July 8, 2022
By Savinay Berry
It has become clear that we’re just at the beginning of a communications revolution as organisations worldwide accelerate their digital transformation journeys in an attempt to improve customer experience across the board.
Today, consumers expect to be able to contact a company or public sector organisation through their channel of choice, at a time that’s convenient to them — and will punish those that don’t adapt to meet these demands. This means that companies must provide a seamless, frictionless transaction regardless of the channel a customer has selected.
Today individuals receive on average 46 notifications per device per day. This includes everything from doctor’s appointment reminders to pizza delivery alerts and discount codes, but these are all transactional notifications — there’s no way to start conversations through them or build a dialogue.
So how can businesses turn all these SMS, email and chat notifications into opportunities for conversation and engagement to drive superior customer experiences for an increasingly discerning customer? Key to this will be the evolution and growth of conversational commerce, a term initially used to describe the intersection of messaging apps and shopping, but whose meaning has now expanded far beyond these two categories.
Conversations as the New Digital Storefront
It’s only natural that customers may find themselves in need of help while navigating a business’ platform or product offering. What is key in such situations is to offer assistance at the end-users’ convenience and as swiftly as possible, which can increase the likelihood of an exchange resulting in a sale.
Businesses must recognise customers’ desire for quick-fire communication over SMS, messaging, and social media platforms, which the former can capitalise on by introducing infrastructure to enable end users to make purchases in the context of the conversation itself. For example, a customer might see a product on Instagram and contact the relevant business with a query by direct message. Once provided with a satisfactory answer, the exchange can be taken further by offering the prospective customer the chance to make a payment organically in the flow of the conversation.
Transitioning Contact Centres to the New Conversational Paradigm
Given the high number of daily customer service contacts, it’s unsustainable to expect support agents to handle these completely on their own. Bot-first, agent-second solutions have risen in popularity in recent years, allowing businesses to handle high levels of interactions by referring customers to an automated response system before being referred to a support representative as necessary. On the other hand, it can be difficult to scale these solutions beyond a certain threshold number of requests, and they’re often limited to specific, language-driven keywords that trigger certain responses.
As machines become smarter, it’s possible that the role of the contact centre agent will transition away significantly from direct contact with customers to educating AI chatbots to understand increasingly complex use cases. This will enable businesses to deliver a superior level of customer experience.
The challenge here lies in ensuring users are consistently engaged with at a high level, so they can get the impression they are talking to a friend and trusted adviser instead of a mechanical chatbot with limited conversationality. As millennial and Gen Z customers notably prefer messaging over voice communication, the timeline for achieving human-like AI conversationality should be shorter.
APIs for Conversational Commerce
Businesses could look into pivoting their software development arms toward the construction of infrastructure that enables conversational AI to build onto notifications and create organic conversations culminating in sales. Developer teams should consider integrating quick and simple conversational flows into websites, which can then be adapted to a multitude of social media platforms and messaging channels.
What makes this possible are communications APIs. These create the underlying functionality for customer support solutions around video, voice and messaging, and serve as a software tool used to control programmes. Essentially, APIs create sets of rules that allow applications to communicate with each other – they’re the part of the server that receives requests and sends responses.
The job of the API is to simplify the complex data exchanged between these servers, and to make the interaction as seamless as possible for both the developer and the end user. Today, when data is…
…transferred between programs or applications, an API is usually responsible. In a similar way, developers can implement such programs to transform notifications into the starting point for conversations with customers.
The tremendous number of notifications we receive daily makes for an incredible opportunity to communicate, build relationships and secure sales. Transforming notifications from automated, one-sided messages into tech-powered conversation starters is bound to drive high- quality customer experiences with a new generation of savvy consumers.
Savinay Berry is executive vice president of product and engineering at Vonage, where he leads cloud services. His previous experience includes stints at OpenText, EMC, Intuit and Dell and in venture capital. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @Vonage on Twitter.
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