Presented by Sinch
Mobile apps were once heralded as the future of customer engagement. A must-have for any brand or business looking to acquire and retain an increasingly mobile-savvy customer base.
In contrast, smartphones use is booming, with the average American now spending 5.4 hours a day using their mobile phone. The problem for enterprises, is that most of that time is being spent using social media and messaging apps — not business apps.
However, through mobile messaging channels such as SMS, RCS, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger, brands and businesses have a huge opportunity to start personal relationships with their customers.
The age of relevance
In 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote a book about marketing called The One to One Future. Its message to brands was simple. Stop focusing on getting new customers. Focus instead on delighting those you already have.
The authors correctly surmised that digital distribution and communications would chip away at the status quo. They foresaw the coming era of comparison shopping and how unlimited online inventory and friction-free switching between sites would stop brands competing solely on price or visibility.
What would replace it? What would earn loyalty when the old advantages around price, availability, and even product differentiation start to disappear?
Their answer? Personalization. Relevance. Customer care.
It took a while. But today, the ‘one-to-one’ ethos has reached the mainstream. In a study by Kantar Retail, 71% of consumers said incentive programs don’t make them loyal. What earns their loyalty is a brand’s relevance to their needs in the moment.
And that relevance should apply whatever channel the customer is using — TV, web, email, voice. The systems in the background must be joined up to support true omnichannel engagement.
Across all verticals, the pressure is now on to meet the individual needs of newly empowered consumers.
One way to do this is to individualize the products themselves. A few examples spring to mind. Take L’Oréal’s Le Teint Particulier project. It uses a combination of face scanning and algorithmic analysis to make foundation makeup in one of 22,000 human skin tones.
It is an innovative idea. But is it really personalization? Probably not. It is more like ‘hyper segmentation.’ It groups customers into buckets, even if the buckets are much smaller than before.
So clearly, the big differentiator now is how companies treat their customers.
Brand builders know it. Indeed, according a study by Gartner, more than two-thirds of marketers say their companies now compete mostly on the basis of excellent customer experience.
The good news is that, thanks to technology, every marketer has the tools at his or her disposal to deliver it.
Again, in 1993 Peppers and Martha Rogers predicted this. They said: “New technologies will make it possible for even the mass marketer to assume the role of a small proprietor, doing business again with individuals, one at a time.”
Now those new technologies are here. And arguably the most important ones are the smartphone, rich messaging, and machine learning.
Why the smartphone? It’s a direct two-way connection to every individual. It makes it possible for any brand to start (and maintain) a conversation with every customer.
Why rich messaging? Well, consider the alternatives. Brands can’t voice call their customers every time they have something relevant to say. This is impractical and intrusive. They can’t use email. Customers take ages to read email. It’s not a conversational medium.
How about apps? In the first wave of ‘mass mobile’ the focus was certainly on the native app. Every brand wanted one. But the truth is that most customers limit their attention to around a dozen at any one time.
Take away the main utility apps (maps, email, weather), communications apps (SMS, WhatsApp, etc.), a few games, and users have little time for anything else.
This leaves messaging. For 20 years, businesses have used SMS to stay in touch with customers. It’s been a powerful medium. In 2018, the enterprise SMS messaging market was worth $17.01 billion according to Mobilesquared.
The art of conversation
But enterprise messaging by text is mostly one-way. It’s hardly conversational. Now, that’s changing — thanks to rich messaging channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Viber, and the telco’s own RCS platform. These options bring with them many new ‘rich’ features: photos, videos, maps, even payments.
Brands can use them to deliver meaningful communication with customers. They can do this before, during, or after purchase.
However, on their own, these rich messaging channels can’t support conversations.
Which brings us to machine learning. More specifically: bots.
Artificially intelligent chatbots give brands the ability to talk to customers as individuals. So a consumer would simply add a brand as a contact. She would then ‘talk’ to the brand as if it were a friend, asking questions and getting answers that are unique to her own situation.
This is possible because brands can use historic customer data, generic metadata, and even relevant third-party data to make every conversation contextual.
In fact, they already do. For example, Mastercard has developed a bot that can let account holders review their purchase history, set spending levels, and even help with financial literacy. Crucially, they can do all this by chatting with an ‘agent’ — not by looking at lists and menus.
How easy is it for brands to support this new line of communication? Very. Specialist intermediaries make it possible to manage all channels — RCS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, voice, email — from one web-based dashboard.
This is true omnichannel in action.
Today, more and more brands are competing for our loyalty on the basis of personal relevance. And as we move into the post-app era, they will fight this battle on rich messaging channels.
Time to turn customers into friends, and start chatting.
Jonathan Bean is Chief Marketing Officer at Sinch, a global leader in cloud-communications for mobile customer engagement.
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