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Mobile consumers don’t book out chunks of time to interact with the mobile web, apps or services. Rather they go online in response to a need that is felt in the moment.

It follows that reducing friction (the time taken to do things via mobile) is a key driver of mobile tech innovation. Consumers want to ‘get their faster’.

iTunes got consumers to music quicker than going to the store. Netflix beat Blockbuster by sidestepping the need for customers to walk to the video shop. eBay triumphed largely because PayPal made it easy to buy in one click. The list goes on.

The same goes for any kind of brand interaction: checking product details, making a complaint, finding directions etc. Reducing time spent on these tasks to the bare minimum is considered a good thing.


In the last 12 months, the noise around brand engagement and relationship building being driven by ‘conversational commerce’ has grown steadily louder. It describes people talking to brand representatives via mobile messages (whether via SMS or chat apps). And the brand representative might be a person, or it might be a ‘bot’ – AI that uses machine-learning and context to come across like a real person.

The trend came to life in 2015 when Uber integrated Facebook Messenger and it enjoyed a further resurgence earlier this year when Facebook opened up its Messenger app to third party chat bots enabling developers to create bots so that people chat with organisations to get information, answer questions and transact.

From a consumer perspective, this is arguably a considerable improvement. And there are already plenty of use cases in the market.

 Messenger apps are ripe for news as they enable that intimacy of a one-to-one conversation, but they’re also a medium to broadcast messages at scale. That’s why it’s so exciting. The big four messaging apps have overtaken the big four social platforms.

RBS has built a bot called Luvo which helps with simple customer queries such as lost or stolen cards and locked PIN numbers.

The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal both now offer news based on a reader’s interests and CNN was one of the first publishers to launch a bot and offer personalised news services.

Commenting on its bot launch, CNN’s SVP and Chief Product Officer, Alex Wellen said: “Messenger apps are ripe for news as they enable that intimacy of a one-to-one conversation, but they’re also a medium to broadcast messages at scale. That’s why it’s so exciting. The big four messaging apps have overtaken the big four social platforms.”

And Wellen has good reason to be optimistic.  CNN currently has 21.5 million Facebook followers in the US and a further 11.6 million worldwide.

Meanwhile, the much reported ‘World’s First Robot Lawyer’ is a fantastic social example of how can chat bots give free or low-cost access to expertise and services. was set-up by Stanford student Joshua Browder as an online parking ticket appeal service in the UK which recently expanded to New York and Seattle and is estimated to have saved drivers $5m through successfully appealing parking tickets.

The tech entrepreneur has recently launched a new chatbot designed to help tenants to force landlords to carry out property repairs.

There’s also momentum around message-based shopping and personal assistants. Companies like Operator and Magic offer one shortcode that consumers can text to contact ’experts to help you find what you want, when you want.’

Two-way communication via mobile messaging whether it be AI or the humble SMS enables brands and enterprises to offer new services and communicate with their customers in powerful new ways – often at significantly reduced costs.

For example, in a recent MEF Minute interview , Jay Emmet, the GM of mobile engagement solutions provider OpenMarket estimated diverting call centre enquiries to a service bot that works off the same five to ten questions could reduce costs from $15 to 10 cents per customer query.

Clearly, it makes businesses more approachable through 24/7 access and an interface which is universally understood. However, for a bot to be effective it must be part of a service that has already gathered information about the end user from multiple data-points so that it can understand and process personal preferences.

Examples might include shopping habits, access to calendars and even more sensitive information like banking transactions.

Good stewardship of personal data and full transparency will be essential if ‘conversational commerce’ is truly to help brands engage with their customers and build better relationships.

Conversational commerce as part of an enterprise’s engagement has the potential to make significant impact, radically changing customer service and call centres or reducing traffic to web pages. There has been much debate whether it has the potential to erode the dominance of apps. Only time will tell. But this consumer shift and the potential disruption wrought by the simple power of typing a sentence into a text box should not be under estimated.

MEF’s Future of Messaging Programme is a dedicated working group championing innovation and tackling fraud in A2P Messaging.  You can find out more and get involved here.

Joanne Lacey

COO, Mobile Ecosystem Forum


Download the free MEF Messaging eBulletin now

Download our first quarterly Messaging eBulletin which takes a look at some of the issues being tackled by MEF’s Future of Messaging Programme including contributions from Aditya Dhruva, Head of Messaging and Broadband at Mahindra Comviva discussing the challenge of revenue leakage and Robert Gerstmann’s, MD for CLX Enterprise Division, analysis of the recently published MEF Messaging Fraud Report.

The eBulletin also includes news, stats and A2P market forecasts and analysis from Mobilesquared’s Chief Insight Analyst, Nick Lane, whilst MEF’s COO, Joanne Lacey, looks at another, much-hyped, driver of engagement via messaging – conversational commerce.