Conversational commerce has been a hot topic recently. For quite some time it was linked to virtual assistants, but it has really only gained traction as messaging platforms have spread like wildfire. Here’s the proof:

In 2015, the shift from social to messaging ultimately created the perfect environment for the bot and automation ecosystem to emerge. While the bot market still has some maturation to do, we’re already seeing an outgrowth of conversational commerce that I call “conversational care.” This is when that same conversational intelligence is used to engage and support customers during, and long after, a transaction is completed.

When successfully integrated with conversational commerce, conversational care completes the modern customer experience cycle. But why should that matter to you?

Put simply, with the conversational intelligence capabilities available today, it’s finally possible for every brand to take the customer on a digital journey that builds a relationship rather than merely executing a siloed, standard transaction. The magic of those highly personalized relationships you expected from old-school brick-and-mortar businesses is finally a digital reality.

The path provided for you

The linear customer experience model that emerged with the rise of ecommerce was transaction-centric. It had a beginning, a middle, and a predefined endpoint. The beginning of your experience was when you hit the ecommerce site. The middle was your browsing experience, and the end was a bunch of manual data entry into shopping cart checkout fields. It was a brilliant model in the sense that it moved people through a funnel as quickly and efficiently as possible. But there’s a downside when you obsessively optimize for the transaction opportunity at hand: You can’t set the stage for the next round of engagement with that customer.

With the emergence of conversational intelligence and contextualized interactions made possible by parametric search, the personalized customer journey can be delivered to the digital platform of your choice. While the stages of the experience may stay the same at their core, the contextualized and conversational experience feels refreshingly less like herding sheep through a predefined funnel.

Think about when you call your favorite restaurant and they remember your usual order. Whether or not that’s what you actually want this time, they’re continuously building brand loyalty by personalizing your experience, and also have the context to suggest other products based on what they already know you like. Food-ordering apps can prepopulate the fields with your last order, but conversation (even with a bot) is what makes that extra effort feel special, memorable, and personal.

Why is this so important now? As more and more brands compete on digital experiences, they need to reexamine the psychology of the customer relationship.

Circular models are changing the game

Judith and Richard Glaser conducted research on the neurochemistry of positive conversations a few years back, and the findings were noteworthy, particularly for managers of large teams. In short, negative conversations trigger the brain to produce cortisol, and in turn diminish trust as the employee receiving negative feedback goes into a primal “fight or flight” mode.

Importantly, one of the most common negative conversation behaviors cited in the research is “focused on convincing others.” Going back to commerce — what is a transaction-oriented customer model other than an elaborate attempt to convince someone to buy something? It’s no wonder customers are skeptical. It’s quite likely that cortisol is a major cause of industrywide cart abandonment rates that are still averaging 69 percent.

The circular model solves for this fundamentally flawed dynamic. The experience is co-created through conversation between the brand and the customer, and there is no predefined endpoint. In fact, there’s no endpoint at all. In Glaser and Glaser’s research, this behavior is a lot like “painting a picture of mutual success,” and it sets the stage for high-trust relationships and ongoing, cyclical engagement.

Conversational commerce creates the same opportunities. Integrating conversational intelligence to provide contextualized suggestions and followups not only improves the customer experience through the funnel and after, but creates an experience that your customers will return to time and time again.

Is conversation really worth it?

Conversational intelligence, the “brains” behind conversational interfaces, ultimately bends the linear customer experience into a circle. That’s the real power behind conversational commerce and conversational care — they create a human-centric experience that transcends the transaction.

We’re much more likely to buy into brands we connect with, not just those that shuffle us through the system as quickly as possible. By bending the conversational model beyond a linear path into one that responds to the user’s needs, engages their wants, and even manages their frustration, brands will be able to connect with customers at an unprecedented level.

As brands turn to digital experiences to compete, this conversational intelligence will become an entirely new model of customer engagement that’s built on trust, powered by context, and driven by conversation.

Ben Lamm is the cofounder and CEO of Conversable, an enterprise Saas platform for chatbot creation and management.