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‘Conversational Artificial Intelligence shaping consumer behaviour’

Ravi Sundararajan, the Chief Operating Officer of GUPSHUP, a conversational engagement platform, spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on how Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) is helping businesses align with changing consumer behaviour, and improve business-to-consumer communication. He talks about how Conversational AI is fast allowing businesses to provide a more personalised experience to customers.

What are the latest trends in customer experience and business-to-customer (B2C) communication?

Currently, in the aftermath of the pandemic, people have changed the way they interact with enterprises and brands. Earlier, the interactions were more physical or in-person. But now, it’s mostly digital. Consumer habits have changed, and brands have had to adapt on three dimensions: personalisation, two-way interaction and always on service/engagement. Now, brands must go where their consumers are. If they are using WhatsApp, brands need to establish digital storefronts on WhatsApp; if they are using Instagram, then brands must reach out to them and connect on Instagram.

GUPSHUP launched Instagram for commerce solution six months ago in emerging markets. It has been a huge success. We already have 12 key brands using us in various geographies. For some countries in Southeast Asia, consumers prefer engaging with brands online; in some countries like China, it’s WeChat. In some countries, it’s Facebook Messenger, so we offer all that. The platform covers over 30 channels.

Using conversational AI, you can personalise these shopping experiences, catering to every customer. Everybody wants to have a personal shopping experience online so that’s the huge change – personalization, interactivity, always on – enabled by conversational AI, which is characterized by conversational bots/chatbots in a truly omnichannel manner.

How is AI helping businesses generally, looking at it from your perspective?

A good example is a big retailer we worked with during the festive season last October. WhatsApp had just come up with conversational marketing, which is pre-purchase journeys, where you can market your products. So, what they did used to do earlier was engage people via their website and measure engagement through metrics like log-ins with click-through rates. We recommended using a WhatsApp for commerce solution powered by conversational AI and data science. So, based on the user’s personal shopping experience, abandoned carts, among others, we studied the patterns and created some offers, like price drop alerts and more, based on personalised shopping experiences. We were able to use AI and data science to send personalized offers to consumers. So, people engaged more and the sales increased. So, because of the combination of being able to work with them to recommend this, they were able to get more than half a million dollars in sales from WhatsApp commerce by personalised recommendations using conversational AI, and personalised interactivity that we did for their shoppers in the month of October.

Still on AI, how is the backend operation data/information movement from sender to receiver?

Some of it is information that the user discloses voluntarily, i.e. brands have users’ consent. One way is structured AI. It is structured with simple questions and answers; you collect information from your consumers, in this case, if the sender is an enterprise, they collect the information of the users.

Another is National Language Processing (NLP), where the intelligence is natural. So, the bots develop an information library through repeated interactions and understand consumers’ preferences by the kind of things they do online. The bots let the consumers drive, then make some recommendations for the users. But it’s a combination of structured AI and NLP, and all of these things rely on interaction between the consumer and the brand/enterprise. They collect this information through interaction and develop intelligence over time, which aids personalisation.

I need you to talk more about the importance of the African market-cum-Nigeria?

It is very important because we understand emerging markets; that’s one of our differentiators compared to others. Our USP is our access/proximity to cutting edge innovation and technology developments in the US/Silicon Valley combined with our deep expertise and experience of operating and succeeding in emerging markets. So we bring the best of product innovation and market knowledge to businesses.

90 per cent of our revenues come from India. While we will continue to consolidate our market leadership in India, we are aggressively investing in emerging markets – like Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America – for our next phase of growth.

Over the last 12-18 months, we have been focusing on international expansion and growth. And that’s why we acquired Dotgo, a leading provider of rich communication services (RCS). For Dotgo, the biggest market in Africa is Nigeria. In terms of business potential for us, Nigeria is as big as India, so we think it’s going to be huge. We already started and have a couple of million dollars in revenue right now in Nigeria, selling SMS and WhatsApp solutions. We expect this to ramp up quite significantly over the next 12 months.

How secure is the GUPSHUP platform in receiving and making use of customers’ data?

I think one of the reasons why a lot of enterprises trust the platform is because we use advanced security, modern digital technology infrastructure and scale. We handle nine billion plus messages every month. We place huge importance on data security and privacy. We fully comply with all local and global regulations in every market we operate in, including Nigeria. We have encryption at various levels that are based on enterprise requirements. Plus, some of the messaging channels, like WhatsApp, ensure end-to-end encryption.

What is the experience working in Nigeria compared to other markets in Africa?

Our experience in Nigeria has been very positive and encouraging. We have increased our sales to keep pace with market demand and better serve our customers in the region. We also have an expansive support team and we work closely with leading telcos like MTN Nigeria, where we have direct connections for SMS and voice. We have created a partnership ecosystem with various operators, which we continue to scale.

How will you rate technology adoption in Nigeria compared to other parts of the world?

Technology adoption has been growing in Nigeria, which is more of a mobile-first market. A lot of people use WhatsApp as one of their main apps. The gateway to the Internet or the digital ecosystem is through apps like WhatsApp. We continue to see greater appetite among both businesses as well as consumers in general for more modern technology adoption and usage.

Today, 65 per cent of our revenue comes from conversational marketing and commerce. Before September 2021, 90 per cent of our revenue was from conversational support. So today, we offer business the full suite of conversational marketing, conversational commerce and support solutions. In Nigeria, we already work with many banks and other institutions, and using our solutions, they have been able to increase their revenues.

How is your kind of business impacting the lives of ordinary people on the streets?

To reach every consumer, for example, if some of them are using SMS in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, we have to reach them on WhatsApp or whatever platforms they use. We have connections with the most common operators, as well as the best connectivity. We are enabling businesses to deliver updates on transactions or product insight, or any information that they want; they would be able to get that very fast within a few seconds. We are able to deliver messages very quickly, because we are working with the operators. That is why banks are using us; we have the technology to deliver things very fast.

The second thing is if they’re using certain channels like WhatsApp or anything else to access the digital gateway, they’re able to provide information using images, graphics, videos, voice, to converse with their brands. They’re able to give consumers the best service that they want from the enterprises they work with. They’re able to interact, get more information, be more educated about these brands, products, or enterprises. We partner with a lot of the local ecosystem through operators or application providers. So, we are able to give them the best service that they can get in terms of support from the brands that they interact with or the enterprises that they work with on any information that they want from online.

Ultimately, our vision is to make business-to-consumer communication as easy as chatting with friends and family. Accordingly, we’re investing in technology innovation and product-led growth.


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