Harness the Power of Contextual Communication for Better Customer Experiences

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A buzz has developed around the concepts of contextual communication and omnichannel communication in the business world and for good reason.  These concepts can have a powerful impact on a critical, yet too often failing, aspect of any business: customer experience.  The state of customer service today, for example, is broken. Long hold times, generic responses, and uninformed representatives have culminated into a poor customer experience, which is costing businesses significant amounts of money.

Consider these statistics:

This is where contextual communication and omnichannel communication come into play. When applied properly, they can deliver exceptional customer experiences and a significant competitive edge. Read on for an explanation of these concepts and their benefits.

What is contextual communication?

Contextual communication is defined as the bidirectional transfer of information between two parties where both sides are aware of the relational, environmental and cultural context of the exchange. Simply put, it means that all entities involved know what the conversation is about.

In the digital realm, the three types of context include:

  • Visual context: What the user is doing electronically (e.g. apps being used, websites the user is on, music being listened to, etc.). This is primarily controlled/managed by software.
  • Physical context: This is information gathered from sensors such as device microphones and cameras. It also can include information such as movement, location, temperature, and power/battery consumption.
  • Analytic and big data context: These are the insights that are gained within an application when it is linked to cloud platforms or a local database. For example, behaviors, preferences, and stored information can all be processed.

The three primary sources of context within applications are:

  • Intent: The goal a person is trying to achieve (e.g. purchase vs support)
  • Physical: Data gathered from sensors such as cameras, microphones, accelerometers
  • Social: Preferred segmentation of the user’s social graph (e.g. LinkedIn vs. Facebook, SMS vs. WhatsApp)

An example of contextual communication in action is in mobile banking. With these applications, identities are defined through passwords or biometrics (e.g. Touch ID). Throughout the user’s experience, the app defines intent (e.g. choosing the type of bank account to work with). If users need to contact the bank, in-app direct calling conveys context to the bank contact center or cognitive AI bot.

Conversational commerce emerges

Conversational commerce is a subset of contextual communication that touches on the way consumers purchase goods and services. If you’ve ever used a messaging app to find information, read reviews, ask questions, or get personalized recommendations, then you’ve used conversational commerce.

Chris Messina describes conversational commerce as pertaining “…to utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”

The five trends driving conversational commerce are as follows:

  • Advance notifications can be SMS based or push notifications (e.g. shipping notifications from delivery firms)
  • Bots being grouped into command line interfaces such as Slack or chatbots (Msg.ai, Prescence.ai, etc.) that are used to assist in purchase or support decisions.
  • In app chat for apps such as Airbnb, which enable hosts to chat with guests
  • Backbones for chat apps (e.g. WeChat, Line, etc.)
  • Peer-to-peer chat (e.g. offline chat apps)

According to Chatbots Magazine, the main drivers for these trends include:

  • Increased usage of mobile messaging applications
  • Natural language processing with 90%+ accuracy in parsing and understanding spoken requests
  • The rise of sensors, wearables, the quantified self movement, and advances in data science and analytics
  • Integration of seamless payment technology into devices which is often accessible to third parties via APIs
  • Sophisticated notifications that are context-aware and always available to consumers

Enabling omnichannel communication

Through omnichannel communication, businesses can develop seamless communication experiences regardless of how their customers connect with them (e.g. phone, text, chat, etc.). These types of customer experiences are essential for success in competitive markets. Still, many companies are unable to implement the requisite omnichannel communication to deliver them because they are using separate APIs for each of their communication channels. As the diagram below shows, legacy programming interfaces aren’t built to share information between channels.

Compare this to open APIs such as those from Nexmo, which are device agnostic, enabling companies to provide a uniform experience to their customers regardless of the devices they use.

Making the most of contextual and omnichannel communications

With a conceptual understanding of contextual and omnichannel communications, here are a few tips for implementing them effectively.

  • As you’re developing your customer-facing applications, focus on the customer experience rather than individual channels. This means your customers should be able to reach you via the mediums they choose, be it text, voice, or chat.
  • Use cognitive computing to scale.
  • Use contextual communication APIs to power your omnichannel communication through conversations with customers.
Roland Selmer
Roland Selmer

Roland Selmer is VP of Product Management for the API Platform Group at Vonage. He leads product management for Nexmo, the Vonage API Platform. He has vast experience around building products for various startups and telcos, mainly in the communications space.

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