Adapting to the shifting customer journey: Conversational business goes mainstream

Business messaging provides brands with a fantastic opportunity to modernise their communication with customers – but they need to make sure that this new technology is rolled out to all channels seamlessly to ensure the best customer experience.

By Michael Schweidler, EMEA Content Marketing Manager

Published November 18, 2020
Last updated December 14, 2020

The way humans communicate is constantly changing. From the onset of emails and mobile phone SMS messaging in the late 20th century, to the abundance of messaging apps and comments made on the social media platforms we use today. It’s in our DNA to connect with other people. The global pandemic only highlighted this when the world was forced into lockdown and we turned to video technology to keep in touch – the video chat app Houseparty was relatively unknown before Covid-19, but come March 2020 and the app reported 50 million sign-ups demonstrating the need for human contact during such worrisome times.

Now the novelty of lockdown video communications has worn off – most of us would quite like to never take part in another family Zoom quiz ever again – it’s clear that it’s our fingers that really do the talking. While the pandemic has been a turning point in the take-up of video calls, messaging is still the quick and easy way to stay in touch.

And while our grandparents may prefer to pick up the phone, millennials are much more likely to fire off a message, with research from the UK’s communication regulator, Ofcom, stating 85% of 18-24s send online text messages on a daily basis, compared to just 19% of consumers aged 65 years and over. Ofcom’s Online Nation 2020 report also suggests that SMS and MMS messaging is declining while online messaging is now the platform of choice for consumers. Indeed, messaging apps have exploded in recent years – Facebook owned Whatsapp has one billion daily users across the world, with 65 billion messages being sent every day, which equates to 29 million messages per minute.

Business messaging

It’s understandable that businesses would want a piece of that pie – if anything, consumers have been crying out to communicate with companies via a quick message rather than listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on repeat while waiting to speak to an advisor on the phone.

And Covid-19, again, has only increased the need to simplify business communication with customers. As the first wave of lockdowns were enforced, customers had a lot of questions: Can I rearrange my flight? Where’s my refund? Why can’t I get a delivery slot? I need to change my delivery address? Increased questions combined with closed call centres or reduced agent numbers to accommodate social distancing led to extraordinary wait times on the phone lines.

C-commerce

Innovative businesses are taking advantage of the fact that customers are shopping and messaging from the same device in their pocket by exploring business models beyond e-commerce into the realms of c-commerce – conversational commerce. As we’ve pointed out in a previous article, this trend is a huge opportunity for retailers: 83% of customers report using messaging to contact a business to learn about products, and when they do so, 75% of them make a purchase. Messaging offers customers a richer experience – they can share a photo with the business to help explain their problem, while developments in AI and chatbots are speeding up the experience and help direct customers to answers without even involving a customer experience agent.

WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and even WeChat are becoming household names in the world of messaging. But in recent months tech giants Apple and Google have also got in on the game with the launch of Apple Business Chat and Google Business Messenger both of which provide a slick service you’d expect with features like seamless integration with Apple Maps and Google Maps encouraging shoppers to message a business rather than call.

Facebook’s Messenger API has also recently been extended into Instagram to help businesses manage messaging through this platform. For brands with a younger shopper demographic, this update will be a critical way to deepen conversations with consumers who are already fans of your brand.

Platform unification

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the incredible amount of messaging apps out there, but retailers need to be where their customers are – which is on most of these applications. Check which messaging apps are most popular in your region and start there before expanding out to support other channels.

But it’s worth noting that a number of these platforms are beginning to unify. Our State of Messaging 2020 report highlights some of the big partnerships: Facebook joined up the back-ends of its three leading chat apps – Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram; Yahoo! Japan acquired LINE, the most popular messaging app in Japan and Taiwan; while Zendesk and Smooch also consolidated to create Sunshine Conversations adding support for WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE and Twitter DMs.

This unification is critical to the future of c-commerce as retailers need to remember shoppers are conversing with brands across multiple channels and touchpoints. A consumer may buy a product through Instagram, then email a query, and follow-up on Twitter. This shopper expects the business to be able to seamlessly pick up the conversation via any channel. The last thing they want to be doing is repeating themselves again and again, this just results in a frustrated customer who may begin pining for the days of listening to hold music in order to speak to a real-life voice on the phone.

Business messaging provides brands with a fantastic opportunity to modernise their communication with customers – they just need to make sure that this new technology is rolled out to all channels seamlessly to ensure the best customer experience.