Professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY) has announced it intends to invest in the creation of new services related to conversational commerce – the growing trend which is seeing consumers want to interact with businesses in real-time via platforms such as text messaging, social media and other messaging platforms.

The idea of conversational commerce is that brands that sell to consumers should have the ability to communicate with the public in ways that mirror how people currently communicate with their friends and families. Advancements in technology – and in particular the continued popularity of social media – have brought customers much closer to brands, and shoppers are expecting quicker responses to their queries and concerns than ever before.

Start-up companies such as Conversable have built and deployed technologies to help make conversational commerce a reality, while EY offers the example of 1-800-Flowers.com, which has announced it will offer shoppers the chance to order floral gifts through messaging applications.

A recent article in Essential Retail highlighted how shoppers increasingly want to communicate with brands via the likes of Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, with the former recently unveiling integration capabilities for businesses. One of its first partners was the airline KLM, which is now sending confirmation messages, access boarding passes and check-in reminders via the Messenger application.

A combination of human and artificial intelligence is being used in this latest wave of technological innovation in commerce.

And at EY, 150 professionals are now training to be deployed across the organisation's digital strategy and transformation teams, with the aim being to help clients progress in this space.

Explaining the conversational commerce trend, Woody Driggs, digital leader at EY Americas, said: "Since the mass adoption of smartphones, companies have tried to transition consumers from phone lines and desktop support to mobile apps, with many investing in speech recognition and chat bots.

"That approach can be expensive and when done poorly, can erode the customer experience. Through these new investments and relationships we will be poised to make conversational commerce a reality for our clients, helping them bridge the communication gap between themselves and their customers."

David Nichols, principal for Ernst & Young LLP, and EY Americas innovation & alliance leader, said "a tipping point" has been reached in terms of consumer expectations and how they want to interact with brands.

"Brands that adapt the soonest will have an advantage in building and strengthening relationships with consumers, particularly up-and-coming digital natives and millennials," he argued.

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