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GUEST COMMENT How CPaaS can help tame retailer’s communications chaos

Divya Wakankar, Executive VP Enterprise Business & Marketing, BICS

When it comes to the digitisation of customer experiences, the retail industry has been leading the way for some time. While other industries were left needing to flip the script on how they communicate and engage with their customers at the start of the pandemic, retail had already been at it for years. 

Even so, managing increasingly multi-channel communications and matching them up with increasingly complex retail operations is becoming an unwieldy task. How can brands streamline this in the long run and future-proof their customer communications?

The communications conundrum 

If you’re managing customer communications today, you’ve got more channels to think about than ever.  Despite the prevalence of newer mediums like WhatsApp or social media, other customers still rely on the more classic channels like email or SMS. It’s not a case of “out with the old and in with the new” – it all needs to be there. 

It’s not just marketing communications either, brands need to reach customers for a myriad of reasons: e-commerce operations, customer support and account security all need to be considered. Brands have to make sure they’re using appropriate channels for these services, while also maintaining some flexibility and personal preference for their customers, which means offering these core services across multiple different channels.

Personalisation on the level of preferred communication channels is essential – a survey found that very few customers over the age of 65 like being communicated with via SMS. Conversely, it’s one of the preferred channels for those under 35. However, retailers also need to pay attention to offering personalised marketing offers, which have become a difference-maker in recent years. Statistics suggest that effective personalisation drives an average 10-15% revenue lift. So, brands need to juggle various combinations of communication channels, different needs for communicating and customer preferences.

That is a big task even for direct-to-consumer e-tailers, but multi-channel retailers also need to consider communicating with customers to support services like click-and-collect, return-to-store and ship-from-store on top of this. 

Breaking down siloes 

It’s a lot to manage. Yet these different factors, whether channel, need, or service, haven’t all sprung up out of nowhere – they’ve built up over time. That’s a blessing and a curse. It means retailers have been able to slowly expand their communication services, making it possible to keep up with demand and build things from scratch where needed. But now that we’re reaching peak complexity, these services aren’t joined up enough. Brands lack the flexibility to offer the same service across different channels and the agility to easily add new ones as needed.

The main issue is communication siloes. This means certain things are locked to specific channels, like multi-factor authentication only working via SMS for example. For operational communications, this perhaps isn’t the end of the world, but marketing or customer service running in siloes is a problem. In fact, 44% of retailers say siloed efforts are the main barrier to successful customer engagement. This issue is compounded when brands need to build new services or expand communications to a new channel, as it can be time-consuming, clunky, and difficult to integrate across the existing communications sphere. It can require working with lots of different comms companies to deliver different things. For large international brands, there is also the issue of different countries requiring new service providers and unique compliance requirements.

To solve these challenges, businesses are pivoting towards cloud communications. This means instead of building entrenched communication capabilities, they exist as cloud services that sit above everything. The result is SMS or voice capabilities, for example, come from one place rather than five siloed messaging systems. Each part of the business can integrate them in as needed, without needing to build things from scratch. The advantages are flexibility, scalability and no more siloes, as communications are coming via one central source. 

Why CPaaS is the answer

The easiest way to implement these communication services is through a cloud communications platform. Communications-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) is expected to be used by 95% of all global enterprises to improve their digital competitiveness by 2025, according to Gartner.

CPaaS products can be viewed as the “softwarisation” of telecom services. They work through APIs so that businesses can slot in the modules they need, exactly where they need them. It’s essentially a software library of comms capabilities that developers can drop into as needed, providing an easier way for retail brands to scale up and add new communication capabilities to their existing applications and services. 

But what does that journey look like? As much as CPaaS solutions are removing a lot of the complexity for brands, it’s never quite as simple as “go and purchase this product”. Finding the right solution is of course key, one that matches what you need and has strong telecom credentials underpinning it (some solutions are stronger than others in this regard). But beyond this, since deploying and building communication services with CPaaS affords brands so much flexibility – it’s important to understand the options in front of you and have a clear plan in place.

The first is deciding how to build and integrate your chosen platform. You can build out the solution yourself using APIs and developer tools, go for an off-the-shelf or turn-key solution that is ready to integrate into existing systems, or a middle ground in-between, depending on your own requirements and resources. Once this is done, the next step is building out a roadmap for deploying different services like personalised offers or order status notifications. 

When using any type of SaaS solution, it’s important to have a strategic pipeline for what features or services to enable and build out first. Trying to do everything at once will result in inadequate testing and poor integration across channels. When rolling out and testing new CPaaS-enabled capabilities, start with low-complexity and easy-to-enable services that add a lot of value to the customer journey, such as promo codes and live agent customer support. Once these services are up and running and providing a return on investment, you can begin to look at more complex features like FAQ chatbots and shopping cart reminders. The other thing to consider is what is the priority for the overarching challenges you are trying to solve. This will be unique to the business, but it could be reducing churn rates, increasing engagement or driving more sales. That’s not to say that CPaaS can’t help you solve all of these, but it’s important to prioritise when building out your deployment roadmap.    

As digital retail has exponentially scaled in size and complexity in recent years, the arrival of cloud comms and CPaaS will finally take some of the weight off of brands trying to keep up while offering a single experience to their customers. Organisations across a range of industries will look to deploy CPaaS to solve their communications challenges in the next two years but since they’re ahead of the digitisation curve compared to most other businesses, retailers could stand to gain the most by making the switch. When doing so, it’s vital that brands understand the options at their fingertips and put together a clear roadmap for deploying their chosen platform across their operations and multi-channel customer experience. 


Divya Wakankar is Executive VP Enterprise Business & Marketing at BICS

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