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Chat, the new channel for e-commerce growth

“Chat commerce is how availability for financial opportunities will unfold for the next billion people,” says Pieter de Villiers, co-founder and CEO at Clickatell, a front-runner in mobile communications and chat commerce.

The company asserts that the next billion people and millions of merchants will not be on-boarded through websites, email, and point of sale devices. Rather, it will be through chat commerce experiences (where people engage and transact with businesses on the chat channels they already have on their mobiles) with the growth of the chat economy presenting one of the most fertile commercial opportunities of the 21st century.

According to the company research shows that consumers spend 90% of their screen time on five mobile apps – and chat apps rank number one. It also points to new Aberdeen research which shows that companies using chat capabilities enjoy 75% greater Y-o-Y growth and 89% greater annual growth in cross-sell and up-sell revenue.

Clickatell co-founder and CEO Pieter de Villiers.
Clickatell co-founder and CEO Pieter de Villiers.

Clickatell is adamant that chat commerce will be the primary means of conducting e-commerce going forward and will serve as the great equaliser in Africa, where data is often limited.

De Villiers says in many ways, Africa, like other emerging markets, has actually led chat commerce in some way, shape or form, and mentions M-Pesa as an example.

“If not the classic chat commerce, it is certainly coming close to it and a good entrée to chat commerce,” he says.

Chat commerce is gaining traction in other Brics nations, notably China, adds de Villiers.

He says China has generated over US$20-trillion in payments value on their Wechat Pay and Alipay platforms. “This is decidedly chat commerce,” de Villiers says.

De Villiers says there is an understanding of the value mobile-based commerce represents, and many companies and brands are introducing apps or investing in mobile app presence. However, the challenge in Africa is that while there is mobile usage, many consumers do not make full use of the apps.

“The reality for Africa is only 18 – 22% of consumers in the marketplace are using these apps, for a variety of reasons… including bandwidth costs and memory on the phones, or complexity of the apps. The best performing banks even struggle to get beyond a 24% adoption rate.”

As de Villiers explains, the simple reality facing brands trying to serve their clients at their customer's convenience (and the numbers suggest that most are opting to use chat apps) is that they have little option but to move onto these chat facilities.

He says on the adoption curve most of the large consumer brands have started to dabble in communications-as-a-service platforms, to support and serve digital channels like messaging and orchestration of automation.

“Chat commerce, as we find it, is the intersection between communications platforms and commerce or transaction platforms,”

Clickatell is a long-time competitor within the Communication Platform-as-a-Service market. In terms of commerce, the company is unique and as de Villiers puts it “is the only company that really brings the commerce piece together with that integrated, seamless solution.”

“We are seeing a lot of big banks having dabbled with chat bots and having mixed results, including some calamitous results … very bad, negative results and customer experiences, (also) some reasonable results. Bots are very much fuelled by the AI, automation drive that is happening in the sector. We feel that that may be the wrong way round. We can’t unleash AI and bots onto people yet… so we’ve been very successful and actually have been more successful than some of the most advanced AI, rapid automation companies, because when we look at the bottom, we start at the customer journey,” says de Villiers.

Clickatell begins with technology and functionality that is familiar with the client and then moves on to later stages, where this can be moved onto a chat platform, with new AI capabilities, to make the menu experience richer and more intelligent.

The company does not release bot solutions without a chat desk. “Our solutions come with a chat desk - which means a human agent that can take over seamlessly from the bot.”

De Villiers is confident that Africa will not remain static in terms of innovation, while it familiarises itself with the application of AI, chatbot technology and commerce platforms.

The company stresses that its mission is not to simply sell product, its mission is to get customers to secure a zero-hold time for customers, for example.

“We believe it is possible that within eighteen months to get a consumer brand to a zero call centre hold time, that is reality. We also believe strongly that no consumer brand actually wants to put their customer on hold.”

De Villiers is confident that Africa will not remain static in terms of innovation, while it familiarises itself with the application of AI, chatbot technology and commerce platforms.

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