Data analytics has become a big game changer for brands: Udit Agarwal

Nearly 700 million Indians use the Internet regularly. Indians make digital payments and engage in e-commerce worth around 350 million (as per IAMAI). In fact, during the pandemic period, this number of users involved in online transactions increased more than 2X from 230 million in India in 2019.

This rapid rise in the use of the Internet and changing customer expectations (speed, transparency, privacy, etc.) have brought into even sharper focus the role of customer experience as a strategic differentiator for brands.

In an exclusive conversation with Adgully, Udit Agarwal, VP and Global Head of Marketing, Exotel, speaks at length about customer engagement trends and how Exotel is helping brands build a world of connections for a strategic advantage.

How has the landscape changed for brands post COVID-19?

The pandemic significantly increased adoption of e-commerce platforms in the country. Consumers who were previously hesitant towards online shopping and making online payments have now wholeheartedly accepted the phenomenon. From payment, to ordering and delivery, to customer engagement, business processes have moved almost entirely online. India has left many advanced economies behind in IT-enabled business practices. The use of AI and Machine Learning has become an integral part of business processes.

The massive flux in online shopping and online interactions with businesses has created a pressing need for brands to have efficient systems for customer communications across voice, SMS and WhatsApp. Businesses which have implemented remote or hybrid working practices just cannot do without adopting cloud-based solutions that not only help service their clients, but also offer privacy and security.

Today, customers are spoilt for choice like never before, and businesses which have been able to service them have a distinct advantage.

What are the key customer engagement trends to look out for?

Customer expectations have moved into an altogether different territory post-COVID. They have gotten used to faster deliveries, variety in products, easy payment methods, and expect 24/7 redressal of any concerns.

There are a few trends that will stand out in the near future. Data analytics, we believe, has become a big game changer. Through the use of Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), which act as aggregators that track activities across customer touchpoints, one can develop robust customer profiles that provide detailed insights into consumer behaviour. These tools provide a high degree of accuracy in predicting future trends, which are the basis of creating focused and targeted campaigns, as well as customising products and services.

The other trend that businesses need to be smart about is being ‘omnichannel’. Web, brick, logistic-agility, social media presence – are all essential for a business to flourish. Businesses will have to ensure a strong presence in multiple spaces – be they physical or virtual.

Advances in telephony have also made it essential for businesses to be agile about their communications strategies. AI-enabled chatbots will need to supplement voice-only calls in sales and marketing practices. Advancements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology will drive this change and allow for seamless customer interactions. We believe that bots will be an important part of the customer journey going forward, acting as companions to human agents to enhance customer support. In the post-pandemic world, there has been an irrational exuberance about AI-enabled solutions doing away with human intervention in support activities altogether. At Exotel, the belief is that they will become a more prominent tool in the customer engagement space, but are not meant to substitute human interaction.

The first customer contact will be a bot, further assisted by chats with humans and then, if required, a call with the customer service agent. We envisage that in the future, the communication between the customer and company will be seamless, frictionless and move across channels: SMS, messaging apps, voice and video.

Customer engagement is an essential marketing tool. What are the pitfalls that brands should therefore avoid?

‘Notification fatigue’ is a real challenge when it comes to customer engagement. Too many messages, emails and pop-up notifications irk customers, who are already stretched for time and attention due to information overload. However, the old adage ‘out of sight is out of mind’, is also true. Ensuring an optimum mix of being visible, but not intrusive is extremely important.

Privacy concerns should also be kept in mind, not just from the point of view of data protection laws, but increasing customer awareness and demand for transparent business operations.

Navigating this maze can be difficult not just for start-ups, but also for legacy businesses – sometimes even more so for the latter. Professional expertise and guidance on how best to use the latest technology and tools is absolutely essential.

What can brands do to prepare for the festive surge?

After 2 years, the world is moving back to a semblance of normalcy. COVID-19 fatigue is finally wearing off, and with restrictions being removed, the exuberance amongst people to participate in festivities is evidently and clearly palpable.

The festive season necessitates e-commerce businesses to act with agility to target their audience better than their competition and have robust customer communications systems in place to handle the massive influx of engagements and enquiries. Every year, around this time, we see tremendous growth in activity with our clients in the last-mile delivery space.

With WhatsApp’s capabilities in handling business communications growing, brands must leverage the tool to be where their customers interact and build end-to-end commerce journeys through delivering personalised messages at scale.

It is also of utmost importance for brands to begin incorporating AI-powered tools in their CX suite to enable 24x7 support. Self-service bots prove to be useful in resolving simple demands and also may route customers to the right agent for more complex queries.

Please share some interesting cases of brands such as Ola, Swiggy and the role that Exotel has played in helping manage their customer engagement Exotel can be described as the Lego of communications. In simple words, what value does Exotel bring to brands, especially D2C brands?

Exotel enables customisation of customer engagement. As a full–stack customer engagement platform, Exotel has built business communication tools that justify the scale of various brands. The aim behind this was that companies must not lose any customers, due to inefficient strategies or unanswered calls or messages.

Our cloud-telephony solutions have benefited businesses like Swiggy, where speed of response is all important. Automated calls to restaurants once an order is placed; number-masking to ensure that even if a restaurant or a delivery agent needs to call the customer, their number remains private; and verifying Cash on Delivery Orders (CODs) to weed out bogus orders are just some of the solutions that Exotel has enabled for Swiggy.

Number masking was also an essential requirement for cab-aggregator Ola, and Exotel had the solution to ensure that while their drivers could call customers when required, they wouldn’t get to know the number that they were calling. Additionally, Exotel built a smart IVR solution for Ola, which enabled them to track that drivers were aware about new features, as well as fully cognizant with the training videos that Ola regularly shares with its driver partners.

We would say that we add value to the brand in the entire chain of customer engagement right from getting leads, to converting them into sales to sustaining customer loyalty for the company. We strive to help companies enjoy high brand equity in the market and interact with their clients in the best possible manner.


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