Regional Manager, West Africa, Infobip, Mr. Olatayo Ladipo-Ajai, speaks about the opportunities in Black Friday shopping, startup growth and how Nigerian businesses can leverage Infobip’s platform to enhance customers’ experience.

How will you rate some of the business decisions taken by various companies during COVID-19 that are still being practiced today?

When talking specifically about organisations that are retail and/or e-commerce focused, I will say the pandemic has changed the way that we do business. Looking at this sector of businesses, you see that many of them had to enhance their functionalities and features on the customer engagement channels/platforms, solidifying the need to look for ways to make their customers more comfortable. The pandemic has also enabled businesses to look for ways to become more competitive in the customer experience arena and to meet customers’ online shopping expectations since the pandemic restricted shopping in physical stores.

Again, there is an increase in consumers moving towards online shopping, and subsequently needing products to be delivered directly to their homes. The retailers that didn’t have an online presence prior to the pandemic, such as supermarkets that were predominantly dependent on physical foot traffic, had to then create ways for customers to make purchases without having to physically visit their stores.

As a result, some stores in Nigeria started using media channels, such as WhatsApp, to communicate with their customers. The customer can simply send their shopping request via WhatsApp, by sending a list and pictures of what they want to buy. Should the customer need to contact a customer care agent, they can also communicate their queries via this platform too. It’s as simple as that.

In a nutshell, what the pandemic has proven to the retail sector is that organisations must have an online presence alongside their physical presence in order to remain relevant and competitive.

How can retailers stay ahead of the curve without losing out in the market?

This requires a shift in mindset in realising the customers’ position in the retail ecosystem. The introduction of certain features such as ‘click-to-buy’, speaks to the ‘customer is king’ ideology. Manufacturers and retailers are looking for ways in which they can help the customer make decisions faster and with ease to try entice their purchase. At the end of the day, the customer is looking for a seamless purchase process.

Click-to-buy, as an example, requires the customer to pre-register their payment details on a specific platform or on the retailer’s website, so that the customer can select an item and pay for it seamlessly in a matter of moments. This eliminates the customer having to input their payment details each time they are looking to make a purchase, and therefore eliminates them potentially abandoning their cart.

Click-to-buy is a classic customer-centric feature that allows customers to spend less time thinking about a purchase. This in turn has a positive impact on customer engagement, the customer experience and the overall customer psychology attached to the process. This shopping feature makes purchasing so easy and efficient that it can even promote impulsive purchases – something which retailers certainly won’t complain about.

Aside from being entirely customer-conscious, another way for retailers to stay ahead of the curve is to continuously innovate, and work towards constantly improving the customers’ experience and by proving them with the right tools that enable them to make faster purchasing decisions, which in turn should lead to a quick checkout process.

How has Infobip helped financial institutions in their customer acquisition quest, and retailers in attracting buyers to their sites especially during Black Friday?

We can look at this situation twofold: firstly, looking how retailers can engage customers better, and secondly, ensuring that customers actually buy from them. At the end of the day, retailers’ primary focus is about ensuring that customers buy, and that they do so repeatedly.

It is crucial to have a communications strategy that encompasses multiple customer engagement touch points, and customers need to have a choice on which communication platform they want to be engaged on. So, retailers have to be available via phone, website, a mobile app (if relevant), WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Organisations now need to understand that because the customer is in the centre of the engagement process, the communication structure must be a complete cycle. That means that the communication needs to be bi-directional so that the organisation can in turn communicate with the customers as well. Ultimately, there must be an avenue for a conversation exchange.

Retailers also need to ensure that their social media channels are active, as this can be a tool to help attract customers to their websites or platforms.

Customer feedback and reviews/ratings are another powerful means to attract new customers to a business’ website, as potential customers will often look to the experience of an existing customer before deciding to purchase.

To enhance the customer experience, retailers need to understand how to suggest to customers what other customers purchased while they were on your site. This will encourage them to shop more by showcasing a range of products that complement one other.

On the topic of Black Friday, retailers need to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ or risk being left behind. To entice customers to shop, retailers can employ various tactics such as supplying free items to complement a purchase, supplying free delivery of items, or else having an uncomplicated return policy to accommodate shoppers who may end up with buyer’s remorse. Elements like this can set a retailer apart from their competition.

What can retailers do to drive sustainability, and what kind of service/solution can Infobip offer them?

Since COVID-19, many Nigerians have had to change their mindset in terms of how they buy. Prior to the pandemic, many Nigerians typically wouldn’t buy items online without seeing it, yet today, shopping habits have changed drastically and many Nigerians are prioritising online shopping, which has led to the rise of ecommerce and subsequent delivery platforms.

Interestingly, there’s now more trust in the online retail ecosystem.

In order to look at what’s required to help optimise our customers’ platforms or websites, there are a multitude of engagement strategies to employ, especially when Black Friday is on the horizon. I’ve touched on a few strategies earlier, but just to recap: retailers need a sound communications strategy, they need to fully understand their market and customers, and they need to be able to engage the customer, if need be, on their preferred platform.

When talking about Black Friday, the question on everyone’s mind is: how do I sell? For starters, one way to lose out on sales is with a website crash, so this needs to a consideration. As a retailer, the website must have sound security, adequate bandwidth, and a strong capability to handle the high volumes of traffic.

Furthermore, to entice Black Friday shoppers to online store, retailers need to heighten their social media presence.

Technology has enabled businesses to optimise their websites or retail platforms and to ensure that there’s a golden thread between the various purchase channels. For example, there’s a good chance that a customer may call your contact centre and ask about a particular deal in your Black Friday promo page that sits on your website. So, when the customer calls, are they able to make a payment there and then, or be sent automatically to a purchase page?

In terms of incentives for customers, what advice would you share with businesses or retailers?

In terms of incentives, there’s no limit to what can be done, however, it depends on what your business is all about. If your business is reliant on traffic to your website via the likes of YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms, it would make sense to offer subsidised data for your customers, because you ultimately want them to consume your adverts/content.

As a retail organisation, for a period like Black Friday, I touched on the incentives that etailers could employ. Furthermore, businesses can include engaging features on their platforms, for example, we have the Web RTC, like a web video. This is a situation where your website can offer a video call that is free and when your customers want to talk to someone, a video pops up and they can engage and ask questions.

There’s also Request for Calls, you can just click a button and you get a call from a customer care centre. Everything connects seamlessly and the call is toll-free.

There are also alert features used by websites whereby a customer clicks on the button and requests to be alerted when a particular product becomes available. The organisation then calls the customer when the product is in stock.

Do you have solutions that are tailored towads SMEs and Startups, since some can’t afford expensive solutions?

Aside from servicing enterprise businesses in Nigeria, we carry a lot of communication traffic for SMEs and startups, especially tech startups. Interestingly, at least 90 per cent of the biggest e-commerce platforms in Nigeria and West Africa run a large portion of their traffic on Infobip’s platforms. This includes emails, SMS, voicemails, among others.

We also offer a range of self-service products, which are not necessarily structured to big corporate strategies. Small organisations can easily use their credit or debit cards to make payment and ship out their products to customers.

Are your services paid in Naira?

Infobip is a Nigerian company, and we don’t operate through third parties. We are registered in Nigeria and collect payment in Naira.

In terms of the Metaverse and the future of customer experience, do you see a shift happening soon to improve customer experience?

Considering the direction that Nigeria is moving to, we are very aligned with global technology. However, it’s important to note that there are two segments of Nigeria: there’s the digitally-aware economy of Nigeria, and the growing/yet to be included economy of Nigeria. That is where the potential lies, and as Nigeria begins to build that awareness, you will see a bigger market. Currently, about 20 per cent of the population is in the digitally-aware scope. So, in terms of the solutions pertaining to the Metaverse, virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and others, organisations need to give customers a more inclusive and entrenched experience. Organisations that will begin to use these tools to their advantage will reap the rewards. While there is a wealth of opportunity in Africa, we are still struggling with infrastructural challenges such as data and bandwidth issues.

What are you bringing on board for this Black Friday?

One of the key things we want our customers to take advantage of, is our platform, which is a single paying dashboard solution that allows you to orchestrate across all your channels. A lot of customers don’t know that the same channel they are routing their SMS is the same channel they can allocate to a customer care consultant, create a chatbot for their website or mobile app. They can manage comments, responses, among others. all on one platform.

Another thing that would interest customers is that our platform is integrated into their CRM, ERP and other systems. They can inter-relate information across different software applications that they use within their business and into Infobip’s platform.

We also offer a section where customers can engage with our customer experience consultants to advise them on the services. We are proud to mention that we are giving out free customer experience services to our big customers to guide them on purchasing products.

Culled from Thisday