API-focused communication company Nexmo has released a new Chat App API. The new API is aimed at helping development teams and creative agencies working with brands to leverage the ubiquity of chat apps to enhance brand-to-customer communications.
The new Chat App API will initially work with the WeChat and Line chat apps, with plans to extend the API to additional chat apps used by end users.
“We work with the aggregation of telco carriers worldwide, and we have built the one API that enables brands to send messages and reach their customers over API whatever the carrier network,” explains Chris Moore, VP of Chat App API Business at Nexmo.
“So now we are taking exactly the same approach with chat apps. We have relationships with all of the top chat apps,” Moore says. “Business are tripping over themselves saying we need this — this is definitely how I see the world progressing.”
Moore sees chat apps as a more reliable way to communicate with end customers than SMS text, especially throughout Asia and Europe where chat apps have become the norm. He gives an example of an airline wanting to alert passengers to changes in flight information or gate changes. This is usually done by email or SMS, but Moore says:
“The chat app is much more reliable. You can start to have two-way communication. You will initially see this on the customer-care side for things like flights, that’s what will initially evolve over these channels, and then it will move into marketing.”
Moore cites research showing chat apps are growing at a rate of 300% per year. The initial two partnerships for the Nexmo Chat App API are with Line and WeChat.
Statista calculates that, as of October last year, chat app Line counted 560 million users.
For the Chinese chat app WeChat, usage is estimated at around 500 million active users.
A range of industries are currently reorienting their internal processes to ensure that customer relationship management (CRM) is the spine of their operations. This has been driven by international Internet and mobile use, the explosive potential of APIs to connect data sources and create a 360-degree view of the customer, and a changing culture where companies are recognizing the need to scale a personal engagement with their customers as part of maintaining their brand reputation in a global marketplace.
Companies recognize the core tool for this to happen is their CRM database. But for end customers, the main interface for their mobile and personal communications is the chat app, according to Moore. So for brands to be successful, they must link their CRM with chat apps to be where their customers want to interact.
“That’s the overall concept. The challenge for brands today is that they have one-off direct connections. They are asking us ‘Can you just give my CRM platform one API that I can then have our customer care service use with any chat apps.’
Brands all have call centers with customers coming in to one central point and they want to manage that conversation with the customer. That’s where the brands are interested in seeing the chat app used.
The potential for improving customer experiences could be huge if focused on this customer care. Brands could use a combination of APIs so that as customers request support, the brand links to their CRM record (by API), analyzes their request by text mining to quickly identify the most useful customer care support resources (by API), and even apply sentiment analysis (by API) to determine the priority order of response based on customer satisfaction. Using the chat app API, this could then all be funneled to a customer service staffer who could then resolve the customer’s issue promptly and efficiently.
That could be great.
Where it gets more dicey is the next two use cases that Moore describes: marketing and sales.
Moore is confident that brands are mature enough to build out from customer service use cases so that where a marketing and sales focus is applied, it is aligned with the interests of customers. The recent spate of poorly data-driven retargeting strategies being seen by many may suggest that this is a fairly optimistic view. A study in October last year found that 55% of consumers are put off by overzealous retargeting by brands who already know a little about their potential customers’ interests, with viewers often becoming angry at the brand as a result. Can brands manage the move to engaging customers directly over a chat app without being creepy or endlessly spamming?
Moore says there are safeguards built into the API structure to prevent this. He explains:
“Over the last three months, I have seen a much more openness to discuss the marketing channel potential in the chat apps. We have a fair amount of control to make sure you will not spam your customers, so we are seeing more interest. If you look at the landscape at the moment, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, and IBM have all built a marketing cloud, a sales cloud, and a service cloud. From an end-user perspective, a brand has to have all three of those functions on their PC to get that to work. Now the chat app is a perfectly positioned UI to work across this. But it does need to be an intelligent tool to identify whether the conversation is a customer-care or a marketing-type chat.”
While Moore expects other chat apps to come on board soon as they open up their APIs, he also acknowledges there won’t be one particular chat app joining in: WhatsApp is staying true to their recent decision not to release an API, so there will be no brand communications on that app.
“WhatsApp is so focused on the person-to-person growth of their app they don’t want to lose that focus. So Facebook Messenger will be the channel for access to commercial use cases, for now,” confirms Moore.
Developers working with brands (either in-house or via dev shops and creative agencies) can register for access.