a line of people on a train platform looking down at their phones, texting
PHOTO: Jens Johnsson

As mobile device usage grows, consumers are increasingly reliant on messaging apps to communicate with friends and families. For example, WhatsApp alone has more than 1 billion users sending over 65 billion messages per day. 

Given the popularity of messaging, it's only natural that consumers want to interact with companies in the same way. According to Facebook, Messenger alone transmits 20 billion messages each month between people and businesses. Forward-thinking companies are rolling out messaging applications such as Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messaging and Facebook Messenger. However, many businesses have been slow to embrace messaging, and have yet to adapt their customer service systems to take advantage of this new channel.

The Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Customer Service

In the world of calls and live chats, an agent strives to resolve a customer’s issue in one session from start to finish. That agent assesses what the consumer wants to do, and walks through the necessary steps, sometimes tracking down information along the way. A phone call is a “synchronous” communication because the conversation occurs in real time, and the agent’s responses are immediate. 

A live chat is also considered to be synchronous because the delays between a message and a response are short. Typically, an agent should acknowledge the customer’s message within 15 seconds. The customer is given more leeway, but must still respond within a reasonable time, which could be two or so minutes. If the customer does not respond within this time limit (even after a gentle warning), the chat agent terminates the session and the conversation is closed.

In the world of asynchronous messaging, however, apps such as Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messaging and Facebook Messenger make it possible for conversations to continue over minutes, hours or days. Businesses retain the context of the conversation, and allow the consumer to come back at any time, without having to start over. For example, if a customer buys a digital camera, and then goes back to the company two weeks later and wants to buy a case for “my camera,” the company can understand that “my camera” refers to a Nikon D3500 and respond with some options. The customer doesn’t have to identify the camera she just bought. With messaging, the chatbot or human agent can see the conversation history and personalize the service accordingly.

This new asynchronous model creates greater brand loyalty than previously possible, because it accumulates a memory of conversations with a brand over time. As a result, consumers can interact with a brand in the same way that they would interact with a friend. Think about it: when you talk to a friend, that friend remembers your previous conversations. You don’t have to start the conversation with a friend by reiterating a lot of context. Even if it’s been weeks, you can often pick up the conversation right where you left off. Imagine if you could do that with a company.

Today, 60% to 80% of customer calls originate from phone numbers found online — through search, maps, Contact Us pages, business directory services and so on. Google and Apple are releasing changes to their services and operating systems to disrupt the ingrained habit of calling companies. The features include adding a “Message” button next to the “Call” button in search results and business listings, and even offering messaging when the “Call” button is pressed. These changes provide an easy way for consumers to find and communicate with businesses, and will shift consumer behavior from calling to messaging.

Related Article: Is Messaging the Final Frontier in Customer Service?

How Messaging Benefits Consumers and Businesses

Messaging provide benefits for the customer as well as the enterprise. For the customer, the experience improves in the following ways:

  • Familiarity and Simplicity. The interface is familiar to consumers who are used to messaging for personal communications.
  • Always Available. The customer can submit requests at any time without waiting for an agent to be ready.
  • Respond at Will. The customer can respond at his own pace — he can multi-task and complete the conversation in his own time.
  • Information at Hand. The customer does not need to remember or repeat details of prior interactions — the conversation history is visible and searchable.
  • Digital Content. Unlike a phone call, messaging supports the exchange of rich and visual content (inline or as links to web pages).

For businesses, messaging offers a number of advantages:

  • Digital Transformation. Messaging makes customers less reliant on phone calls — the most expensive channel — and more willing to use digital channels that are easier to automate through bots and other self-serve options.
  • Customer Engagement. The customer drop-off rate for app messaging (i.e., the rate for non-interactive conversations) is 1% or less. In live chat, the rate can be as high as 25%.
  • Customer Satisfaction. Due to the improved customer experience, consumers often rate messaging more highly than calls or live chats.
  • Agent Success. Messaging allows agents to work in teams and consult with fellow experts to resolve customer issues, which improves resolution while also increasing agent satisfaction and skills development.
  • Cost per Resolution. High contact concurrency and resolution rates makes messaging more cost effective than calls or live chats.

Related Article: Conversational AI Needs Conversational Design

Are You Meeting Customer Expectations?

Consumer expectations have changed dramatically in the last few years, and businesses are rethinking how they engage with consumers. To deliver a successful customer experience, companies need to 1) meet consumers where they are, 2) know them and their needs and 3) connect them to the right expertise to quickly resolve their issues. Messaging enhances all these capabilities. To meet consumer expectations and engender greater brand loyalty, businesses need to make messaging a central part of their customer service mix.