In the rapidly evolving world of customer service, new technologies rise and gain widespread adoption with breakneck speed. We’ve seen this pattern play out many times over the years, from the introduction of outsourced call centers to the emergence of business email for marketing, support, and billing. More recently, smart phones and instant messengers have widened the possibilities of frontend communications even further. Modern consumers are no longer limited to single-purpose interactions with their favorite brands. Instead, they can tap into a vast digital ecosystem that allows them to talk to talk to different businesses when and how they want – through social media, voice calls, and live chat. Despite the wide variety of options on the table, an increasing number of digital users have begun to gravitate towards massaging platforms as their channel of choice.
The Move to Personalization
Although technology helps to bring cost-efficiency, speed, and scalability to your help desk, customers are increasingly cognisant of the fact that a great portion of business interactions involve no human intervention at all. This has lead to wholesale rejection of the sort of rabid brand loyalty that drove mammoth corporations such as Coca Cola, Nike and Apple at their peak. Modern buyers are no longer willing to give their hard-earned dollars over to companies that treat them like just another segment. They want personalized customer service that is matched to their individual values, needs and preferences, and the best channel to do that by, is the one that's always in their pockets: instant messengers.
Across every industry, we’re seeing market-leading competitors that are willing to tailor their services to these requirements. From Amazon’s personalized product recommendations to Tesla’s customizable driving features, automation is being used to make businesses better for humans.
Instant Messengers are extremely effective in this regard. Statistics from Kissmetrics show that 44% of online customers prefer to have their questions answered by human beings, a further 79% indicate that live messaging is the fastest way to get responses to urgent queries. These figures illustrate that when it comes to engaging customers, understanding their concerns and developing rapport across a conversation, AI is still unable to match a well-trained customer service representative.
If you’re trying to identify the best places to connect with your audience then the messaging apps are probably your best bet. Over the past 5 years we’ve seen services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and China’s WeChat build massive user bases numbering in the hundreds of millions. In fact, instant messaging has replaced social networks as the most dominant communications channel for smartphone users.
Instant Messengers: More than Just Texting
A large part of this popularity is down to the increasing scope of these apps. For example, WeChat offers a wide range of services including: car and travel booking, e-payment, bank account management and e-commerce. Users can access all of these features through third-party business apps that are integrated directly into WeChat’s platform. Facebook, WhatsApp and Apple have followed suit by introducing developer tools that allow businesses to build customized conversational apps onto their existing messaging platforms.
So what does that mean in practice? More intuitive customer experiences for one. Imagine talking to a friend or family member about an exciting new tech gadget that you’ve been dying to purchase. Instead of navigating away from the tab to find the relevant product on Amazon, the messaging platform will connect you directly to an integrated app that allows you to purchase or share the product directly from the chat interface. What if you want to check out reviews for a specific restaurant? Well forget about navigating to Yelp, these review sites will be integrated into your messaging platform as well. So you will be able to research what other customers are saying about the eatery without any extra legwork.
How We Communicate
Another key to the popularity of these platforms is that they are simply better suited to the way we communicate today. Research from Open Market has shown that the vast majority of these individuals prefer texting to calling, because the former is far less disruptive. The same thing applies to brands. At least 83% of millennials say that they prefer to receive business communications through text, and that they would prefer to reach out to companies through these channels as well.
It makes sense. When consumers can get everything from entertainment to transportation on-demand, why would they want to wait around for customer service? With instant messaging, you don’t need to plan around call center timings, or wait patiently in queue while a customer service agent gets on the line. You can simply start a conversation any time you like, just as you would with a friend or family member. Digitally-native users understand that these initial prompts might not be answered within a couple of minutes or even a couple of hours, but they can be confident that their message will reach the right person and receive a response in due time.
What About Live Chat?
While live chat offers the same responsiveness and speed as instant messengers, these interactions are generally limited to a single webpage. So if you need to get a reply on a critical concern then you will need to keep the relevant browser tab open until all of your questions are satisfied. In other word, your ability to multi-task is severely limited. Now, think about how you usually conduct a Facebook messenger chat. Are you locked in for hours on end, or are you going about your usual duties as you wait for the conversation to progress? Agents too, can make use of this flexibility to handle several different customer interactions at the same time. Worse, what happens if the contact exits the page? Did you get their contact info? If not, they're likely gone for good.
This ability to conduct complex ongoing conversations is one of the key advantages of messaging platforms. With these services, you don’t have to waste time summarizing your entire case history to a new agent every time you initiate a customer service interaction because all of the relevant information is already accessible in the chat transcript.
The Tools to Do More
We’ve already touched on the integrated environment of modern instant messengers, when you take these capabilities and place them in the hands of a tech-savvy help desk representatives the possibilities are endless. Instead of guiding customers through a complicated booking process, or trying to set up a new account for a first-time service user, agents can leverage business-specific tools to perform a variety of tasks on behalf of the customer. Whether they need to book tickets, pull up specific products or send shipping notifications and other documents, all of these tasks can be completed instantaneously right from the chat interface.
One of the biggest drawbacks to messaging versus voice or in-person interactions was the lack of emotional appeal. While these channels might have been more time-consuming, they were also far better for communicating excitement or empathy. In a text-only conversation there is little room for inflection or tone, so you’re often left to rely on the exact content of each message which can create room for misinterpretation, especially when customers are already escalated from previous frustrations.
However, instant messengers have introduced a variety of interactive elements that help to resolve this problem. Most of these services now allow users to embed Gifs, images, videos, and emojis into the chat. Modern digital users are already highly familiar with these visual tools; they use them on social media, and reference them in the form of memes. They also make up an integral part of their regular conversations with friends and family members. If your customer service representatives are able to insert these elements into their interactions with customers then they can Visual tools can turn otherwise dry help desk queries into real rapport-building opportunities.
The best thing about messaging platforms is that they’re purpose-built for the modern operating environment. While email and even social media can suffer somewhat in the conversion from desktops to smartphones and tablets, messaging platforms suffer no such limitations. They are available everywhere, in the same format and are always seamlessly integrated. Whether you’re in your car, at a retail outlet, or relaxing at home you can communicate in exactly the same manner with your preferred brands. Instant messaging can also evolve to accommodate upcoming technologies. Smart devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home can directly convert voice commands into text on any messaging platform. For users, that means more options than ever before.
The Final Word
If we’re talking about making businesses more human than all of these capabilities are important. When you talk to your friends, you want to be able to engage at your leisure on a device of your choice. You want conversations to be multifaceted, casual, and intuitive. And you certainly don’t want to spend time repeating yourself every time you decide to send a text. Messaging platforms can help you deliver on all of these requirements, which is why they should become a key part of your customer service strategy.