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Don’t Call Me, I’ll Message You

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.

 social platforms


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.

Messaging Apps: Over 3 Billion Users and Counting

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Times are a-changin’. After a transatlantic phone call with me several years ago, my now 94-year-old grandfather marvelled to my parents about how clear the line was and how easy it was to understand what I was saying. It was nothing like the international calls he used to get from his sister many, many years earlier! Compare that with the expectations of my 4-year-old niece. I recently had to explain to her what a payphone is (or was!). For her, it’s normal to be able to FaceTime with me even if we have the Atlantic Ocean between us.

Technology is changing and so is the way we communicate with each other. There certainly is a generational change taking place. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are quickly growing in popularity. A recent Forrester report identified the top three apps as being WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with more than 1 billion active users each, and WeChat with 806 million active users. Users are increasingly turning to these and other messaging apps to communicate with each other. While one study found that consumers currently prefer SMS over messaging apps for communicating with businesses (see chart below), the results showed that they are also open to engaging with companies through these platforms too.

Mobile messaging with businesses

So why should organisations care? According to Forrester’s The Future of Messaging Apps report, messaging apps combine the three keys to powerful digital relationships: frequency of use, emotional connection and convenience. This makes them a prime channel to deepen conversations with customers. In China, a typical customer in a metro area spends 10.4 hours a week using WeChat and over half of them open the app more than 10 times per day. Messaging apps are also achieving some of the highest interaction rates for both UK and US customers according to Forrester. Brands would be foolish to ignore this opportunity to allow customers to engage with them through these platforms.

Earlier this year Facebook created a buzz with their announcement of chatbots to allow businesses to deliver automated service and support to customers through Facebook Messenger. While technologies such as natural language processing, machine learning, AI and semantic search are currently viewed as being part of a separate market, Forrester sees them as blurring the lines between messaging apps and chatbots in the future. With the popularity of apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, it’s likely that these will be the platforms where customers will cultivate their expectations of AI-based tools, such as intelligent virtual agents.

Chatbots and virtual agents are perfect tools for offering self-service through both messaging apps and SMS. For companies already providing these solutions on other channels such as their website, it’s a no brainer to extend the virtual agent to a messaging platform. By using the same knowledgebase, organisations create consistency across channels and eliminate the cost and time involved with maintaining separate tools. For companies not currently offering a virtual agent, messaging apps are a great way to introduce customers to self-service chatbots. And because the same knowledgebase can be used for self-service across other customer contact channels, they can quickly and easily deploy their conversational virtual agent to those channels to create a consistent experience and maximise their investment.

Companies do need to be careful though when selecting a chatbot solution for platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Deploying a siloed solution that’s not integrated with other systems can be detrimental to the ultimate goal of providing a seamless, omnichannel experience. The five point checklist Choosing a Virtual Agent Solution for Instant Messaging Platforms and SMS outlines some important questions for organisations to ask before adding a chatbot to these channels.

As Forrester analyst Thomas Husson writes on his blog, “Messaging apps will introduce a paradigm shift for marketers where interactive and contextual conversations will replace ad broadcasting. New conversational interfaces will drive deeper relationships between consumers and brands.” Times are a-changin’ and organisations that don’t change with them are going to be left in the dust.