Marut Gaonkar, (l), senior product manager, and Rob Heuser, director, strategic accounts, at SAP Digital Interconnect, look at the evolution of social channels from a place for friends to meet, to a place where they expect brands to engage with them.
For people of all ages and demographics, social media has become an integral part of their lives. Facebook celebrated its 16th birthday earlier this year, and currently boasts an incredible 1.73bn daily average users, according to Statista. And that’s just Facebook. Throw in WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and the myriad other social and messaging services, and it’s hardly surprising when you hear talk of people living their lives on social apps. The top three messaging apps in the world – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat – have all exceeded the 1bn MAU mark
Up until a few years ago, social channels were thought of as somewhere for people to engage and interact with their friends. Enterprises were not welcome to the social party. Today, that has all changed. Customers think nothing of seeing familiar brands on their favourite social channels, and are happy to engage with them there. Indeed, many customers now expect it. Some 64 per cent of people across age groups say they’d rather message a business than call or email.
There’s been a shift in power, from the enterprise to the customer, and today’s connected customers are making their choices known. No longer can enterprises dictate which channels customers can use to communicate with them. Customers expect to have choice, and they expect enterprises to respect their preferences.
This presents a challenge for brands. With so many channels and platforms out there, how do you keep on top of them all, and how do you engage with people on their preferred channel, when people have different preferences, and when their choice may depend on the type of engagement in question? More importantly, how do developers address the complexity of various messaging requirements and other protocols that each social channel requires for successful integration into business apps and processes.
Great customer experiences
But it also presents a tremendous opportunity. Because the good news is that when companies get this right, they can deliver truly great customer experiences that lead to brand loyalty and even advocacy.
Not only that, but using social channels to engage with customers and prospects is extremely effective. In some cases, the cost-per-message and cost-per-engagement on social channels can often average less than some popular channels. Additionally, a paid social channel like WhatsApp offers enterprises a free customer care window for the first 24 hours of a two-way exchange with a customer, if the conversation is initiated by the customer. The level of engagement with messages delivered on social channels is also extremely good, and improving, as customers and enterprises begin accepting social channels as a viable engagement tool. Especially in times of disruption, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, social channels can provide an important option when it’s necessary to reach and interact with customers.
It’s for reasons like this that enterprises are beginning to make their presence felt on social channels. There are currently an estimated 40m businesses active on Facebook Messenger, with 20bn messages sent each month between businesses and consumers.
Brands that recognise the importance of social to their customer engagement strategies face a choice. They can go ahead and integrate with each social channel separately, one at a time. Almost all social channels expose their APIs to enable brands to integrate with their platforms – though it’s worth noting that WhatsApp will only work with verified business service providers like SAP Digital Interconnect.
The issue with this approach is that it requires multiple integrations – one for each social channel, with different integration requirements and API specifications – if you are to truly embrace the idea of giving customers a choice of their preferred channel to engage on. This kind of integration and testing can take up to weeks or months
The alternative is to use a CPaaS (Communications Service as a Platform) solution. With a CPaaS solution, the grunt work of integrating with the individual social channels and platforms has already been done, so you can be up and running in days. Additionally as more channels get added to the CPaaS solution, they become readily available for you with minimal-to-no development needed.
Leading CPaaS providers then, enable the enterprise to orchestrate and route communications traffic to the customer's preferred channels, including social channels. Not only that, the platform also incorporates failover capabilities, so if the customer cannot be reached via their preferred channel, you can automatically send the message by their second-choice channel. Built-in analytics enable you to see whether the message has been delivered, opened and acted upon, and take the appropriate next steps if not. It also enables you to see which channel performs best, and is by inference the customer’s preferred channel, whatever they might have told you, and so optimise your communications with them.
CPaaS also enables you to move from one channel to another to encourage the customer down the sales funnel. A customer shopping in a store, for example, may be invited to text a keyword to a number for more information about a promotion. When they do so, they may be sent a link to a website or start a two-way communication with an agent, a bot or a combination of the two. Or for higher ticket items, they may be invited to share their email address so that you can send them more detailed information as a video, audio, image, document or demonstration that they can consider at their leisure. It’s a way of starting a conversation that might otherwise not have happened.
This is just one simple example of how CPaaS capabilities can streamline your communications with customers and prospects, and enable you to talk to them in a way, and on a channel, they would prefer to be talked to. What’s not to like?
Want to learn more? Read 'Making Sense Of A Multichannel, Social World'; 'Using Multichannel Digital Channels to Improve Critical Enterprise Communications'; and 'Understanding the Complexity Of Messaging Channels and Digital Engagement' and join the SAP Digital Interconnect Community.