By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)
There is an advertisement by an insurance company I’ve heard several times recently in which the announcer is reading ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Adulting’. It starts with the all-important ‘you must wear pants’ and ends with the necessity of having an insurance plan. But it’s the tip shared between those two that caught my attention – you can make calls with your smartphone.
This is, of course, a humorous way of trying to sell insurance policies, but it also hits on an important societal trend that has shifted the way we communicate with each other. For many, texting is often quicker, easier and more efficient than making a phone call and has become the preferred way to keep in contact with each other. The introduction and subsequent global adoption of messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, has further solidified this change in communication preferences. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are poised to continue to grow in popularity in 2017. In fact, statistics released by GlobalWebIndex in their final quarterly report last year show that WhatsApp is the most frequently used social platform with nearly 60% of its users online more than once a day.
These changes in communication preferences and habits are also impacting expectations when it comes to customer service and support. Consumers, now used to getting fast, efficient responses in their personal communications, are looking for the same speed and ease in their engagements with businesses. And as more and more companies and brands offer support on digital channels such as messaging platforms, customers will increasing come to expect the same from ALL organisations. This reality helped drive the renewed interest in chatbots from customer experience and marketing professionals in the wake of Facebook’s big announcement of bots for Messenger last year. Chatbot and virtual agent technology offers a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support to customers on these platforms.
This isn’t to say that the phone call is completely gone from our personal or customer service communications. There is a generational gap in preferences with digitally native Millennials gravitating away from the phone, but older generations still consistently opting to make a call as their first point of contact. Yet in some situations, even those who would typically turn to self-service or digital channels prefer to make a phone call or understand that their query needs to be escalated so they can speak with a contact centre agent. This is important for organisations to acknowledge because it highlights the necessity of having a tightly integrated support experience. Offering a standalone chatbot solution on Facebook Messenger may be ok for providing some basic self-service on that platform, but what happens when a customer has a more complex question that needs to be escalated to live chat or a phone call?
Let’s back up a little. The first step is for organisations to accept that customer experience is a key (if not THE key) to remaining competitive and to commit to offering engagement options to customers where they are, particularly in the online channels. Then organisations need to find out where their customers are and identify what digital channels may be missing from their existing customer support strategy. In 2017, that’s likely to be messaging platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat. Before jumping on the messaging app chatbot bandwagon, organisations need to carefully consider how this channel fits with their overall customer experience and select a chatbot solution that will allow for it to be properly integrated with other channels and support options, such as live chat.
The infiltration of messaging platforms into our everyday digital interactions isn’t something that organisations can afford to ignore. In fact, this communication channel offers huge potential for companies to improve engagement and deepen conversations with customers. Organisations need to be smart about their strategy though, and approach it with the appropriate planning and thought to create positive, loyalty-building experiences for customers.