Sarah Keller is the Chief Global Enterprise Officer at Global Message Services (GMS), a messaging platform that provides enterprise solutions in SMS, WhatsApp, push notifications and chatbots, amongst other channels.

We asked Keller about the value of messaging for customer engagement, how brands can ensure consumer privacy, and the opportunities afforded by automation.

Image: Sarah Keller

Tell me about your role, what does a typical day look like for you?

My day is often full of meetings. I like to catch up with my Global Enterprise team and find out what we need to do to make today even better than yesterday. The enterprises that we work with are diverse, and have their own pain points, challenges, and requirements, and this makes our work exciting. I am motivated by constant development and am always eager to see the team push a bit further. I ensure that they have access to all the information that they need to stay motivated.

I also connect with colleagues from other departments to find out what they are doing, so that we do not work in isolation. This helps me understand the growth of GMS and the different areas in which we are moving forward. To stay connected with the industry, I make it a point to talk to at least three customers or competitors a day, even if it is for a brief hello or just to chat about their holidays or weekend plans. In our field, it is all about relationships.

What are some of the overarching benefits of messaging solutions for brands?

Conversational commerce enables brands to create more personalised experiences that lead to greater engagement, more positive brand sentiments, and happy and satisfied customers.

Adopting a conversational approach allows you to imitate the 1-1 interaction that you would have with your next-door small shop owner — someone whom you would chat with and whose friendly advice you would trust when making a purchase. This is what consumers of today seek. We are all tired of a bland, one-size-fits-all approach to advertising.

Conversational commerce gives brands a competitive edge, but it needs to be done correctly. To instil trust in your customers, transparency is key – and in 2023 that will matter more than ever. Enterprises need to partner with a messaging provider that guarantees the routing of messages between them and their customers, with either direct connections to operators or a network of audited partners. If your messaging provider does not offer full transparency on how it ensures your messages get to your customer, whose hands they pass through, the state they will arrive in and how the sender will be identified, it could be time to look for other options.

How can brands create a balance between consumer privacy and effective brand communication?

Business messaging carries a vast amount of data, and mobile network operators (MNOs) need to play an active role in ensuring subscriber privacy. They can share useful analytics such as read rates, time of message delivery, and other demographic information about the customer to boost engagement and retention. At the same time, they must ensure that all data shared is anonymised, leaving no room for a customer’s personal attributes or identity to be exposed. In this context, MNOs should see themselves as a bridge between the enterprise and their customers, providing access and ensuring privacy, not selling data.

However, the popularity of SMS as a channel has also attracted the attention of fraudsters, and fraud erodes consumer trust. Most MNOs see messaging protection as monetising messaging, but they need to go beyond the implementation of firewalls and pinpoint deeper problems. This requires manual work, testing, and real time intelligence that is best administered by specialists who can monitor their network 24/7. These specialists should use intelligence from multiple markets to anticipate emerging frauds and eliminate existing routing abuses that expose customer data to unauthorised access. Brands need to adopt a strategy that strikes a balance between effective brand communication with their customers, whilst also ensuring consumer privacy is protected.

What are some of the biggest challenges or mistakes brands make when it comes to customer engagement today?

Brands ideally should understand what the full customer journey looks like and what touchpoints the end user is expecting the communication to come in. So to me it is about not only understanding the behaviours and habits of customers, but also about the ability to predict their future actions.

What that kind of understanding allows is to pin-point the exact customer need at the right time, map it to the product or service and then communicate it over the right channel. This in turn reduces the amount of unwanted and unnecessary advertising content seen by the customers, therefore increasing their satisfaction, at the same time reducing ad spend for the brand. It’s a win-win.

We all know it is critical to have a clear understanding of customer profiles, their buyers’ journey, challenges, and pain points, as well as the optimal time and communication channel to engage with each customer. This may be segmented by age group, region of customer, and profession, for example. However, knowing how to get this information is more often than not the biggest challenge.

Sometimes enterprises don’t understand these issues themselves or are not aware of what can be done to improve their customer engagement. That’s why we see a growing need for a smarter solution that provides a holistic view of the customer themselves, based on data collected from multiple sources. This enables the enterprise to customise a bulk approach or even personalise each customer approach. With this information the enterprise can identify and engage via channels that suit their clients and thus improve engagement by sending the right message, in the right channel, at the right time. Such interactions delight customers which leads to better business results.

Can you give me any examples of how brands have generated success through messaging?

We have a banking client who approached us with a goal to increase traction for their mobile app among their customers.

We helped them achieve this by launching a campaign using bulk messaging (via Viber and SMS). In a three-month period, over six million messages were sent, registering an average conversion rate of 14% for Viber and 7% for SMS. The campaign exceeded initial expectations, and in just three months, downloads of the banking app rose by 50% while usage increased by 30%,

Access to the bank’s CRM allowed for more precise targeting, and this was one of the main reasons for the campaign’s success.

What trends or innovations do you think will shape your industry in the next 12 months?

As customers demand more direct conversations with brands, communication automation is becoming critical for efficient scale, and, consequently, business success.

As GMS, we are looking at introducing even smarter communication automation for customer care and human resources management purposes. Specifically, we’re looking at AI chatbots while driving and orchestrating conversations with the customers whenever they need it, and whenever they demand it.

In addition, SMS has always been an efficient and cost effective way of connecting with customers and most recently it has seen renewed interest as a method of communication. Indeed, multiple research suggests that SMS has the highest engagement of all communications channels with 98% of messages opened within 5 mins of receipt.  In short, SMS is a powerful, simple, fast, personal and cost-effective way to reach consumers.

What’s next for GMS?

2022 was a hugely successful year for GMS, and we look forward to greater growth in 2023. As a business, we keep a keen eye on the market to understand the developments, and create solutions to productise those to ensure that we are always ahead of enterprise needs so they can continue with their full engagements. We’re seeing trends, for example in gaming. Now the benefits of this are not only for the enterprise, but also for the mobile operator and the subscriber.