Q&A: Joy Corso on How Brands Can Ride the Rising Wave of Conversational Commerce

“The recent convergence of humans and automation is a tricky business for brands.”

With the growth of conversational commerce rising across the APAC region, the verdict is in: it’s now a baseline consumer expectation to engage with brands across a range of mediums. Right here, right now.

Gone are the days of doing your best to pick up the phone before the end of the first ring or replying to an email before the sender closes the lid of their laptop. The communication channels available to brands and the technology driving them are in the midst of a profound evolution.

To get more insight into how organizations are adapting to changing consumer trends, we caught up with Joy Corso, Chief Marketing Officer at Vonage, a communications company that specializes in voice, messaging, video, and data capabilities across unified communications, contact centers, and communications APIs.


 

Over the course of our conversation, Joy talks about the boom in conversational commerce, some of the challenges smaller organizations face in meeting consumer expectations, what can brands do to ensure that their AI interactions align with their core brand messaging, and more.

Conversational commerce is set to hit $47 billion in 2023 across SE Asia and continue growing. With it now a baseline expectation for consumers to be able to chat with a business, how are brands doing in their adaptation to this expectation?

As consumers increasingly embrace shopping via chat and social media, conversational commerce is igniting a global movement that is only set to grow. According to Meta and Bain & Company, about 63% of Southeast Asian consumers used business messaging in 2022 to reach brands due to its ease and convenience. Additionally, Cube Asia reported that conversational commerce has contributed US$12 billion of sales in Southeast Asia.

Conversational commerce applications are helping major brands adapt to this expectation, enabling them to connect with consumers through web and social channels, while also turning these conversations into richer AI-enabled customer experiences with rapid service and sales follow-through.

Vonage is meeting a growing need, as well as serving existing enterprise customers across key industries that are driving the growth of conversational commerce, including leaders in the consumer brands, food, retail, entertainment, hospitality and travel industries.


 

Vonage continues to innovate to meet customers’ demands, with embedded commerce capabilities to drive more engaging, personalized experiences from anywhere, on any channel.

What are some of the biggest challenges for smaller brands in accommodating these expectations?

Small businesses can find it challenging to deliver a consistent experience across the full range of channels that customers use. It can be overwhelming to wade through the variety of technology options and have staff to support a variety of channels.

We generally see a focus on offline and standard online channels like a website, giving less attention to popular customer channels like social media messaging and video communications. It is a big opportunity for businesses of all sizes to deploy an effective omnichannel strategy, meeting their customers on their preferred channels.

“As consumers increasingly embrace shopping via chat and social media, conversational commerce is igniting a global movement that is only set to grow.”

Technology today can more seamlessly connect various channels to bring together the traditional and social channels, even for small businesses that may feel constrained. This, like AI, can actually help facilitate and drive scale and efficiency.

At the end of the day, it really is about understanding how and where your customers want to engage and leverage the platform or tools to build those connections. I think now, more than ever there are great opportunities and technology for companies of all sizes to do that.

Vonage last year launched Studio AI, a low code/no code tool to design, create and deploy customer engagement solutions that operate in natural language using artificial intelligence (AI). Can you tell us more about that?

Vonage AI Studio is designed to help businesses elevate customer engagement through personalized and automated interactions across channels such as voice, SMS, and messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Vonage AI Studio enables developers and IT professionals to effortlessly build natural language customer engagement solutions such as virtual assistants for self-service support, billing updates, appointment scheduling, FAQs, and much more – with the ability to embed them into any application. Vonage AI Studio also incorporates machine-learning models that adapt by using higher-performing messages – for example, during high call volumes, for even greater efficiency.

“These AI conversational capabilities enhance interactions by enabling frictionless customer engagement wherever customers are, without losing context and insights.”

For instance, during the holiday season, an online beauty brand’s website could experience a significant increase in traffic as people rush to buy their favorite beauty products. Increased footfall directly translates to an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

A high volume of customer inquiries combined with an inability to respond to them may cause users to switch sides and buy from where they are heard and responded to. This is where the Vonage AI Studio can help businesses redefine their communications and contact center solutions.

These AI conversational capabilities enhance interactions by enabling frictionless customer engagement wherever customers are, without losing context and insights. This drives a personalized customer journey across voice and messaging channels while creating and deploying end-to-end conversations in real-time.

Organizations spend a lot of time and effort cultivating their brand. Purely from a branding perspective, what does the research say about how non-human interaction affects brand perception?

We recently announced our own research which revealed that about half (47%) of consumers worldwide have increased their use of digital channels to engage with businesses and service providers over the past 12-18 months and 87% are expected to maintain or increase this level over the following 6-12 months.

“When a situation becomes emotional or complex, people want to engage with people. As brands add more customer service channels, conversations are becoming more complex and personal.”

Vonage’s Global Customer Engagement Report, based on a survey of 5,000 consumers from 14 countries, uncovered just how much the pandemic accelerated the global adoption of newer communications channels while increasing fragmentation in channel preferences, especially in the ways that consumers interact with organizations.

The research highlighted changes over the past two years that would have been impossible to predict. This reinforced the need for businesses and service providers to transform their customer engagement strategies to become more agile and adapt to permanent changes accelerated by the COVID era.

However, when a situation becomes emotional or complex, people want to engage with people. As brands add more customer service channels, conversations are becoming more complex and personal.

You also need to look at the brand itself… is it focused on efficiency and simplicity, a ‘human touch’, etc.  Every touchpoint is an opportunity to build your brand.

Emotive customer interactions play a critical role in bridging the gap for what digital innovation alone cannot solve. No question there is a balance that companies need to strike between automation and human support to deliver the service that customers want and that exemplifies your brand. Frontline customer support teams will continue to be a differentiator for companies – it has a significant impact on brand experience and perception.

What can brands do to ensure that their AI interactions align with their core brand messaging?

Consistency is key – across all channels – look, feel, experience and voice. Every interaction will be unique to them, so maintaining consistency is key to unifying your experiences under one brand voice. Aligning brand interactions to customer experience comes down to availability, helpfulness, and consistency.

AI can have a ‘personality’ that can come through. Customers want to feel that their needs are not only being met through their interactions but that the brand understands their unique actions and past history with the company. This elevates your business from one that is simply reacting to customer inquiries to one that is anticipating your customer’s next move and providing them with the experience they’re looking for without needing to ask.

On the subject of branding, you launched the “Vonage does that (does that too)” brand campaign. What was the driving force behind that?

We launched the brand campaign platform, “Vonage Does That,” to help business buyers understand who Vonage is today and how Vonage powers connections that deepen customer engagement and brand loyalty. The campaign took an engaging storytelling, use-case approach to drive a perception shift of the Vonage brand, focusing on real-world applications for Vonage solutions.

At a time when employee connectivity and customer engagement around the world are more important than ever, the campaign illustrated how Vonage’s technologies power many of the apps, software and business communications tools people use every day through the Company’s API, Unified Communications, and Contact Center offerings.

“The only way for companies to deliver these experiences at scale to millions of customers is by automating their processes. By connecting humans and automation, companies can meet the demands of today’s customers.”

The strategy for this was twofold. The first was to help businesses understand how Vonage powers organizations to connect employees and engage customers in tangible and meaningful ways. There is no question that these are the areas that are top of mind for businesses around the world as the need for hybrid work accelerates, and the demand to build solutions to engage with customers in new ways grows.

The second was a continued brand perception shift. Vonage is a well-known and respected brand, but it is also a brand that has gone through a significant transformation from a residential telco provider to a leading B2B communications cloud provider. This campaign approach really accomplished both missions beautifully.

How close are we to AI managing the entire customer journey across messaging? And what are some areas in the journey where it still falls short?

 The recent convergence of humans and automation is a tricky business for brands. On one hand, customers expect personal, “human” experiences. In fact, 71% of Singaporean consumers are more likely to buy again from brands that treat them like an individual. This expectation is similar in other Asia markets – in India (77%) and Australia (63%).

On the other hand, the only way for companies to deliver these experiences at scale to millions of customers is by automating their processes. By connecting humans and automation, companies can meet the demands of today’s customers.

 Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider the areas that make sense to automate. Repetitive tasks and simple queries for customer service agents are an obvious first choice. The more complex a question is, the more generic a reply will be given by AI, and the less personalized the customer experience.

Automating simple tasks enables agents to concentrate on the more complex cases that require live assistance. Therefore, AI and automation can work in tandem. It can equip agents with the tools they need to address issues quickly and empathetically. Contextual information about a customer service case will already have been gathered throughout the customer journey.

This includes if the customer is high value, what their current sentiment is and how many historical complaints they have submitted. This leaves AI to suggest personalized routes that drive faster resolution and increase customer satisfaction.

 

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