Executing an effective customer communication strategy can be a challenge for brands today.

Many times, exceptional customer service is limited by the capabilities of the service delivery channels: email, social media, intermediaries and call centers to name a few.

With an explosion of new communication channels available, finding the right omnichannel approach for companies requires constant reinvention.

Understanding Customer Expectations

In the 1990s, IVR or Interactive Voice Response systems were introduced as a way for companies to better manage and automate customer service, provide customers with a way to access information, and save time and money.

Today these systems have become so common customers expect to encounter an IVR robot and often dread the experience — as they deal with long hold times, dropped calls, inter-departmental transfers, and inefficient service.

Customers today expect to communicate with brands on their own terms, in real-time, via their preferred channels.

They’re also more self-reliant and better informed than ever before. From online portals and live chat to social media and mobile messaging, they want control of how they communicate with brands, while also having the ability to self-service.

Improving Customer Satisfaction

Brands that offer customers a choice of self-service options, while also providing a seamless connected experience when moving between channels, rate the highest in terms of customer satisfaction.

In fact, 60 percent of consumers have a more favorable view of a brand if their self-service offering is mobile-responsive, according to Microsoft’s 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report, which compiles the views of 4,000 customers from Brazil, Japan, the UK and the US.

Today self-service is more common than ever as consumers use their smartphone and mobile apps to conveniently access information, make payments, schedule appointments, book travel, and find answers to customer support questions.

And yet the experience is far from perfect — and further reinvention is clearly needed.

Gaps in Customer Service Interactions

Service interactions with brands shouldn’t require multiple online searches, waiting on hold with call centers, or a clumsy toggling between apps.

These gaps in the customer experience have led brands across industries to tap into mobile messaging in a bigger way as the preferred communication platform for consumers. As brands look to meet the demand of 24/7, real-time customer service, opportunities for intelligent automation with chatbots also become a natural fit.

Here are several examples of how brands across industries have reinvented their customer experience by embracing digital self-service, mobile messaging and intelligent automation:

Insurance

With 97 percent of smartphone owners sending and receiving mobile messages on a regular basis (according to the Pew Research Center), brands are meeting customers where they are and reaping the benefits.

In fact, the average mobile messaging or SMS campaign is seven-times more effective than an email campaign. As a result, many insurance companies are skipping mobile apps or portals altogether by providing an SMS or mobile messaging system that customers can use to file claims, manage their billing, text for quotes, respond to surveys and receive promotional offers.

Healthcare

In the healthcare industry, providers have also tapped into the value of self-service. A survey by 451 Research revealed “87 percent of customers would prefer to use a visual IVR to complete their appointment scheduling requests faster and be able to seamlessly transfer to a live person without having to repeat their information.”

Additionally, customers tend to show a higher preference for mobile click-to-chat options, especially when these options reduce hold times, limit the number of times they have to repeat information, and don’t result in being transferred to multiple representatives.

Chatbots are already being developed for the healthcare industry and show some promise. One example is the HealthTap chatbot, which responds to users with physician provided answers to their medical questions. The bot shows how live messaging technology can help healthcare providers keep patients happy and to cut down on hospital and office wait times.

Financial Services

Financial services are also finding ways to build customer loyalty and enhance the overall customer experience by implementing self-service options. If you think of online banking via a PC as digital banking 1.0, and use of mobile apps to deposit checks and make payments as digital banking 2.0, then the upcoming use of transactional mobile messaging, chatbots and AI could very well be version 3.0.

Just as live chat and self-service have become commonplace in online banking, chatbots can help banks automate customer experience through messaging.

This is a huge benefit of mobile self-service, where the limitation of screen size makes searching less user-friendly. When done on a secure mobile messaging platform, chatbots can also handle transactions, including balance inquiries and funds-transfers typical of online and mobile banking sessions.

Travel

Self-service in the travel industry, as with healthcare and financial services, was originally put into place in an effort to cut down on wait times and the number of agents required to assist customers.

Today it’s used to avoid lines altogether as passengers use their mobile devices to check in, drop off their bags, board flights, and order in-flight entertainment and meals. Adoption of self-service tools by travelers has been rapid enough that the airline industry expects to have three in every five passengers checking in to airports with their mobile phones by 2018.

While airlines have been slow to adopt mobile messaging and chatbots, travel booking sites Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia.com have developed and launched their own chatbots to help users research and book hotels, flights, and more all within a single chat session.

Becoming More Conversational as a Brand

No matter which industry you look at, the roll out of self-service options and intelligent automation via chatbots stands to redefine the customer experience while also acting as a key differentiator for large brands and enterprises.

And delivering a seamless, secure way for customers to message with your brand or businesses is key.

Clearly consumers today don't want to use the same chat app they use for friends for private, business interactions.

As a result, adoption of banking, healthcare and insurance on social chat apps has been relatively slow. Likewise most businesses aren’t interested in using a social messaging service such as WhatsApp for commerce — especially given the recent privacy concerns.

The future is bright, but continuing reinvention with self-service and intelligent automation is needed to truly deliver on the promise of the conversational web.

Title image by Cliff Johnson