Most people today have enjoyed the convenience of being able to shop online. In many business to business applications, persons are able to conduct business on the web that in years past had to be handled through telephone conversations, face to face meetings, courier services and regular mail. Still other people who need technical assistance with a purchased product used to have to hold on a phone call for a long time before speaking with a customer service agent. Today, this sort of communication can be handled via the Internet. All three of these scenarios are examples of interactive commerce in our new age.
Interactive commerce is simply the ability to conduct business transactions and obtain client care and support by the use of Internet resources. From the early years of Internet commerce to today’s fully integrated solutions, the goal of interactive commerce has been to provide customers with all the advantages of communicating with vendors in a real time manner, but providing that interaction in a virtual mode.
One of the first innovations in interactive commerce was the use of email to allow prospects and clients to ask questions or obtain assistance relating to a product or service offered by the company. While this was a relatively easy way to communicate back and forth, it was hardly real time in nature. Hours or even days could pass before the customer had an answer to the query. While there was some degree of patience with this approach in the early days of Internet business, it was readily apparent that something more robust was required if clients were going to remain happy.
The next phase of interactive commerce came in the form of the chat message. Businesses could choose to maintain an open chat room with service reps monitoring the space. Customers or prospective clients could log in and ask questions, receiving immediate acknowledgment. The quick response and continued written interaction was certainly a step up in interactive commerce support, but there was still a chance of each party misunderstanding the other. Clearly, some sort of interactive commerce approach that involved voice applications was needed.
The advent of VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, added just the right dimension to move interactive commerce to the next level. Audio streaming over the Internet allows for commerce transactions that allow representatives and customers to speak real time to one another, quickly being able to pick up on cues in inflection and tone, something that can never be accomplished with chat messages. Customers having trouble placing orders can use the voice chat feature to get the attention of a service rep, who is able to offer advice while monitoring the process at their end. Often, the end result is a satisfied customer who feels as if the company actually cares about his or her comfort level with the ordering process.
Interactive commerce options and strategies have never been stronger than they are today. Still, there is already a new innovation being beta tested in several markets that would add visual support to the interactive commerce abilities already in place today. Once the combination of voice and visual communication becomes the standard process for interactive commerce, businesses will truly be able to interact with customers as if they were in the same physical location.