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Podcast | Two-Way Communications with Customers

Episode 3 Guest: Marco Lafrentz, VP of CPaaS at tyntec
Podcast
Podcast 3 Marco

Many people would not consider texting back when they get a text message from a retailer or any other businesses. In many cases, they simply couldn’t. But that’s changing. With broader adoption among retailers and e-commerce brands, companies are starting to use text messaging to have two-way conversations with their customers, as an effective way to improve customer experience while solving problems quicker. 

The growing availability of communication APIs is making it easier for many companies to integrate new communication channels and features to keep up with the changing communication behavior of their customers. Today we’ll look at how two-way text messaging is the next step in interaction between brands and the consumer. It will use examples of how the technology operates in a real world setting already and what possibilities there are for the future. We will look at the tech as a whole but also focus on enabling companies to add two-way texting capabilities into their business applications and workflows.


Podcast Script:


Jean:
"Marco, welcome to the show. Why don't you give the listeners a little bit of your background? I covered some in the intro, but I'm sure that we'll love to hear more."

Marco:
"As director of Tyntec communications platform as a service, I'm responsible for our product and business strategy. And our products provide businesses their mobile communication capabilities to design good user experiences."

Jean:
"You've got a lot of great background to cover what we are going to talk about today, which is basically how businesses are making their customer communications more mobile and more conversational. Recently, we are seeing a lot of changes in the communication between companies and consumers, and especially with the online first brands and their customers and users.

And when I was listening to the panel discussion at the Carrier Community Summit in Frankfurt, your comments on some of the new mobile use cases really seemed to have captured the new dynamics in when and how brands are communicating with their customers. So, that's the first place I wanna start with. So, how are the use cases changing, and what does that really mean for brands and companies who are communicating with the customers in terms new challenges they might be facing?"

Marco:
"I think it is fair to say in general that messaging channels, the non voice channels are currently the bell of the ball when it comes to improving user experiences, especially when you think about that, mobile communications can help you there. What we see is that traditionally, messaging has been very strong in three areas. Predominantly authentication, notification and promotion.

Respective examples are banking, we all know that. Flight reminders or app invites. All of these three areas involve the process where you push information to your consumer, to your customer. And it's a purely one way communication. But those times are over.

So, unlocked by the introduction of communications platforms like ours, it is now a time of new use cases that arise from customer engagement, conversation of commerce and collaboration that are in nature a two-way, which all much more interactions, much richer interactions with the consumer, and also offer much more flexibility in shaping business processes, utilizing communications."

Jean:
"And given the changes you just talked about in how customers are being contacted these days, and specifically how that might affect a lot of people internally within the company, what's the best way to meet everybody's needs when it comes to introducing new communications tools like that?"

Marco:
"I think that one of the key challenges at this point would be to start centralizing your decision making process on customer communications, because if you wanna create a good user experience utilizing two way messaging, you should always build that from the perspective of your consumer and not from the perspective of the departments, which might sound like a very obviously advice, but in practices it's shown that this can be quite difficult for them.

So, achieving collaboration consistency between multiple departments, like marketing, support and security, for example, is something that can be challenging. But the good news for that is that the communication platforms that are out there by now allow you to play around with this a little bit.

So, they allow you to design processes to implement them in an agile way with a high frequency of feedback loops of trying out whether that new process actually works, if your marketing department is okay with it, if your product is okay with it, if the consumer gets stuck somewhere or not. So, by this agile implementations at the very low friction of building and trying out something new, the risk for the enterprises and the cost is very low.

So, I would just say try it out, centralize your decision making process, make it somewhere around your consumer, and then give it a shot."

Timestamp: 3:53

Jean:
"I think it has a lot to do with, sometimes, allocating their resources, when it comes to enterprise environment. So, how do you decide when you try to orchestrate these activities when to use internal resources versus external resources?"

Marco:
"So, you’re totally right. My first recommendation would always be to think about, what is the differentiator that you wanna provide? What is making you competitive? So, if customer communications is your differentiator and you want to innovate, you should use basic APIs and build it yourself.

If you say, 'I’m a strong competitor in my area,' because of other differentiators that lie in other areas, it is also that it is pretty mashed up APIs or even communications solutions helping you be state of the art in terms of consumer communications.

In this case, it’s the communication platforms, and this is one of their beauties, is that they allow you to decide yourself how much of the business logic do you actually think you should have in-house, and how much of that can you just outsource for a clear boost? And because of how those platforms are set up, you do not need to make a fixed decision right from the start.

So, you can always start with a very high amount of external resources, external business logic, hosted services, cloud services, digital processes, be successful with them, and then see, 'Okay, where can I optimize further cost?' But in short, I would say try it out. Start external. If you think it’s risky, then move things to internal if you’re recognizing you are successful with what you do."

Jean:
"When I hear that kind of decision making, I’m wondering if it has something to do with the organizational readiness, or in terms of which stage they’re at in their overall digital transformation, because like it or not, I think it’s affecting every organization if you wanna stay relevant.

So, is it becoming more painful for organizations with the pre-internet infrastructure and processes, or is it affecting different organizations differently?"

Marco:
"So, for digital enterprises, definitely. Easier than for the others. But even for those enterprises with pre-infinite infrastructure, because the capex is so low to get started with the platforms that all support a pay-as-you-go model. The entrance barrier is even for organizations with pre-infinite rather smaller.

It’s just that if you see it’s successful, you wanna scale it. And then, you might think about actually pushing a digital transition a little bit faster."

Jean:
"Let’s get deeper into this. And I’m gonna ask you to put yourself into enterprise customer's shoes. And I'm sure you're asked to do that a lot. And what are the most important things they need to know before starting to add new communication technology?"

Marco:
"Oh, definitely for an enterprise customer's perspective, they need a designed process that is as good as ... They're not even recognizing that it is designed. And the only way you can achieve it is by committing. If you're going in there half hearted and say, 'Okay, I give it a shot, but I don't really think about it. I have this channel I added. I have it there. Maybe it gets traction, maybe it doesn't.'

I think if you're going with that attitude, you shouldn't start going in there."

Timestamp: 7:00

Jean:
"For a second, let’s think that it is a lot of work for a company to actually implement these changes properly. And what is really driving this? What is motivating them? What are some of the business imperatives that really drive them to go through this trouble of doing this, implementing new technology or solutions like that?"

Marco:
"I think you saying that it is painful to go through that process might only feel that way if you take a look at the work. But also the work in terms of what you get out of it and what it was two years ago, has changed a lot. It has developed a lot. And I think it coincides very nicely with the consumer trend that the user experience becomes of more and more importance for any brand or enterprise to compete against their fellow competitors in the market.

The main driver here, I think, is ease of use. And that's always something that is painful for enterprises, because they themselves don't have anything out of that because they cannot charge for it. But the ease of use and the user experience is something that is becoming more and more important.

To give an example, I just today listened to a UX designer, who was giving a speech about what is UX actually. And in that he gave an example of saying, if you make a choice between products, even the smallest flaw, if readily recognized in a direct comparison between products, can lead to a quick decision with the consumer. And he used the example of apples.

Right, so if you have the choice of four apples next to each other, in a supermarket they're lying next to each other. If you're going for e-commerce or any service that you can get as of today. You go to Google, you get the top three four results readily next to each other. You can compare them easily. You can go into the websites. You can try them out instantly. You will recognize, in your user journey, the smallest flaws quite quickly, in the user experience.

And that can lead to a very quick decision in the consumer, not based on the product quality or anything, just in the pure experience of how you experience that product, or the onboarding even, or the engagement. So, you need to have a strong focus on keeping your consumers happy or content when being in contact with you."

Jean:
"That's a good point to ask you to switch the perspective now. I want to take a look at it from the consumer's point of view, and what this kind of change really means for them, and quite honestly, if they even want it. I mean, according to, I guess, the latest stats from Statistica last year, like daily social media usage of global internet users amounted to a whopping 135 minutes, we're talking per day. I mean, do people have really any time and attention left to engage with the brands more than they already are doing?"

Marco:
"No, of course they don't, and that is exactly the reason why you need to design the user experience. The time of the consumers is extremely valuable, right. So, if you mess up your user experience and make them wait, and lose time for nothing, you will lose that consumer. And on the other side, I think what this trend is also showing significantly that real-time communications, or long emails, or letters, on conversations where you need to explain yourself, those communications are too long.

So, you need to switch to communication channels that are as efficient, or as short as the communication are used in social media. So, for enterprises to ensure that uninterrupted processes are quick, one way to do that, and one way the consumers actually demanded, is to allow them to adopt their short comment form from social media in the enterprise communication. So, you give them something, they send you quick text back. You react. They don't want to react to that anymore? Okay, but two days later maybe they send you back a quick comment that they're unhappy with it or something.

You need to respect this attention spans, this quickly switching between topics, coming back to topics, wanting immediate response, or don't wanting a response immediately but coming back to the topic when sitting on the couch at 11:00 PM in the evening. So, this being available at the consumer's convenience is something that the consumers are driving. It's not that the enterprises say, 'We want to upsell, how can we do that?” It's the consumer saying, “Well, I just buy the product that is offering me the most convenient user experience and usage.'

So, their decision-making process is very much about how they feel about using that product. And one of these things is that you need to respect their time, and you have to adapt to their communication style, which is predominantly, specifically for certain ages, short text comments in social media, where they describe in a couple of words, their desires or their sentiments."

Timestamp: 11:59

Jean:
"Which kind of makes me wonder, is demographics playing a big role here, or is it affecting across generations now?"

Marco:
"The demographic topic in regard to consumer engagement has multi facets. It's an interesting topic, because millennials are definitely, I think, leading here and driving that trend because they are the ones that pitched it originally. They are the ones that use the product communications predominantly. They have pushed the chat app trend massively. They have pushed the Twitter trends, the Facebook comment trends and so on.

They have pushed being in a network, pushing out information, and sharing information, not gathering it and becoming a knowledge monopole, but becoming a very important element in the network, a node in the network. On the other side, not for all industries, the millennials are the focused target group because their buying power is typically not limited to the millennials or their buying power is not focused to the millennials.

But, nevertheless I think those generations have such a strong power also on private communications side, that they force also their parents and grandparents and aunts and whatnot to use social media and texting. They understand the convenience and they adopt it to. So, on a personal level, even my grandad has WhatsApp, for example, and this is a macro trend across all ages.

If there is a certain focus driver in it, I would say yes, definitely the millennials that have grown up with that technology. And I think it is also interesting to see how will the next upcoming generations, what their demand is. So, the current people demand convenience, contractual, the respect my emotions, my time. What's going to be the ask of the next generation?"

Jean:
"Then, with that I want to come back to the enterprise side. We briefly looked at the consumer part of this, and even though things are getting easier, there are problems, what do brands and service providers like communications platforms have to do before we can start seeing broader adoption everywhere?"

Marco:
"There are a couple of things that the industry still has a very high attention on. I just named the content adoption between different channels. Although a lot of them ... I don't say a lot of them, but the leading communication platforms doing a good job and doing that and finding the right fall back, and finding the right channel and providing the right information to the enterprises.

Not all of them are doing it yet, so that's still something that needs to be improved. Specifically when you think about that, if you're using a chat app as primary channel and currently you can fall back to SMS, as a ubiquitous channel. If you want to explore the media capabilities of chat apps, there is currently not a ubiquitous fall back for media communications.

There is the hope or the desire in this virtual communication space that potentially RCS could be ubiquitous fall back. There are very good approaches driving RCS to potentially take over that role. Another topic that is constantly being pushed because it needs some improvement is to transparently allow the enterprises to get access to virtualized mobile communications, because it's basically what the communications platforms allow you to do.

So, they take the communications capabilities that you have in a SIM card on a GSM network, they virtualize that, put that in the communication platform, enhance that with other channels, combine that, mash that up, provide business logic for you. That allows you easier integration, quicker adoption. But that virtualization process is, in the traditional telecommunications space, something that needs more democratization, I would say.

Another thing that I believe we need to get better at, and that is something that our industry will potentially not do by itselves, but there has been its own industry for that, it's improved automation for communication. I'm speaking about chat bots and the underlying natural language processing. So, we have good starts there, but there are still some things that need to be improved to really create a good experience with automated communications.

That takes us to the last topic, which is data enrichment, where we also need to find a way on how to properly do data enrichment for communications."

Jean:
"With that, I want to thank you, Marco, so much for sharing your thoughts with us today. That was a lot of topics we covered."

Marco:
"Yeah. Absolutely."

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