with Starbucks in much the same manner you or I would message a friend:
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To be honest, my gut reaction to this was off-putting— I treat text as a personal medium. I exchange texts with are those whom I’ve exchanged numbers with. My personal text inbox is a list of friends and family members. I could not imagine mixing brands into those conversations.
When I thought about the implications of real-time brand access, I reconsidered. By chatting with brands via text, I’m no longer compelled to wait on hold for hours on end, transferred from representative to representative. Instead, I’m interacting with a brand in real-time, via a medium that I would be using regardless— in other words, I don’t have to go out of my way to access the brand and receive customer service.
Connecting Brands to their Customers
Uniqlo, the international clothing retailer, has leveraged WeChat’s platform particularly well. In one instance, the brand installed digital monitors near their fitting rooms. Users can try on outfits, set the background to be displayed on the digital monitor (Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, etc.), and pose. The platform allows them to share photos with friends and post photos to social media. Uniqlo has utilized WeChat’s capabilities to innovate in-app advertising and create new ways to connect with, and sell to, potential customers.
In the end, successful commerce is a successful connection. Commerce is rooted in connecting people with goods and services— a seamless brand experience requires a seamless connection to that brand. WeChat’s ultimate goal is to be the nexus that connects everything through a digital platform.
By rethinking how to connect with customers, merchants can take steps to reduce call center costs, improve customer retention and acquisition, and increase average ticket size from loyal customers.
I don’t believe we’ll become completely reliant on digital communication and interaction in the foreseeable future, but we can expect the physical and digital world to continue to converge. The acceleration of this convergence will enhance individuals’ migration to a digital model, and enhance their connection to customers.
For further information, contact Daniel at dkahan@wcapra.com.

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