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Conversation Threads, Context and the Omnichannel Customer Experience

September 12, 2017 Published by

The customer experience is broken at many enterprises—B2C and B2B alike. The problem stems from the proliferation of channels through which customers and companies communicate, for example, SMS, in-app messaging, voicemail messages and live phone calls. Conversations in each of these different channels are isolated from similar conversations in other channels, leaving customers feeling disengaged from the companies from whom they buy goods and services. If companies could weave all these conversations together into a continuous conversation thread, they would create a better omnichannel customer experience.

You can communicate with customers in many or all channels, but that alone does not create a good customer experience. As Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores at US luxury department store brand Nordstrom says, “Customers don’t value channels, they value experiences.”

That’s because the customer experience is not just about touchpoints in a channel. It is the cumulative effect of each and every interaction in all channels along the customer journey. If the cumulative omnichannel experiences are not satisfactory over time, the result is a bad customer experience. For example, bad email/mail billing experiences and poor call center/chat app customer service experiences have resulted in abysmal customer satisfaction ratings for pay TV providers. One cable company in particular is far behind the others because 54.4 percent of its customers claim an overall negative customer experience.


Watch this video to hear Roland Selmer, Nexmo head of voice products, further explain the concept of omnichannel
conversations between customers and brands.

Transactional Messaging Lacks Customer Context

When brands originated application-to-person (A2P) messaging, the messages were all transactional and out of context, meaning they lacked a frame of reference to all the exchanges a customer may have had with the brand via other channels. So in the case of A2P SMS messages, the brand did not know the content of all the messages the customer received nor in what order they were read. Even if a message was sent by a person on behalf of a brand, that message also lacked context despite seeming to be personal to the consumer. If the consumer had to continue the conversation in a new channel, all the information from the original message would be lost.

For example, if the consumer had to call her bank’s contact center to inquire about a balance alert she received via SMS, she would have to restate the entire context, such as if a minimum threshold had been breached, last four digits of the account number and time of the alert. Or if a consumer bids on an item on an internet marketplace like eBay, she may get a text stating that she won the auction, but if she has to call the seller to finalize the shipping, she will again have to repeat all the transaction details, including item name and description, purchase amount, transaction method and delivery address.

This lack of context applies to all A2P messages, including SMS, 2FA, text to speech (TTS), alerts and marketing texts.

Now suppose you’re a B2C marketer, and you want to text a limited-time offer to customers. What happens when they call the company contact center to clarify terms of the offer? Because most inbound calls still originate from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and many phone numbers are blocked, your CRM system may not be able to identify the calls and the customers will have to identify themselves. And because the phone call will not have the offer details embedded within it, customers will have to explain the context behind their calls. Overall, your company doesn’t have any way to link customer interactions between SMS and PSTN channels to establish context.

Channel Proliferation Challenges Omnichannel Customer Experience

Recent communication industry innovations have resulted in new messaging channels, most recently:

  • Branded in-app user experiences (e.g., Amazon MayDay)
  • Invisible apps in the form of AI bots and services (e.g., Siri, Alexa)
  • Social chat apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger)

While these new channels enable a richer customer experience, they are still siloed and suffer from the same lack of context that legacy communication channels suffer. Many brands might naturally assume that when new channels emerge they automatically feed into their existing omnichannel customer experience. False. Active steps must be taken to establish context for new messaging channels.

The challenge comes when a brand-originated message prompts an inbound customer interaction. A brand message can be an SMS, an email or a live, recorded or TTS voice message. However, the inbound customer interaction could come from any of the new channels or legacy channels and it would be out of context.

And while having many new and legacy channels presents opportunities to conduct real time communications with customers, this channel proliferation also poses a challenge to the omnichannel customer experience. With so many conversation threads happening for a given customer it can be difficult to weave them all into the customer experience tapestry. And you need an interwoven conversation thread to seamlessly address customer needs and answer their questions. Human beings maintain the context of conversation threads by nature. Imagine their frustration when dealing with “robots” that do not.

Not to mention, this fragmented customer experience runs counter to what the customer expects. She thinks she is having a single, continuous conversation with your brand, when in reality each channel is siloed and the customer’s conversation thread unravels among SMS, chat, TTS and so on.

Control versus Reach in the Omnichannel Customer Experience

In brand-originated messaging, the three new customer channels (i.e., branded in-app messaging, AI bots/services, social chat apps) offer varying degrees of control and reach. Branded in-app messaging offers the most control but reaches the fewest customers. AI bots/services allow less control but reach more customers. Social chat apps provide the lowest level of control but reach the most customers. Each option should be considered based on business objectives.

Omnichannel customer experience messaging channels offer a range of control versus reach options.For example, to build brand loyalty, encourage customers who have your app to actively use it. Because you have a lot of control over their omnichannel customer experience within the app, you can delight them much more than those who don’t use your app. Through repeated interactions they will become highly engaged and eventually turn into your top customers.

However, to meet a growth objective you will need to reach those who don’t have your app. And the potential number of customers you can reach via AI bots/services (e.g., Alexa, Siri) and social chat apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger) is much larger than those you can reach via branded in-app messaging. With more than 10 million Alexa devices and 790 million Siri-enabled iPhones in use and 2 billion users on Facebook you cannot afford to ignore customers who don’t use your app.

Universal Deliverability in Messaging Channels

To combat channel proliferation, product managers need to consider how they implement their messaging channels. Better implementation will enable something closer to “universal message deliverability,” the concept that 99 percent of all messages will be delivered to their intended recipients regardless of the channel they’re sent from or the channel within which the customer will most likely receive them, factoring in end-user channel preference. This is what will mitigate channel proliferation. For example, when the customer is on your app, IP messaging deliverability can be controlled through SDKs, enabling brand-initiated messages to be delivered via push messaging, while customer-initiated messages can be aggregated through in-app messaging.

Omnichannel customer experience strengthened by universal message deliverability.However, when the customer is not on your app, things get complicated. First, you will need to discover the channels where your customers are (e.g., do market research, conduct surveys, send test messages) and make a choice about the channels through which you will engage them. For example, to send a brand-initiated message, you may decide to cover all the text messaging channels, including regular SMS and Rich Communication Service (RCS), as well as social media chat apps such as Viber and Facebook Messenger. But to receive customer-initiated messages, in addition to the aforementioned channels, you may decide to monitor Apple iMessage, WeChat and Line, depending on which channels your customers prefer.

All these moving parts can make talking to your customers a real challenge. Maintaining messages in context would be so much easier if there were a way to keep conversations  threaded across the omnichannel customer experience.

What Do You Think of Messaging Channels, Context and the Omnichannel Customer Experience?

So what do you think is the future of new and legacy messaging channels in the context of the omnichannel customer experience? Let Nexmo know. Tell us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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