Skip to content
Conversational Marketing: Why Brands Need to Become Better Listeners
 — August 30, 2018

There’s a new god worshipped in every boardroom around the world: data. From CIOs to CMOs, the entire C-suite is obsessed with data, the goldmine that is paving the way for the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution.

This is best exemplified by the whopping $40 billion in revenue the customer relationship management (CRM) software market is expected to reach by the end of 2018. In fact, CRM is the fastest-growing software market and is expected to double in size by 2025.

But what’s a boatload of data worth if it’s not used to serve customers better and personalize the shopping experience at every turn?

CRM should stand for ‘Customers Really Matter’

According to research from Gartner, less than 10% of major retailers believe they are “highly effective at personalization.” And almost one-third believe they do not have the capabilities — or are limited — in supporting these efforts.

Every day, consumers share their personal data in exchange for online services and utility. What has historically been a one-way street (businesses storing their valuable data without really putting it to use in a meaningful way) is starting to shift, thanks to customers’ rising awareness and expectations.

Customers are increasingly expecting their relationship with brands to become a two-way street, where the experience is focused around value creation and personalization. Yet, to this day, only a tiny fraction of brands actually use data to increase the relevance of both their messaging and service.

AI is BI on steroids

With the rise of Conversational AI, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to make their data actionable in real-time in order to deliver an elevated level of customer experience. It’s time for marketers to leverage the terabytes of data that are sitting idly in dusty CRMs in ways that go beyond mere mass email blasts.

In the age of omnichannel shopping and ubiquitous messaging apps, brands have no choice but to shift gears and reinvent the way they communicate with consumers. From the data collectors and passive listeners they once were, brands need to start practicing active listening and proactively identify relevant next actions that are designed around the personal needs of each and every customer.

“With the rise of Conversational AI, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to make their data actionable in real-time in order to deliver an elevated level of customer experience.”

At, we like to say that “AI stands for Actionable Intelligence.” In other words, we believe marketing executives must leverage their wealth of dormant business intelligence (BI) and put it at the service of customers. What used to be a tedious task and massive challenge — especially for huge brands — can now be streamlined and automated, thanks to new breakthroughs in AI.

By connecting AI agents to the firehose of data (CRM), we are, de facto, entering a fascinating new era where every customer can get a tailor-made VIP experience anywhere, at any time. Personalization at scale will no longer be a figment of marketing and ecommerce gurus’ imagination, but rather the new expected norm for all businesses. To become great conversationalists, brands must first become more effective listeners.

As virtual agents start augmenting sales and customer service teams around the world, businesses will need to train their AI assistants with the knowledge and skills of their top performing sales reps. I recently stumbled upon an interesting study that used machine learning to analyze more than 1 million sales call recordings. The objective was to figure out what high-performing salespeople do differently than their peers.

The study shows that “top performers boast a 46:54 talk-to-listen ratio, meaning they speak less than 50% of the time. Average performers, by contrast, talk 68% of the time. And low performers speak even more — a mind-numbing 72% of the conversation.”

If we draw inspiration from these conclusions, conversational brands (and their AI-powered sales agents) should borrow from the active listening skills of top sales performers when designing the new generation of customer experiences. They need to create conversational funnels that are centered around customers.

Let customers do the talking and tell you what they want. Then all your AI (or human reps) will have to do is surface the most relevant and personalized product recommendations in this given context, which will inevitably boost conversion and satisfaction as a result.

For marketers and budding conversation designers out there, here’s a quick list of traits that define active listening:

  • Paraphrasing to show understanding
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you” or “I understand”
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding
  • Building trust and establishing rapport
  • Demonstrating concern
  • Etc.

These profoundly humane and empathetic traits should be at the core of how brands around the world define their tone and manner and approach every interaction on conversational touchpoints.

Declared data: The holy grail of personalization

Each day at, we process millions of customer conversations for retailers in verticals as varied as sportswear, CPG, home appliances and telecom. We’re always stunned to see how candid and open customers are when it comes to sharing personal information if they feel it will benefit their experience and level of service they will get.

Creating a mutually beneficial dialogue with customers — one in which they feel heard and valued — can only increase the quality of the data that brands will gather. Declared data — i.e., personal or specific information that an individual willingly shares by filling out a form or having a conversation with a brand — is the gold standard of data that every brand should strive for. In more metaphorical terms, declared data is the supreme fuel that AI engines need to truly work their magic. It’s the cornerstone of a solid conversational marketing and ecommerce strategy.

But for the promises of hyper-personalization to come true, brands will first need to learn the most vital skillset in a conversation-first world: listening with intent. The end goal: creating deeper, lasting, high-value customer relationships.

Here’s to a more humane and personalized way of doing commerce. Here’s to great conversations.

Stay ahead of the curve. Get Conversational AI insights delivered straight to your inbox.