Mukesh Mirchandani: "Organizations should provide customer service at the convenience of the customer .... not on what the customer service organization prefers."

Text messaging has become an everyday form of communication for consumers. They use it to stay in touch with family, friends and increasingly, the brands they buy from. Whether before, during or after a purchase, consumers want to interact with brands in a way that’s familiar to them. And they expect those brands to accommodate.

“For organizations that want to provide exceptional customer service, messaging is an option you absolutely need to offer your customers,” said Mukesh Mirchandani, vice president, global field solutions engineering at Freshworks. “Not only to keep them satisfied, but to bring efficiencies and productivity gains to your service teams, as well.”

Freshworks sponsored CMSWire’s virtual Summer Digital Experience (DX) Summit, where Mirchandani presented the session, “Using Messaging as a Pillar of Your Omnichannel Strategy.” We spoke with him about why organizations should consider messaging for customer service, how messaging can fit in with their existing offering, and what leaders should think about before getting started.

Communicate With Customers on Their Terms

CMSWire: What does it mean to be a messaging-first support organization?

Mukesh Mirchandani: People are used to getting instant notifications when their rideshare is on the way, or their groceries or restaurant order are out for delivery. More and more, we’re adopting messaging channels like WhatsApp and other apps in our personal lives. We’re now seeing this trickle into customer service.

What brands and organizations need to realize is that if you use messaging, you can communicate with customers asynchronously. This means you don’t have to be on the phone with them. Instead, you can use iMessage or WhatsApp, eliminating the need for a dedicated service rep. Because interactions can happen when needed, you can save costs in terms of customer service agents and staffing. At the same time, you still retain the human touch that is so important when interacting with customers.

CMSWire: During your presentation, you discussed the ideal digital-first customer service process. Tell us more about this, and how messaging fits in.

Mirchandani: Organizations should provide customer service at the convenience of the customer. For example, if I want to contact my credit card company while I’m driving to work, I’ll use the phone. But if it’s later in the day, I’ll use messaging because I feel like it’s a less intrusive way of communicating with customer service.

As a customer, I want to work with brands based on my preferences, not on what the customer service organization prefers. What does that mean for brands? It means they should make a variety of digital communication channels available to customers whenever they need them, including email, phone or chat. That way customers can pick and choose how they communicate with their service organization.

CMSWire: What are some real-world examples of how this messaging-first approach works?

Mirchandani: Messaging as a business channel lends itself to B2C organizations, which are already using it as a way to communicate with customers. I’ll go back to my example of the credit card company. I should be able to start a conversation with customer service over messaging or text and take care of my basic customer service needs.

For example, let’s say I’m traveling for business. I should be able to easily put my credit card on travel alert or ask for the status of my payments. This process is easy to automate using technology, helping you deflect costs. Messaging then turns into a cost-saving mechanism because your reps no longer have to pick up the phone.

Setting Your Business Up for Messaging Success

CMSWire: How do you determine which interactions make the most sense for messaging?

Mirchandani: Messaging is best for simple tasks or questions that can be automated easily. If you want to implement messaging, start with the basics, and be sure you understand the age demographic that best fits messaging.

Organizations have found that, while millennials are comfortable with messaging, older generations find it challenging and prefer to pick up the phone instead. This kind of customer empathy plays a big role in deciding whether or not to offer messaging. You need to make sure your customers are open to this type of communication. Do A/B tests and see how sticky it is. Based on your results, roll out as appropriate.

CMSWire: What are some of the biggest challenges organizations face when it comes to incorporating messaging into their customer service, and how can they overcome these challenges?

Mirchandani: Messaging-based conversation is not as rich as a voice conversation because you’re not communicating with people in real time, but it can take care of basic issues. That’s why organizations need to ensure they’re using messaging for the right kinds of tasks. To determine what those are, conduct an analysis of your incoming queries over the past three to six months. Out of all your issues, identify which are “Level 0 solvable,” or answered easily with a standard FAQ response. Those are perfect candidates for messaging.

Also, working asynchronously could have a detrimental effect if you’re interacting with too many people at the same time. The quality of responses could suffer. Try working concurrently on two or three interactions with a small set of hyper-productive agents. Then roll out to the rest of the team based on your results.

CMSWire: How can you make messaging feel more personal?

Mirchandani: Just because messaging is short, compact communication, that doesn’t mean it lacks personalization. You can make messaging highly personalized and fun by being playful with emojis, being creative, and having fun.

The customer service concepts that apply to telephone or email are the same for messaging. You still need a unified customer profile in order to understand who you’re texting with on the other side. Even more importantly, when you’re messaging, it’s hard to get the sentiment of a customer. You can’t tell if they’re happy or annoyed, so the full context of the customer becomes even more important, including a full history of their conversations, recent purchases, and other company interactions.

How to Move Your Business Forward With Messaging

CMSWire: What are the top things leaders should consider when incorporating messaging into their customer service offering?

Mirchandani: First, know where the majority of your customers are located. Are they in North America? Europe? Asia? Each geography has a different set of messaging tools and expectations. For example, in Asia, messaging is the most popular way of communicating. In North America, Apple Business Chat and Facebook Messenger are used the most, whereas in other parts of the world, they prefer to use WhatsApp. Have a deep understanding of which messaging platform is most useful for you, considering the kinds of deflection and efficiencies you can gain.

Next, start small. There’s no big bang when it comes to rolling out a new form of communication. You can’t implement a messaging channel across hundreds of agents and millions of customers. Instead, form a focus group of a dozen or more agents using a couple of different platforms. See how that works for a few months, learn from it, and then roll it out more broadly.

Finally, use messaging as a way to initially complement your traditional channels — a way to provide customer service on their own terms, at their own convenience. Be sure to train your customers on how they can be successful with messaging so you can drive long-term adoption and ensure that your strategy gets carried out.