What Is Conversational Commerce?
Conversational commerce is the approach of communicating with people through messaging and chat apps to give them a personalized and simplified experience. It aims to provide a frictionless, omnichannel experience whether the customer or patient is talking with an agent or conversational AI.
This gets to the crux of conversational commerce use cases in healthcare. AI-powered resources, like chatbots and virtual assistants, can communicate like humans but without human involvement. This can mean less work for your staff and, more importantly, a better patient experience.
What Is Conversational AI?
Conversational AI refers to "bots" (software) that conducts conversations with users using a variety of AI technologies, including:
Natural language processing (NLP), which analyzes human speech or text and generates human-like responses
Machine learning (ML), which lets bots "learn" from each user interaction and improve their capabilities over time
Automated speech recognition (ASR), which translates voice messages into machine-readable text for analysis
Conversational AIs include both chatbots and voice assistants. Chatbots communicate in written text via SMS, messaging apps, and other online channels. Voice assistants communicate with users by "speaking" with them.
How Does Conversational AI Work?
Unlike traditional chatbots and digital receptionists, conversational AIs don't follow a script and respond based on keywords. Instead, when a patient asks a question, the full text goes through the NLP engine, which interprets intent and context and quickly responds in a way that mimics human conversation.
To formulate the response, conversational AIs pull data from a variety of integrated data sources, including electronic health records, customer relationship management systems, and any other databases with relevant information. Equipped with all these insights, the chatbot can do more than answer questions and respond to requests. It can personalize interactions with users, suggest actions the user might want to take, or remind them about upcoming healthcare needs.
If the bot doesn't have enough data to answer the patient's question, or if the user doesn't find the response helpful, the bot can pass the client to a human agent.
Conversational Commerce Use Cases
Conversational commerce gives healthcare organizations an automated, scalable way to share important information, send personalized messaging, and provide 24/7 patient support — which makes it a valuable tool for time-starved clinicians. Worldwide, the healthcare chatbots market is expected to reach $780.82 million by 2027, up from $312.1 million in 2022.
So what are some of the use cases driving adoption in healthcare?
Calling to schedule a doctor's appointment takes up to eight minutes on average, according to a recent PatientPop survey, and patients spend 30% of that time on hold. Nearly half (42%) of survey respondents said they would prefer to book appointments online, but only 17% said their physicians currently offer that option.
Not only do appointment phone queues waste patients' time, but they also require clinicians and office staff to spend hours on the phone booking appointments. And given the current healthcare talent shortage, no one has time to waste. A chatbot can schedule multiple people at once, walking them through the process just like a human representative would. The bot can check the patient's record to determine what kind of appointment the individual needs, inform the patient about open slots, let them choose their preferred doctor, book the appointment, and then explain what the patient should bring with them when they come.
Missed appointments are expensive for healthcare providers, costing up to $150 billion a year according to one study. Missed medications can lead to negative health outcomes for patients. Conversational commerce solutions can help avoid both scenarios by sending automatic, personalized reminders about upcoming appointments, prescription refills that will soon be due, and any other important information their care providers want to make sure they don't forget.
Some electronic health record systems let providers send automated SMS appointment reminders, but patients can't respond to those messages, or they can only respond with "yes" or "no" to confirm the appointment. If they need to cancel or reschedule, they have to call the office. With a chatbot reminder, patients can request a different time slot or ask questions about the upcoming appointment and get an immediate response.
3. Patient Engagement and Education
Chatbots let healthcare providers disseminate personalized information to individuals or groups based on their specific needs or conditions. For example, a provider might want to share diabetes management tips with patients who have diabetes, send smoking cessation resources to all smokers, or let everyone who takes a specific medication know about new warnings that have been issued for that drug.
Preventive healthcare and services are also vitally important. Making patients aware of screenings, regular check-ups, and other tactics can prevent illnesses or other health problems down the road, saving patients money. Whatever the message, the conversational AI can identify the relevant patients and automatically send them the information.
Conversational commerce solutions can also manage ongoing messaging campaigns designed to keep patients engaged and feeling connected to their providers between visits. For example, a pediatrician might create age-related content for parents. On their child's birthday each year, the chatbot can send them helpful hints and vaccine reminders for the child's age. And the parent can respond with questions or schedule their next appointment if needed.
4. Customer Service
Patients call doctor's offices for a variety of reasons, many of which don't require a human to resolve the issue. Chatbots can field questions about their bill, confirm whether the office accepts their insurance, request a prescription refill, and handle many other administrative requests. Not only can chatbots do this quickly without putting the customer on hold, but they can operate around the clock, including holidays and weekends.
Conversational commerce solutions can also help clinicians provide better in-person service by prepping them before appointments. Before the patient enters the exam room, the physician can ask the chatbot to pull up the patient's records, medical history, and recent lab results and then brief them on why the patient scheduled this appointment. This way, the physician knows what they want to accomplish during the appointment and can use the consultation time to have informed, meaningful conversations rather than clicking through screen after screen on their laptop.
5. Employee Training
Facing an unprecedented talent shortage, healthcare organizations are hiring new clinicians as fast as they can, but onboarding them all can be challenging. Healthcare organizations can use conversational commerce to walk new employees through all the information they need to know and gather all the documents that need to be signed.
For example, the chatbot can send them links to all required documentation and provide guidance on how to complete and upload it. The chatbot can share employee handbooks, training schedules, insurance enrollment information, and anything else that an HR department would traditionally handle.
It can also facilitate training by sharing videos that need to be watched, answering questions, and connecting new employees to the right people on staff to assist with further needs.
Benefits of Conversational Commerce in Healthcare
As chatbots continue making the rounds in doctor's offices and hospitals, healthcare providers will continue to uncover more and more conversational commerce use cases. They're also discovering many benefits of AI communications, including:
Saving Time and Money
By automating communications, chatbots free up clinicians to spend their time on high-value interactions and conversations. Rather than scheduling appointments and answering basic questions, they can spend more time in exam rooms, treating and interacting with patients. Recent research shows that deploying conversational AI in hospitals can reduce treatment costs by up to 50% and improve outcomes by 30%–40%. Globally, healthcare chatbots could save $3.6 billion in 2022.
Human representatives can only talk to one patient at a time. Chatbots can help an entire queue at once. With the right conversational AI platform in place, healthcare organizations can deploy chatbots across social media channels, messaging apps, and company websites so that the technology is available across digital channels and ready to help patients wherever they are.
Once the technology is in place, conversational commerce solutions can be leveraged for a variety of use cases, helping to fill communication gaps that haven't even been discovered yet. It's also more flexible for patients, who can reach out when it's most convenient for them, and stop and start the conversation when they have time to chat.
Improved Patient Experience
Less time on hold, more personalized information, communication lines that are open 24/7 — these are all perks that improve the patient experience and journey. Modern consumers are accustomed to self-serve options and communicating across channels. They want personalized information, and they want it quickly. They've come to expect this from other companies with which they do business — and thanks to conversational commerce, they can now get it from their healthcare providers, too.
Calling All Chatbots
Conversational commerce is a relatively new feature in healthcare, but it's quickly becoming the status quo. According to Market Research Future, roughly half (52%) of patients now obtain their health data through chatbots, and 36% of clinicians approve of using chatbots to treat patients.
The technology is not only becoming more ubiquitous, but it's also easy to implement. Leading conversational commerce platforms let healthcare organizations build, maintain, and improve chatbots over time. Conversational AI can be deployed across company-owned digital properties such as websites and mobile apps and on third-party messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
AI is meant to help humans work smarter, not harder. As one of the hardest-working industries, healthcare certainly needs all the help it can get. Conversational commerce is ready to provide it.
Learn more about Vonage's healthcare solutions, including conversational commerce use cases for your organization.