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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 11, 2024 • Issue 24:03:01

Payments orchestration through the maestro's lens

By Dale S. Laszig

Orchestration had been on trend for at least a decade in the tech sector when IBM unveiled watsonx Orchestrate. In a May 9, 2023, blog post, "The AI Assistant for everyone: watsonx Orchestrate combines generative AI and automation to boost productivity," IBM co-authors Steven Brasil and Parul Mishra envisioned the AI platform conducting a workplace symphony. "What if employees had the ability to effortlessly delegate time-consuming tasks, access information seamlessly through simple inquiries, and tackle complex projects within a single, streamlined application?" they wrote. "What if customers had access to an intelligent, friendly virtual agent to provide answers and enable self-service experiences around the clock?"

The watsonx Orchestrate platform can manage multiple tasks simultaneously, from "creating a job description or pulling a report in Salesforce to sourcing candidates and generating sales offers, all driven by intuitive natural language," the authors noted.

Payments orchestration

Kate Hampton, chief strategy officer for NMI, considered orchestration's role in the payments industry, where harmonized technologies are vital to the merchant and customer experience. "The fact is that with more merchant accounts being enabled through software, orchestration is becoming the norm," she said. "A sign of orchestration done right is if it's undetectable to both the merchant and the consumer.

A sign of orchestration done poorly is if either the merchant or the consumer experiences friction." Hampton noted that payments are complex, and payments infrastructure providers frequently create generic products that address many use cases instead of creating solutions that deliver unique experiences. By contrast, she added, providers could enrich the customer experience, she said, by choosing technology partners that offer flexibility, modularity and choice.

One-to-many integrations

Ruston Miles, founder and CEO of Payfactory, agreed that partners, especially those with orchestration skills, are key to successful payments integrations. "An orchestration provider allows the software company to do a one-to-many integration—and considering that there are over 400 payment gateways, hundreds of processors and dozens of independent token providers, this is a huge benefit in terms of time and money," he said. "It also reduces risk from an architectural perspective and avoids lock-in to one vendor."

Miles added that one-to-many integrations enable software companies to support many payment gateways and processors without having to be in a continuous development cycle, and without having to build their own recurring billing engine or code to every gateway for tokenization. "Orchestration also allows the software company to separate certain payment business logic from a gateway," he said. "For example, if you use recurring payments in one gateway but want to switch to another, you can transport payments logic in that first gateway to the next gateway without having to do completely new integrations."

Merchant services orchestration

Allen Kopelman, CEO and co-founder of Nationwide Payment Systems, mentioned that software and partners have become critical to merchant services. "Much has changed since we started our ISO in 2001," he said. "We used to overnight merchant apps with yellow, white, pink and blue copies to processors, with voided checks, merchant statements and polaroid pictures." Kopelman recalled that multilayered paper applications were replaced by multilayered security and tech, and today's merchant signups are mostly digital. Merchants email applications directly to underwriting, and sales techniques have also changed; savvy ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) make the sale about technology first and price second, he added.

He advised ISOs and MLSs to choose partners wisely and hold up their end of the bargain by being reliable, trustworthy partners. He also advised them to be creative and keep looking for new ways to delight employees, customers and partners.

Customer journey orchestration

Alfred (Chip) Kahn IV, founder and CEO at OvationCXM, stated his company is focused on the customer journey, end to end, and uses customer journey mapping to manage customer expectations across multiple channels and touchpoints.

"Customer journey mapping looks at a journey from the customer's perspective and works backward," he said. "It is an exercise in which an organization and third-party partners come together to document every touchpoint, channel, platform, and team that engages with a customer at every point in a journey to capture pain points and gain points that occur."

More often than not, Kahn stated, enterprises are organized around functional teams and external provider ecosystems that help launch products and services into the market quickly; however, there is not a unified thread between these parties or a consistent way of delivering CX and the customers feel that.

Kahn believes the goal of customer journey mapping is to learn how it feels for a customer to engage with an organization and use that knowledge to prevent friction points and frustrations. The process highlights areas in need of improvement, which helps companies manage expectations and drive visibility to a customer, even with multiple parties engaged in each step, he said.

Third-party synchronization

When asked how he would advise industry stakeholders to manage multiple partners and touchpoints to create a seamless, frictionless journey, Kahn suggested synchronizing communications across organizations and departments to make everyone, including third-party partners, feel like they're part of the team.

"Creating real-time synchronization between all of the organizations that touch the customer with a common platform to see, communicate and collaborate in real-time drives significant revenue growth and cost savings, including a 25 percent reduction in operating expenses, 20 percent drop in attrition and 10 percent increase in revenue," he said.

Additionally, turning third-party partners into members of an internal team provides a huge advantage when servicing a customer in the moment, Kahn added, noting it's all part of providing customers with a unified, horizontal view across a vertically organized enterprise and giving the teams inside those verticals and third-party partners that same visibility to know what's happening at every step. Best of all, he added, enterprises do not have to reorganize to deliver a great experience.

Marketing orchestration

Filippa Noghani, assistant vice president, marketing for SoftServe and board member and marketing chair, for NYC Fintech Women, said orchestration is a valuable tool for driving awareness and amplifying brand messaging across all channels. "Brand awareness is foundational, but marketing goes from good to great when you can follow the multitouch engagement points," she said. "It's incremental, where each element in a campaign contributes to building a successful worldview that allows a prospect to see themselves as your client and it's powerful when you witness the connections."

Recalling a chance encounter during a sporting event in New York City, Noghani said someone had recognized her from LinkedIn. "Just earlier that day, she had recommended us to her boss," she said. "Fast-forward to the present, where we are in conversations with them about providing technology solutions. I'd call that having the bases loaded and hitting a home run."

Generational orchestration

Noghani underscored the need for unified messaging among all partners. Few things derail a marketing campaign faster than contrary partner messaging, she added, stating that messaging maps can help multiple partners know the core value proposition and the "why," while helping them use language that ensures cohesiveness and continuity. "As a millennial, I'm aware of my generation's lack of financial literacy," she said, pointing out that nearly 60 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and just 51 percent have more credit card debt than the necessary cushion of an emergency savings account. "I felt a deep sense of direction as I worked with our technology team at SoftServe to develop a Gen AI avatar that financial institutions could use to educate customers about financial wellbeing," she added.

SoftServe built a campaign around the mission of financial literacy and saw it go live at Money20/20 in 2023. The campaign, Noghani noted, inspired clients to deploy the technology and will hopefully inspire other fintechs seeking ways to align with banks and capture revenue from a growing number of millennial and GenZ customers.

These up-and-coming generations have a pragmatic approach to money and place importance on ethics and corporate responsibility; however, while payments and financial literacy are serious business, you can still mix things up and have a little fun, she pointed out.

Timeless, priceless orchestration

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer and healthcare president for Mastercard, reminisced in an Oct. 22, 2022, blog post, "Marking 25 years of Priceless," about the company’s Priceless campaign's ability to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

"We've transformed the Priceless ad campaign into a long-lasting, multi-dimensional marketing platform that reflects our ongoing company evolution and the changing world around us," he wrote. "We went from celebrating priceless moments to curating priceless moments to sparking priceless movements, actively connecting people to their passions and to each other. We do it across channels, around the world and, yes, even in the metaverse, bringing Priceless to more people than previously possible."

Looking ahead to next-generation applications and deployments, NMI's Hampton positioned orchestration as more journey than destination. Along the way, she said, technology providers need to avoid monolithic systems that will be unable to support their future aspirations, no matter how ambitious. "Future optionality is what makes or breaks a great business," she added. end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and founder and CEO at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. Connect via email dale@dsldirectllc.com, LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/dalelaszig/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/DSLdirect.

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