Harsha Solanki

“We seek to become the AWS for B2B and B2C communication”

Infobip operates a full-stack Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) with private cloud infrastructure and zero-hop connectivity to telecoms globally. As the company Managing Director, Harsha Solanki has quadrupled the turnover of the enterprise in the last four years and is working towards building Infobip as an engineering mitochondrion with its benchmark-defining CPaaS infrastructure and an innovation-centric perspective. In an interaction with Shubhendu Parth, she talks about the business communication trends, the evolving CPaaS market, and how organizations are adopting omnichannel solutions to strengthen customer engagement in the New Normal. Excerpts:

The work and life in the new normal seem heavily dependent on digital communication technologies. What has been the learning from the pandemic and how are the business communications and messaging sector evolving?

The pandemic has enabled a paradigm shift in the way businesses to operate. Digital has now become a fundamental part of an organizational structure. In fact, in the wake of the rise of remote working and study-from-home culture, the reliance of individuals on digital technology has also reached a point of inflection, reversing which is no longer possible. Today, customers are using a range of devices and formats to tap into the digital ecosystem and stay connected to the modern world. However, this doesn’t mean that things have remained unchanged because of digital interventions. If anything, it is common knowledge, validated by personal experiences that individuals are struggling to maintain bonds with their acquaintances, friends, and family, in the absence of physical interactions, especially when the loss of physical intimacy occurs for long stretches, as has happened to most of us during the initial lockdowns.

The pandemic, therefore, has highlighted the need for brands to be mindful of the basic elements of human interaction. If, as a brand, you need to reach out to your customer, you need to recognize the value of human interaction and empathize with people. Engagement today cannot be focused solely on driving numbers; it needs to deliver value in order to become successful. This is where personalization enters the picture.

One of our main lessons from the pandemic is that if you try to translate a square message and force it to pass through a triangular channel, the effort is not going to yield any result. In the post-COVID-19 world, even more so than before, personalizing each instance of communication is necessary to maximize engagement and helping the customer connect with the brand on an emotional level.

For instance, a brand can personalize its campaign by deploying it on an event-specific basis, such as the birthday or anniversary of the target customer. This is precisely what we aim to do by empowering enterprises to seamlessly manage the brand experience across an array of channels.

We believe that brands need to understand what customers need when they need it, and why they need it. Consequently, we are committed to simplifying the complexity of global messaging for our clients, enabling them to effortlessly reach their customers in a personalized manner, while complying with all local regulations.

And which are the hottest sectors? Where do you see the maximum demand coming from?

We are operating in the communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) market which has been around since 2008. Over the years, it has continued to add new capabilities, including an expanded base of cloud communication channels, as well as packaged modules that perform a specific task like conversational messaging or user authentication. The pandemic has caused the need-gap in this space to widen and leading players are rising to the occasion to resolve them. Take the example of the need for companies to safeguard the privacy and professionalism of remote workers, something that has become an urgent requirement in the increasingly digital-first world of today.

Leading CPaaS players are addressing this need through number masking solutions. In this case, CPaaS enables us to tie it up with a company’s PBX and manage it as one system. Infobip’s client portfolio also includes companies across sectors such as retail, banking, and on-demand service, among others. One thing is common to all: everybody working towards their ‘engagement’ goals. Brands are also looking to fine-tune their campaign engagement and monitor results at every step of the communication flow. As the demand for superior communication solutions continues to mature, we anticipate higher adoption of our solution by marketing and sales departments across industries.

Infobip recently launched the omnichannel customer engagement hub Moments. Is it a communication solution or business analytics tool?

We are focused on empowering businesses to bolster their communication strategies. To achieve this, we leverage elements of business analytics to gather insights from the data lake to sharpen the edge of our communication solutions. This is necessary because the digital lines are blurring faster than one can think and modern-day customers are logging into multiple channels and social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, etc. to express their digital identity and connect with their peers.

Against this backdrop, only those businesses that are available across all channels, are collating a diverse range of data, and using granular data-mined insights will be equipped to accurately identify the nitty-gritty of their customer bases and how best to engage with them through effective marketing campaigns.

This is where ‘Moments’ steps into the picture. Today, it is no longer an option but a critical business imperative for brands to adopt a robust omnichannel strategy to create meaningful relationships with their customers by delivering personalized experiences. By using our customer engagement solution Moments, which uses AI-based automation and powerful analytics to provide a 360-degree view of every customer segment, new-age businesses can deliver the right set of messages to the right customer at the right time over the right communication channel.

So, how exactly does the omnichannel solution help a brand engage with customers or market respective products?

As mentioned above, brands are collecting customer data from across multiple channels based on their engagement with the customer. To analyze this massive set of data and use insights derived from it, brands need an omnichannel customer engagement solution that can enable them to get a richer understanding of the different needs and sensibilities of each customer segment.

Doing so, brands can create automated, multi-step customer journeys across various channels while monitoring results at every step of the communication flow and setting up goals, tracking engagements, conversions, downloads, etc. This allows brands to design personalized engagement strategies to target each customer segment while fine-tuning the campaign strategy as and when required, armed with the understanding of which message would work better in a particular context and what is the best time to deploy. By doing this, brands can maximize the success rate of their marketing campaigns and drive conversion and loyalty at speed and scale.

What technologies are driving the business communication sector and how do you see 5G impacting it in the days to come?

While the world is moving towards 5G adoption its uptake in India will be relatively slower. However, businesses need to be prepared to tap into their power whenever the fifth generation of cellular technology makes its entry into the Indian market. 5G has the potential to optimize the connectivity solution on the back of its lightning-fast download and upload speeds, low latency, and improved response rates. India’s digital ecosystem will quickly adapt to the disruption led by 5G with people using 5G compatible devices. When that happens, brands will need to up the ante of their communication infrastructure to accommodate higher traffic and accelerate their response time. 5G will also drive innovation because it will encourage businesses to invest and try out new services.

And where do players like Infobip fit in this scenario where organizations are trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic in the post-lockdown world?

Business communication has evolved rapidly since the COVID-19 outbreak. Customers have adopted a digital-first approach with open arms. They are now present across all channels and engaging with brands through social media and messenger apps, in addition to established communication channels such as brand website, customer support IVRs, emails, etc. This behavior has become entrenched and way past the point of inflection. In a sense, there is no going back to the old way of doing things – especially when it comes to brand-consumer communication and engagement.

Brands must adapt to this changing paradigm, and soon if they want to continue to thrive in the post-pandemic era. This, however, is easier said than done. The pace of technological innovation has kept marketers on their toes. Even organizations with dedicated in-house teams and massive marketing budgets often face challenges with identifying and implementing the most relevant tech solutions to drive their customer outreach and engagement strategies.

Infobip steps in here to address these concerns as an integrated, tech-enabled brand communication solutions provider. We leverage cutting-edge solutions, such as ‘Moments’, to enable brands to quickly create automated, multi-step customer journey flows that are backed by intelligent analysis and data-mined insights. On the other hand, along with our network of partners that includes telecom operators, tech companies, aggregators, social media platforms, and messaging apps, we are creating a robust ecosystem that is attuned to the evolving brand communication needs of the digital age.

Our holistic approach enables contextual engagement and hyper-personalization in brand communication and is helping brands achieve better business outcomes in line with their short-term and long-term objectives. It is already emerging as a non-negotiable requirement in a world that continues to migrate digitally in the wake of the pandemic.

The company has been actively engaging with mobile operators, banks, social networks, technology companies, messaging apps, and aggregators. How exactly do you help them?

Our various associations and partnerships are meant to tap into the synergies that exist between tech enablers, messaging apps, telecom operators, and aggregators to deliver superlative and personalized brand communication solutions to our clients. For example, banking and e-commerce transactions are increasingly taking place over messaging, social media, and other rich communication services (RCS) channels such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, and FB Messenger because customers find them convenient.

We help brands leverage these communication channels to reach out to their target audiences where they are most active – at the right time, with the right message, and through the right channel – with an innovative marketing automation solutions. We help our clientele onboard, engage, and retain customers with targeted campaigns via intelligently automated behavior/event-triggered messaging that is personalized through rich, in-depth profiling and customer segmentation. This blurring of lines between marketing, sales, and customer service streamlines the end-users journey and enables brands to engage with customers, at speed and scale.

Telcos, for example, are both cloud consumers and providers, with a drive towards cost reduction and revenue increase. As such, they are facing two related questions in the cloud journey: where to compete versus where to partner. A good tech partner can help untangle this conundrum.

We also collaborate with software partners big and small and their partner ecosystems to help build demand, sales planning for partner-to-partner empowered selling, and deliver marketplace-led commerce for end-customer transformation. It is more than about creating a wider reseller network or reach a bigger client base or simply bigger clients – rather it’s also about providing a more open and integrated arena to power digital customer experience in today’s hyperconnected world.

What are your plans for the future?

In line with the growing shift towards an omnichannel mode of engagement, our SaaS portfolio provides modern businesses with relevant solutions including Moments, Conversations, and Answers. These solutions have evolved naturally from customer feedback based on the usage of the web-based interface, which was created back in 2010. We have built our omnichannel engagement solutions portfolio on top of our already strong CPaaS platform. Through our solutions, our goal is to eliminate the silos between customer service, marketing, and other departments, thereby bolstering the communication and engagement strategies of our clients.

The next significant development in the CPaaS market will be marked by the shift to a conversational commerce experience. Hence, we are anticipating the conversational user interface – with people comfortably talking to bots – to become the platform of choice for developers, surpassing mobile-first and cloud-native projects. We are also expecting RCS to become a crucial revenue driver for mobile operators as well as enterprises, with Mobile Identity becoming a universal standard. Against this backdrop, we seek to double-down on innovation and development to become the AWS for B2B and B2C communication and establish our leadership in the CCaaS and CPaaS industry in the coming years.

shubhendup@cybermedia.co.in

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