Conversational Maturity Index: Beauty 2021 Ranking

10min read -

What are the qualities of a good customer experience (CX)? How do the top organizations differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition? For the majority, it comes down to being conversational. 

What does it mean to be conversational? Being conversational means providing the 1:1 connection that customers desire, answering their needs for convenience, substance, and information. Companies that understand this relate to customers on a human and emotional level. They build a personal connection with customers and grow trust. Prioritizing these relationships is the next step in establishing a top-notch digital experience for shoppers visiting your site. 

One industry that has not shied away from the spotlight and has delivered on customer needs is beauty. Up to this point, the beauty sector has the highest average score for the CMI, offering customers a desirable shopping experience. One main reason for their high scores is their ability to adapt to new digital and market trends.  

An example of this is how Live Shopping in the beauty industry has taken off. China has led the charge for Live Shopping and now Western brands and retailers are following by example. They are using their own live-commerce events to promote their products, especially in beauty and fashion. McKinsey reported that Live Shopping could represent up to 20% of online sales by 2026. This feature offers a new way for consumers to shop, providing them with the best immersive and interactive experience on the market.

Beauty is at the forefront of most conversational industries. They keep up with the latest CX trends, evolving into a more conversational industry. Along with CX trends, there are specific qualities that companies should put in place for a successful CX strategy.

At iAdvize, we identified six key pillars required for a successful conversational strategy:

Based on an evaluation of each pillar, we developed a unique assessment tool, the Conversational Maturity Index (CMI). The CMI uses a rapid online chat experience assessment to generate a score that identifies how conversational a company is, relative to others within the same industry. In other words, looking at the maturity of a company’s conversational strategy.

This month, we utilized the CMI to examine the most conversational companies in the beauty industry.

Beauty Companies 2021 Ranking

CMI research revealed that beauty companies that were the most conversational share a common formula of emphasizing the client-to-human relationship. Beauty companies prioritize building genuine relationships with their customers, offering real-time expert advice that is empathic and authentic. It was apparent immediately that they focus on connecting with shoppers on a human and emotional level, leveraging those personal connections throughout the customer journey. The top CMI scores in the industry were e.l.f. Cosmetics, Dollar Shave Club, and Tarte Cosmetics. Below are summaries of their unique conversational approaches.

Industry Standouts

e.l.f. Cosmetics - Insightful Beauty Advisors With a Twist

The chat experience for e.l.f. Cosmetics has a mix of conversational AI bots and beauty advisors. The AI bot can handle questions from shoppers when an advisor is not readily available. This mix of AI bots and beauty advisors offered by e.l.f Cosmetics can optimize scalability, ensuring that shoppers are not left unattended. 

When talking with an advisor, they respond quickly, going right into finding a solution to your question. I explained my problem and how I needed help finding a skincare solution for my aging skin. Anginette reacted right away and asked a follow-up question about my skin, further gauging what the issue at hand was. I explained the circumstances to her, Anginette sent me a list of products, all part of a skincare regimen. I tested her further to see if I could stump her, asking her to illustrate the regimen. Anginette answered like a professional, untangling all queries I presented to her effectively and efficiently. Their beauty advisors knew their products inside and out and were ready for any question thrown at them. They were patient, intelligent, and warm when speaking with a confused shopper like myself.

The beauty industry has devoted experts from companies all over the US, so what makes e.l.f Cosmetics’ chat experience so unique? When speaking with an expert, you can escalate the call to video to have a virtual shopping experience with a beauty advisor. This virtual aspect adds a new dimension to the customer journey and is useful in answering the more complex beauty matters. Another snazzy aspect of their chat was their asynchronous messaging. I went back to the site because I forgot the exact directions regarding the skincare regimen that Anginette recommended. I expected that I would need to speak with another expert and explain my situation again. However, instead, I was able to read my conversation from earlier in the day as they allow their customers to start a conversation and add to it at various points. The conversational strategy that e.l.f Cosmetics has is impressive and trendy, appealing to shoppers throughout the customer journey.

Dollar Shave Club: Experts That Are Responsive and Effective 

Dollar Shave Club has an exceptional conversational strategy, and it starts and ends with its experts. These are not just your typical chat representatives, as they truly know their product offerings inside and out. I made it clear to an expert that I needed a blade for close shaving that gives me a more precise trim. Within seconds I got a response with a model they recommend called the 6Blade Extra Close. Most of the time, at this point in the conversation, when I ask for specific features about the product or service, the expert does the bare minimum and sends a link that describes it in more detail. But with Danny from Dollar Shave Club, I got the whole package. 

Not only did Danny give the basic features, but he went the extra mile to tell me what the purpose of each feature was. He genuinely cared about my needs, going through the model step by step, explaining why it was the perfect fit for me. My concerns after that point washed away, and I felt informed enough to make a confident decision. Dollar Shave Club's experts are knowledgeable, easy-going, and authentic, as they honestly care about your inquiries. They invest in experts who emphasize the quality of the conversations happening, creating a stress-free shopping experience.  

Tarte Cosmetics - Treating Shoppers Like One of Their Own

Immediately when you get on their site, an AI bot introduces themselves and asks how they can assist you. I tested the bot and asked if they could escalate to a human, and instantly the bot answered back, saying that an expert would be with me momentarily. Tarte Cosmetics has experts who are more than willing to go out of their way to please their shoppers. We have always believed that brands that treat their customers like friends or family will have the most successful conversational strategy. Tarte Cosmetics injects those values into their DNA and offers their customers a real personalized experience. 

Their live chat expert, Milena, epitomizes what it means to be conversational. Milena listened to my issue and asked follow-up questions, ensuring that she exactly understood what I was looking to achieve. I told her about my dry skin and how I wanted a hydrating moisturizer to alleviate the problem. Milena sent me a list of potential product offerings and even offered to explain them in further detail, so I knew what I was getting myself involved in with the regimen.

My favorite part of this experience was how kind and thoughtful Milena was. Experts are dealing with many shoppers each day and usually 2-3 at a time. They can easily slip up and forget about conversations that they are having with customers across the board, but Tarte Cosmetics agents are special. When talking with experts, shoppers today yearn to be treated as humans, not just as numbers in a chat queue. Furthermore, 84% say that this is very important to winning their business. Milena could have just done the bare minimum and sent me the links to products and stopped from there, but she explained the functionality of the moisturizers she offered to me, going into great detail into how it will help my dry skin. 

Tarte Cosmetics has experts who are well versed in their products and have unmatched enthusiasm, which is what the vast majority of customers are looking for in their shopping experience. Milena was the perfect example of this, bonding with her customers on a human level, building a personal connection with them on the way. Needless to say, Milena will be getting a few Christmas cards from satisfied shoppers she helped this past year.

Key Findings for Beauty

Scalability and Omnicanality Pillars Need Revamping

Beauty has the most conversational platform of all CMI assessments thus far. That does not mean that there is no room for improvement regarding some facets. The pillars that still need to work on are the Scalability and Omnichannel & Seamlessness pillars. 

Always-on consumers expect 24/7 availability from their favorite brands and retailers. They want to be able to shop on your site at any moment. Whether that is from the help of a conversational AI bot or an available beauty expert, shoppers do not want to be on hold. That is why they came to your site for a chat experience instead of calling your customer service. If they do not have reasonable answer times, shoppers will take their money elsewhere.

They expect a seamless messaging experience throughout your eCommerce site itself, as well as other messaging channels. If they can’t reach an expert on the chat, they will look for other outlets to contact your company via Facebook messenger, video chat, WhatsApp, etc. The final critical aspect that needs modernization is the ability to offer asynchronous messaging. Asynchronous messaging is an approach where shoppers can start a conversation, pause it at any point, and resume it later on. This system is fascinating as it allows customers to add to a messaging conversation over time without fear of losing expert advice from earlier in the chat. 

Some best practices for optimizing Scalability and Omnichannel & Seamlessness pillars  include, 

  • Adding the option to stay connected with messaging even after leaving the site
  • Leaving messages for experts outside of chat hours
  • Finding the right mix of AI chatbots and human respondents
  • Offering messaging on social media channels, in-store QR codes, and video 
  • Implementing a message retention system for asynchronous messaging

Genuine Expertise for All Your Shopping Needs 

At the end of conversations, shoppers who are not well versed in the beauty industry will feel like an expert themself. They set the expectations for all previous industries assessed by the CMI. The beauty experts went through every problem, dissecting it all the way through. Experts are passionate about their products, sharing personal experiences, relatable advice, and recommendations for customers. Shoppers were able to get every need answered and build a personal connection with the experts on a human and emotional level. Experts held the hands of shoppers throughout the customer journey, giving them an experience that will leave them confident with their purchasing decision. 

The majority of beauty companies had conversation boxes that were easy to find and blended well into the user interface (UI) of each site (desktop and mobile). The colors, images, and fonts reflected the look and feel of each company’s identity.  Shoppers can escalate to a video call during the conversation on some chats, offering a unique visual experience. They also were able to send images and videos to clarify any lingering questions. The beauty industry has all the tools necessary to have the high ground in these pillars, leading by example. 

How Conversational Maturity Index Research is Conducted

This CMI is powered by insights from more than 2,000 retail brands and 10 years of experience in the Customer Experience (CX) industry. It has become essential for retail brands to provide online consumers with the kind of authentic, seamless conversational experience they have every day through messaging. The assessment helps retailers to analyze their conversational strategy and find out how they can improve to better meet customer needs.

For this ninth industry analysis on the beauty sector, we examined leaders using the CMI framework of 80 discrete-value questions based on the six pillars. We analyzed 16 of the top brands and retailers based on revenue, reputation, and market presence. We visited each website to perform assessments of conversational features using our standard question sets.

To dive deeper into conversational capabilities, we utilized available chat or messaging features on websites. We would engage with a customer-facing representative to gain information on a specific product and ask both general and specific questions to evaluate the experience.

With this information, we would then assign scores using our standard question set and calculate scores for each pillar, each brand overall, as well as industry averages.

A Framework Built on Six Pillars

The CMI examines the current experience of a brand or retailer measured against six critical pillars of an ideal CX for today’s consumer. Those pillars include:

  • Expertise, Empathy & Authenticity
  • Scalability
  • Personalized Engagement
  • Rich & User-Friendly Messaging
  • Omnichannel & Seamlessness
  • Business Drive

Expertise, Empathy & Authenticity

An exceptional conversational approach can provide genuine, humanized connections between shoppers and brand representatives. There’s nothing more memorable about a digital experience than when a chat respondent recognizes needs and priorities 1:1 conversations that flow easily and invoke emotion. Those interactions represent what is measured in the "Empathy, Expertise, and Authenticity" dimension.

Scalability

Scalability can be challenging when it comes to delivering personalized conversations. Using chatbots to keep up with rising demands is a simple fix, but it can often lead to impersonal conversational experiences. Leading retailers use a mix of bots and humans intelligently and perform well on the "Scalability" dimension of conversational maturity.

Personalized Engagement

Purchase history and browsing interest might seem like an obvious way to recommend products for customers, but these methods aren’t necessarily personal. Forward-thinking retailers have human agents who foster personal connections to understand shoppers' true intents, needs, and questions while shopping online. These are the factors taken into account when looking at the “Personalized Engagement” pillar.

Rich & User-Friendly Messaging

In an online shopping environment, messaging should be integral to the digital experience. Ideally, messaging options should be easy to locate and use while blending seamlessly into the user interface (UI) which should match the branding and be uncluttered. Messaging should also open on that same shopping page, preventing the need for customers to switch back and forth between tabs. Retailers who lead in this dimension offer a rich, engaging multimedia experience that allows for consumers to even share emojis, photos, and documents.

Omnichannel & Seamlessness

As online shopping becomes increasingly popular, brands and retailers need to offer support in various ways. Leaders use asynchronous messaging approaches, allowing customers to start a conversation with messaging and add to it overtime. They offer the ability for shoppers to have a complete conversation or stay connected with messaging even after leaving the site. This signifies a job well done in the “Omnichannel & Seamlessness” category.

Business Drive

The first five pillars of conversational maturity are found in features and experiences delivered on a brand's external website or mobile app. Business drive, however, is the internal factor that underpins an organization's conversational efforts and thus can only be uncovered through close examination of a company’s culture and values.

As the CMI and engage with more companies on their CMI scores, we'll have more insights and metrics about business drive to share.

In a Class of Its Own, How Beauty Compares

Our previous CMI assessments reviewed the following industries.

Frankly, some sectors set the bar comparatively with others, but none have differentiated themselves quite like the beauty industry. Companies within the beauty industry excelled in the pillars for Rich & User-Friendly Messaging and Expertise, Empathy, & Authenticity. 

Their experts did not just comply with the general live chat standards when it came to speaking with shoppers. Instead, they went above and beyond, helping the shopper every step of the way, making them feel confident in their final purchase. One major reason for this was their ability to resonate with the customer, ensuring that all their needs would be met, exceeding the shopper's expectations. 

The chat agents were knowledgeable and energetic, leaving no questions unanswered. For most customers, it felt like they had a friend or family member present with them throughout the whole customer journey, providing them with the proper information to make an educated decision. These characteristics of the experts highlighted the reasoning behind beauty having the highest average in the Expertise, Empathy, & Authenticity at 69. This average is 12 points higher than Spare Parts and Repair, which previously was the gold standard for this pillar at an average of 57. 

The messaging platform itself was easy to navigate and understand. Shoppers on desktop and mobile could easily find the conversation box, see when agents were available, and send information such as documents and images that could help experts offer informative advice. Some beauty chats even offered customers the ability to escalate to a video call from regular live chat to get real 1 on 1 shopping help as if you were in the store yourself. In this pillar, beauty averaged 62, the highest of any previous CMI assessment. 

Overall the beauty industry stands atop of the mountain. Beauty had the highest average CMI score at 46 and this success is attributed to a couple of key factors. Those factors include their ability to evolve to market and digital trends, and their relationship structure between shoppers and experts, genuinely wanting to be part of the mission and make their company conversational. 

What Industry is Next?

Shoppers everywhere can resonate with one another on the pain of at home projects. Finding the right service and tools for your needs should be stress-free, but most of the time you leave more frustrated than before, with more questions than answers. That is why the next industry on our CMI assessment is the most conversational home furnishing companies. 

To find out where you stand, complete the CMI or send it to our team here.

About the iAdvize Conversational Maturity Index

Launched in March 2021, the iAdvize Conversational Maturity Index (CMI) is a resource for brands to evaluate their digital strategy and benchmark against other companies in their industries. iAdvize independently analyzes well-known companies in select industries to report on the state of conversational maturity. In addition, brands can complete an online self-survey to understand the current state of their conversational initiatives.

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