What’s On

Following the customer into 2018

Traditionally, brands told consumers what to buy. Today, customers themselves drive the buying patterns, and brands alter their marketing efforts accordingly. This change can be seen across all industries – be it fast moving consumer goods or technology products. As we move forward to 2018, the success of certain technologies depends on embracing customer demands and recognizing that the balance of power has firmly swung toward the customer.

Last year, it was apparent that customers were increasingly seeking an alternative to avoid paying upfront costs or licensing fees for software that they might not use. As a result, Software-as-a-Service was born. In the same manner, customers question why the same could not be applied to other parts of their IT footprint including hardware. Again, alternative solutions were tailored to suit businesses’ needs. It is evident, moving forward, that technology vendors aren’t leading the way; It’s a case of following the leader – the customer, who is increasingly discerning.

So now, what is the customer demanding and how will technology vendors follow suit?

One major trend is that customers desire to have greater contact with the organizations they do business with. They want to have a permanent, direct line to their bank manager, to their travel and accommodation providers and so forth. Sometimes they will want to pick up the phone and at other times they won’t. They want to manage this communication on their own terms – in their own time and on their own devices. And this will impact the way we do business.

This extension of customer experience goes by different names depending on context but organizations are turning to Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) to bridge this “new” expectation. A CPaaS is a cloud-based platform that enables developers to integrate communications features, such as voice, video, presence and IM, into their own applications without building their own infrastructure. It operates on demand, on the terms of the customer and there is no upfront purchase of hardware or equipment.

CPaaS offers a set of services that integrate with third party applications and business processes. It creates open APIs so developers can customize applications and capabilities, especially for key vertical markets where apps add value to customers’ adoption of technology.

For example, using a CPaaS, organizations can enrich their websites or mobile applications with chat capabilities. This opens up an avenue for customers to get in touch instantly whenever they want to, without the need to be put on hold for 30 minutes or stand in line to speak to a customer service representative.

What does this mean for businesses?

For CPaaS to be successfully integrated as a consumer solution, there are three boxes to check:

Firstly, the technology or portal must be open; it must be available to everyone. It will not be effective if a hotel chain, for example, develops a portal within its own application – enable guests to book hotel rooms, order room service or request a late checkout – but only makes it available to users of a certain operating system. CPaaS is most effective when universally available.

Secondly, consumers need a communication platform that is borderless. Consumers want the same, seamless experience in dealing with their providers regardless of their locations, whether they are at the organization’s premises, commuting or at home.

Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, the solution needs to be relevant. A communications platform will be especially useful when demand is high, but there’s a shortage of manpower to respond to this demand. Hotels can engage CPaaS during peak periods to deal with queries, freeing up front desk employees’ time to focus on enhancing the customer service and experience for guests. It would also be an invaluable way for transport bodies to communicate in real-time with customers; during F1, for example, with the many roadblocks in place and inconvenience caused to the public, transport bodies can use CPaaS to advise alternative routes or updates to services. There are also countless more obvious applications in service-heavy industries such as telecommunications, banking, insurance and others.

What’s next?

The next step will see human interaction decrease but personalization remain constant. Developers are investing in machine learning applications to develop bots that are just as intuitive to a customer as a trained customer service agent.

In a CPaaS world, these chatbots simply act as a broker between the end-customer (that’s you or me) and the business entity. It’s no longer the realm of the giant enterprises who have the capabilities to own real-time communications platforms. CPaaS is also made available to SMEs and startups alike.

By the end of 2017, we will be much closer to living in a world where contact centers, lengthy email threads and taking a ticket at a physical shopfront to communicate with a brand are gone. Technology will be the enabler but once again it’s the customer that is the leader.

Amit Bathla

Amit Bathla is the VP of Marketing - APAC at Alcatel Lucent Enterprise.