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Op-ed: Intelligent Customer Engagement

By: Murray Gardiner, MD of Bluecode Africa

The customer is always mobile. This is the adage that defines customer engagement today thanks to ubiquitous smartphone penetration and ownership, particularly on the African continent. In Nigeria, one of Africa’s most populated countries, Statista predicts that smartphone users are expected to exceed 140 million in under five years. In South Africa, the volume of smartphone users is expected to grow another five million by 2023 with more than 90 million connections and 22 million smartphone users in the country today.

The challenge that lies ahead for merchants and mobile operators is to adapt strategies and approaches to ensure that they maintain and manage customer engagement within these markets, leveraging accessible and relevant solutions that deliver value.

The Merchant Mobile Apps: Much More Than Payments report released in early 2020, found that consumers are using their mobile devices to enhance their management of financial transactions and online shopping. The customer wants to work with applications that go beyond the basics. They want apps that have integrated features, that create experiences, that have loyalty systems embedded, and that support their long-term purchasing activity. The report highlights one particularly relevant point – that the mobile app has gone beyond the device and the functionality and become the hub of customer engagement with the merchant, network operator and retail sector.

Considering that customer usage of mobile devices to pay for goods and services has increased dramatically over the past year, intelligent apps designed to leverage customer engagement are key to fully realising the potential of the market. It has become imperative that merchants strengthen customer relationships by giving customers solutions that meet their needs in a dramatically changing landscape. The global pandemic has played no small part in changing how customers and companies manage their digital transactions and payments. According to Bain, the increased demand for digital payments has made the market far more competitive and has introduced fresh challenges for merchants to overcome.

Digital payment solutions have to be capable of adapting to changing customer needs and behaviours. The Bain report found that merchants will need to increase their acceptance for digital payments and adopt a more flexible omnichannel approach in order to take advantage of the rising tide of digital payments. While this report focuses on the global market, it is as relevant in Africa as more and more people turn to digital and cashless to avoid personal risk and queues. So, what is best practice? What should the merchant be looking for?

The answer lies in the digital payment ecosystem. An ecosystem that assures the customer of exceptional service and delivers on one of the most important premises of 2020 – trust. Security, transparency and transaction visibility are key to ensuring that customers trust in the merchant and the solution. Equally, it is important for any digital payment platform to put the merchant at the heart of engagement – to provide them with value-added extras that help them to manage their business more effectively, and to increase customer loyalty.

Digital payments are more than just the transaction. They are the loyalty points gathered and the loyalty engendered. They are the confidence in the security that ensure that customers trust, and they are the convenience that afford customers from all parts of society to engage in digital payments and better quality financial services. They are also the extremely useful solutions that can be used to engage with customers in new markets, minimise fraud, open up gateways to better quality services, and empower formal and informal businesses with services that streamline operations and financial accountability.

Merchants need a multi-faceted payment solution that can be used to link payments from any funding source, linked to customer loyalty tools and lifestyle; that can be used to increase payment touchpoints across multiple surfaces such as vending machines or self-service checkouts; and that allows for the development of digital value-added services that change how customers engage with the business. This level of app-based engagement and utility allows for far richer customer journeys and interactions that can be customised and managed to suit business and market. This is the future of the digital transaction, one that can evolve and adapt to the changing world while offering both customers and merchants the trust, visibility and capability that they have come to expect from the digital revolution.

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