Mobile text messaging is becoming increasingly conversational, and those conversations are increasingly being started by the consumer. Chatbots and enhanced messaging features are turning B2C communication on its head, letting users initiate and control interactions. By engaging customers in a real conversation, and letting them set the agenda, you can better understand and respond to them. But there are several factors influencing the growth in conversational messaging.
A major consideration is cost. One estimate puts the average cost of a customer service phone interaction at around $35 to $50. However, text chat with a live agent averages around $8 to $10 per session, while a chat bot can help cutting these expenses even further. So established customer care scenarios are transitioning towards messaging because it makes sense from a logistical perspective.
However, one of the strongest drivers of conversational interactions is customer expectation and preference. Over half of customers prefer to contact support via text, and according to a survey by the GSMA, 64% of people “like to feel [they’re] having a conversation with a person” when contacting a company.
The result is that both companies and their customers are starting to embrace the idea of using messaging to address a range of customer service issues, and in some cases even make sales.
Changing the face of customer experience
The underlying concept and communications channels are far from new. Customers have always reached out to companies for help resolving problems or making enquiries. And Consumer-to-Business, or “P2A messaging” (person-to-application messaging) as it is known in the telecoms world, will already be familiar to anyone who has texted in to a TV show.
So what we are looking at is not a new method of communication, but rather a new way of doing business.
According to a recent MEF study, there are already 321m monthly active P2A users in the world. These people are turning to messaging as a quick way to engage with brands and businesses. Messaging allows your customer to reach you directly, without waiting on hold for an agent to become available. Of course, at some level this means engaging with automated agents, or chatbots.
Why would people message a company?
The same study found that 55% of users are happy to have an automated system (a “machine”) deal with their queries. Yet 24% still insisted on speaking to a human being. Interestingly, when MEF rephrased the question and gave users concrete uses for messaging a business only 16% of users were not interested in any of the options – when the benefits are clear to them, users are much more willing to engage with automated agents.
While some of these uses might be complicated to achieve with traditional SMS text messaging, messaging apps and Rich Communication Services offer more flexibility. Better data utilisation and interactive features make it easier to present vital information and share links and files.
Just being able to include images in a message makes it possible to provide tickets or share maps. In fact, the GSMA has an entire page of demos that show how companies have used RCS to respond to customer queries, solve support issues, and provide services to their customers. An often-shared example is Subway’s campaign, which saw a 50% to 60% rise in conversion rates thanks to an interactive, conversational flow which created a much more engaging and personal experience.
It’s unsurprising, then, that as new services like RCS and messenger app-based business messaging grow, so too is P2A/C2B messaging.
Engaging in conversations
Naturally, you need a way for customers to begin a conversation with you. There are multiple options – particularly if you already have a number from which you send messages – but in each case the main aim is to make it easy for users to discover your service.
Fortunately, apps and RCS make it easy to find you and reach out. Viber, for example, has a Viber Business Account feature which makes you discoverable in the app. Customers can locate you via search and be assured that the account is verified and genuine.
An even simpler way for customers to reach you is to simply reply to a message you have sent to them. This is part of why it’s important to message them over channels they prefer – if a user prefers to use WhatsApp, they are more likely to actively engage with you if you are using WhatsApp to send them notifications and updates.
Similarly, in some cases it is possible for users to message you using the same customer care number(s) you use to reach them, or that you list on your website for voice communications. This is one of the strengths of RCS, since it is strongly associated with the mobile-native inbox (the messaging app that comes preinstalled and that users already turn to for SMS).
As is clear from the above chart, these are popular methods among mobile users. But as MEF observes, a majority still want to be able to start from the company’s official website. There is a degree of trust, simplicity, and familiarity in doing this.
Companies already place social media and messenger buttons on their websites for customers to contact them, and this is likely to remain a popular way to initiate contact for the immediate future. As customers become more familiar with contacting companies via messaging, however, they will also likely start to explore (and expect) the ability to search for specific brands directly from their apps. This is why a chatbot directory is being built in to RCS from the start.
The future customer experience
Multiple chat apps, like WhatsApp, Viber, and more are supporting chatbots, and P2A and bot integration are central to the deployment and appeal of RCS. This is not just a gimmick – enterprises and users alike want a more interactive relationship. Two-way interactions are increasingly important, and conversational commerce provides a whole new purchasing experience which is inherently tailored to the customer and their aims.
If you’re looking to revolutionise your customer experience and engagement, it is time to start considering how you communicate. Moving towards a conversational model promises to be more agile and responsive, and that starts with knowing when and how people want to engage in conversations with their favourite brands.