Kevin Britt, Infobip country manager, UK and Ireland, explains the difficulties of trying to reach customers across mobile’s many channels.
It’s a relatively new concept, but ‘omnichannel’ has already come to mean many things to many people. For retailers, it’s the multitude of sales channels available to shoppers. In the financial industry, it refers to the methods you have at your disposal for handling your money, from ATMs and bank branches to banking apps.
We’re saying nothing new when we say that the world has gone mobile, with smartphones now the focal point of our daily lives. This mobile explosion has created many conveniences for users, but also many challenges for businesses.
In a way, this shift all started with SMS. It has been a popular communication tool basically since its introduction, and as a result has been widely adopted by businesses of all types for alerting, marketing and customer support purposes. As a channel, SMS still boasts remarkable reach and efficiency. According to analyst firm Mobilesquared, over 99 per cent of all text messages are read by the recipient, and 90 per cent are read within three minutes of delivery.
The mantle of SMS has since been assumed by feature-rich messaging apps, which have become the dominant mobile communications channel for millions of users worldwide. Many types of services are now available within messaging apps, dramatically changing not only the ways that people communicate and do business, but how they perceive customer engagement and relationships with brands and businesses.
This has created many challenges for enterprises, app makers and developers. All of them now have to keep in mind the wide array of communications services, apps and channels used by their customers, to be able to send individually tailored, relevant and efficient engagement messages in massive volumes.
Multiple channels, single solution?
This is exactly what is giving rise to the concept of omnichannel for enterprise communications, and the idea of different channels and approaches working seamlessly through a single platform to drive customer engagement. A2P (application-to-person) SMS and email have long been the staples of enterprise communications, each with its own set of uses and customer perceptions. Now it’s becoming indispensable to craft communication strategies that include multiple channels, devices, failover scenarios and intelligent workflows.
This is where the challenge starts. SMS, voice, email, push notifications and chat apps are all separate channels and different technologies. And more likely than not, each is provided by a different vendor.
This siloed approach to service provision is an extension of the current legacy approach to customer communication. Forced to stitch together different vendors, technologies and platforms for a complete communication strategy, businesses simply cannot reap all the benefits of an omnichannel approach to customer engagement.
A single solution would be the answer. When you need features like CRM and business intelligence system sync, or centralised reporting and analytics, a single solution allows businesses to minimise the resources needed, and maximise the quality, frequency and success of customer engagement.
Take, for example, chat apps. The likes of Viber, Facebook Messenger, Line, Telegram and many more are exposing their APIs to businesses and third-party providers. This creates the need to engage with consumers across all these channels, depending on their communication preferences. Add to this the need to include channels such as SMS and email, and the complexity just keeps growing.
The CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) model aims to remove the technical as well as financial issues associated with deploying an omnichannel customer engagement solution. A single provider and platform reduces the resources needed to integrate, deploy and operate an omnichannel engagement strategy.
Another benefit is the ability to monitor, analyse, and report on customer engagement thanks to tools built directly into the omnichannel solution. With the proper data available to them, brands can build communications that are more centred on the consumer, using the data on each individual’s communication habits and preferences for interacting with a business, in order to craft a better strategy.
The chatbot future
Chatbots were one of the hottest topics of 2016. The trend of chatbots and AI in customer communications continues in 2017, and no doubt beyond. Automating certain functions in customer service or support can further drive down costs for enterprises, limiting the need for dedicated contact centre staff and software.
One key direction in development will be towards emotion-savvy AI, able to perceive and express emotions when communicating with a customer. As anyone who’s ever angrily called a customer service centre can attest, sensing that you have the attention and empathy of the person on the other end of the line is crucial for a good user experience. In the form of chatbots or otherwise, AI which can do that will greatly increase the level of personalisation, one of the key issues in customer engagement. This feature is incoming, although it’s hard to tell exactly when.
Even before that point, though, we can expect omnichannel to gain more traction. It’s inevitable, as the need for immediate, cross-platform, personalised customer engagement becomes more pressing – and increasingly one of the key requirements of consumers today.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 print edition of Mobile Marketing. You can read the whole issue here.