For several years, chatbots have been a go-to customer communication tool for eCommerce brands, alongside traditional phone and email support. That’s beginning to change, however. More and more brands are moving away from separate communication bundles in favor of a Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS).
In fact, Juniper Research and CLX have predicted that the CPaaS industry will quadruple in size by 2022. Much of this growth will be accounted for by established businesses moving into the market.
Why the sudden increase? It’s because CPaaS can transform the customer-brand relationship and significantly improve the customer’s shopping experience.
Here’s how eCommerce brands stand to benefit.
What is Communications Platform as a Service? CPaaS Explained
CPaaS is “the driver for Conversational Commerce” according to CM.com’s Richard van Anholt. But many vendors claim to offer conversational commerce when in reality they offer nothing more than a chatbot.
Conversational commerce happens when messaging applications are built into the customer journey and allow consumers to make purchases without leaving that particular application. Offering customer service through a chatbot (whether it’s on a brand’s website or Facebook Messenger) is clearly not the same as incorporating the purchase experience into the application.
Van Anholt points to the need for “rich features” such as payment buttons, date pickers and location-sharing features to achieve true commercial commerce. Only CPaaS can deliver this.
In fact, chatbots will become just one part of a CPaaS-powered omnichannel communication offering, writes the Cequens editorial team. Improvements still need to be made for this to become a reality, however. In particular, “better conversational interfaces and smarter bots” will be required if chatbots are to become fit for purpose within a company’s CPaaS ecosystem.
CPaaS vs. UCaaS: What’s the Difference?
It’s easy to confuse some of the acronyms that get tossed around in this space. Let’s clarify one of those now: Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is a cloud-based platform that integrates all of the fragmented communications channels that busy professionals are likely to use. Think of it as bringing together voice calls, emails, Slack and SMS into one single service.
CPaaS and UCaaS are not the same thing, as Vonage’s Joe Hewitson describes. While they are both cloud-based channels, CPaaS is customer-focused and allows businesses to incorporate existing communication platforms within their own apps. UCaaS, on the other hand, focuses on internal channels of communication, integrating them into one single user experience for your company.
It Delivers Omnichannel Communication Across the Journey
Brands adopt CPaaS to have better conversations with their customers. In this case, better conversations mean being able to reach customers through every channel and on every platform.
This is important because consumers demand flexibility and choice when communicating with retailers, the team at IPC writes. “Voice calls, SMS text messaging, chat apps, and email all have a role to play in omnichannel retail.”
The idea of omnichannel communication is that consumers want to engage with brands on the platform of their choice, says analyst and consultant Tsahi Levent-Levi. It’s not just a case of being present on all channels; it’s a case of offering the communication tool that every individual consumer wants. “Some might prefer phone calls, others could be more inclined to chat online, and some might even use email,” Levent-Levi says.
Agency directory site DesignRush recommends investing in resources such as CPaaS and third-party social media integrations to build a trustworthy omnichannel experience that consumers will likely use. CPaaS is one of the most effective ways to deliver this kind of experience, writes DesignRush founder Gabriel Shaoolian.
Brands without CPaaS disrupt the buyer journey by forcing customers to leave an app or website to make a phone call or message a customer service agent, writes consultant Rhett Power. With CPaaS, these kinds of communications can happen within the app itself.
Conversations Become Contextual Across Platforms
CPaaS doesn’t just allow conversations to take place on multiple channels. It allows brands to have contextual chats. Information gathered in a customer phone call is available to an agent chatting to the same user in a messaging app. To put it simply, customer data is shared across every communication platform.
Having to establish context when a consumer switches channels (or not being able to at all) is a huge problem with traditional communication strategies, writes TechTarget Editor Katherine Finnell. With CPaaS, contextualization is built in.
This is one of the biggest benefits of CPaaS, says writer and editor Alyssa Mazzina. It also has an incredibly positive impact on customer experience. “With access to insights like a customer’s intent, physical location, and social presence, a company can far better understand a customer’s needs and significantly improve their overall experience.”
Contextual and personalized communication is at the heart of a modern digital marketing strategy, writer Taylor Mallory Holland notes. Great brands are great communicators and can deliver the right message at the right time.
This is just as important after the purchase as it is before. With CPaaS, personalized updates can be sent on the right channel for the customer. “So, if the eCommerce site anticipates shipping delays due to bad weather in certain areas, it can preemptively alert affected customers,” Holland writes. As a result, customer conversation becomes proactive rather than reactive.
This is what the future of CPaaS looks like for MessageBird’s Robert Vis. When CPaaS is integrated with physical devices through the internet of things, proactive support becomes even more automated and seamless.
Vis uses the example of an espresso machine: At the moment, a smart espresso machine can let its owner know when it’s time to order more pods from the retailer. A smart espresso maker combined with CPaaS could order those pods itself by communicating with the retailer, send a text message to the owner to let them know that it has made the order, and keep them updated on the expected delivery date.
A Plug-and-Play Solution to a Complex Problem
CPaaS is an easy solution to implement, too. eCommerce brands don’t need a highly skilled development team or an expensive communications provider to add this kind of functionality to the customer journeys they’ve built. Most will only need a single developer.
The secret to the ease of CPaaS is the use of APIs, the team at Twilio notes. “Rather than building their own communications infrastructure from scratch, businesses that use cloud-based APIs from CPaaS vendors can add real-time communications such as voice, video, and messaging into their applications with a few lines of code.”
The process of building complex communication strategies has been democratized as a result. Now, any business — big or small — can integrate a true omnichannel communication strategy without having to hire a team of developers.
Developers don’t even need to add unified communications infrastructure to the backend of eCommerce applications to deliver an omnichannel communication experience, writes UC Today’s Dominic Kent. As a result, many brands no longer have to rely on their communications provider to add compatibility features they need. With CPaaS, developers can integrate any messaging platform quickly and effectively using just an API.
Nor do brands have to juggle dozens of different service providers for each communication channel. Everything can be managed with a single CPaaS provider, writes Information Age Editor Nick Ismail. “This hands-off approach lets businesses focus time and resources on other aspects, away from the complications and potential problems that can arise from omnichannel if it’s implemented incorrectly.”
Many well-known brands are already using CPaaS to add new communication functionality to their customer journeys, says Rob Malcolm, SVP of Sales and Services at Imagine Communications in London.
Booking.com is just one example. The travel brand has used CPaaS to add voice calls to its mobile applications, allowing customers to call the hotel or guesthouse owner without leaving the app. In doing so, fewer bookings are made outside of the company-controlled booking system, which means recaptured revenue for Booking.com.
With CPaaS, providing a true omnichannel experience — where customers can use multiple communication channels and pick up where they left off — becomes genuinely simple and easy.
Of course, that means brands have fewer excuses for not offering an exceptional buying experience for their customers.