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Article 11 min read

Business Messaging: Five key things to consider when evaluating a messaging partner

Business messaging is still new, which makes it challenging to know what to look for in a messaging partner. Here's what's important.

By Hannah Wren, Content Marketing Associate

Last updated November 3, 2021

Messaging has the highest customer-satisfaction score of any support channel, with a CSAT of 98%. It makes sense: messaging is fast, personal, secure and asynchronous – in other words, customers can pick the conversation up at their own convenience without losing the conversation history.

However, providing the seamless conversational interactions expected by customers requires more than simply offering messaging channels. It starts with choosing the right messaging partner.

Messaging is relatively new, and many companies are still trying to understand how these channels fit within their larger support strategies. This makes it challenging to know which questions to ask a potential messaging partner and how to find the right one for your business.

What is a business messaging partner?

Because business messaging is so new, the term ‘messaging partner’ can mean different things. Some messaging partners are platforms or channel aggregators that offer little in the way of agent experience. These are often referred to as CPaaS – or ‘communication platform as a service’ companies. Others are CRMs that let you connect to various messaging channels, but often with limited functionality or context. And yet others only offer website-based messaging products that don’t connect to the third-party chat apps customers know and love.

The key is to find an end-to-end messaging partner that provides the best of both the platform and CRM worlds. Messaging-platform providers offer APIs and integrated development environments to equip developers or admins with the tools that they need to build rich, interactive messaging experiences. But CRM platforms with messaging capabilities also equip teams with the tools that they need to track, prioritise and manage conversations, allowing a business to create cutting-edge messaging conversations and understand the context and intent behind them clearly.

Customer-service CRM providers such as Zendesk’s Support Suite provide businesses with popular messaging channels out of the box, as well as a real-time, conversation-focused interface to manage conversations for fast time to value. When integrated with Zendesk’s messaging platform, Sunshine Conversations, businesses can build highly customised messaging on any application and deliver interactive conversational experiences at scale.

Here are five key things to consider when evaluating a messaging partner’s CRM and platform capabilities:

1. The breadth of channels – and the breadth of features available on these channels

Customer feedback tells us that customers have wanted a choice of channels for a while now, but the right mix of messaging channels isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. It depends on the requirements of your customers and the business.

The regions in which you operate can make a difference. WeChat is pervasive in China, while Japan’s LINE and Eastern Europe-oriented Viber dominate in their respective regions, according to Zendesk’s 2020 The state of messaging report. SMS (or, for Apple users, iMessage) leads the way in the US, with social messaging apps like WhatsApp finding a foothold.

Messaging preference varies by industry too. When communicating with supermarkets, customers are increasingly using Facebook Messenger and Twitter DMs, whereas remote work and learning-platform customers are flocking towards SMS. And nearly half of finance and insurance businesses are using chatbots to empower customers to find answers themselves at scale.

You’ll also want to consider the channels on which your customers spend the most time. If you have a mobile app, it makes sense to offer in-app messaging support so that customers don’t have to leave the experience to get help. And if your customers are also highly engaged on Facebook, it’s smart to include Facebook Messenger as well.

The key is to find a messaging partner that empowers you to meet your customers wherever they are, adding or removing channels easily as their requirements grow and change. Messaging-savvy businesses don’t just think about today’s channels – they also consider the channels of the future. And it can be difficult to add new channels without the right messaging provider.

Just as important as the breadth of channels provided by a messaging partner is the breadth of rich, natively supported features available on these channels: not all providers offer both a wide range of channel access and rich channel features. Businesses can differentiate from their competition with rich message types, such as carousels, forms and pick-lists, to create embedded experiences that enable customers to take action inside the messenger – such as making bookings and appointments or completing payments, for instance.

As a company rolls out its messaging strategy, it should have the ability to ‘build once and deploy anywhere’ – in other words, deploy the same or best version of a rich experience across channels. For instance, Zendesk’s Sunshine Conversations platform automatically finds the richest way to send a message on an organisation’s behalf, removing the complexity of deciphering which channel supports which rich-message type.

2. How much context your business will have at its fingertips

But omni-channel means more than being everywhere your customers are – that’s table stakes. It requires a business to find a messaging partner that enables it to go a step further and create a single, unified profile of its customer, one complete with conversation history and context that moves from channel to channel. This allows customers to switch seamlessly between channels without repeating their postal address or ticket number ten times while being bounced between different departments or waiting on hold.

One of the top reasons for companies offering messaging is to provide more contextual, better informed support, according to companies surveyed in Zendesk’s 2020 trends report. Yet, only 35% of these businesses are taking an omni-channel approach – one that connects channels, systems and software to end siloed conversations.

This represents a sweet spot where a CRM platform, such as Zendesk’s Sunshine, can close the gaps, unifying customer information from different sources – such as mobile apps, billing systems, e-commerce providers or marketing software – into one complete picture. This ensures that everyone across your business – including chatbots – has basic context, including which channel a customer is contacting you on, as well as the less direct context they need to create a consistent, personalised experience – for example, a customer’s:

  • Previous support interaction

  • Purchase history

  • Product usage

  • Life-cycle stage

  • Opened outbound emails

  • Abandoned shopping baskets

This is only half the story though: businesses should also have the ability to understand the context from the conversation itself. For instance:

  • The sentiment and intent: To read in between the lines and understand what a customer is saying behind a message, organisations can integrate third-party services, such as two-way language translation and intent detection, to predict customer sentiment. With Sunshine Conversations, for example, hospitality companies can translate messages and their underlying context from international travellers in real time. Or, telecommunications providers can use natural language processing to understand customer sentiment and recommend the best action to take to reduce churn. Zendesk’s Mike Gozzo, VP of Product, Conversations, put it best: ‘Like body language, sometimes what hasn’t been said is just as critical.’

    ‘Like body language, sometimes what hasn’t been said is just as critical.’Mike Gozzo, VP of Product, Conversations, Zendesk
  • The knowledge needed to route conversations intelligently between humans and chatbots: When bots have access to underlying context – if the human on the other end is one step away from purchasing the pair of boots in their shopping basket or if they’ve recently complained about a pair of heels being uncomfortable, for instance – they can tailor their response accordingly and even pass on the information to a human agent, CRM or other piece of software to inform a future interaction.

3. The agent experience, including the tools that your support team will have to manage conversations

Yes, support teams need an omni-channel user interface for responding to conversations at the front end, but it’s equally as important to have the tools for managing these conversations at scale at the back end. What’s tricky is that few messaging providers offer both an easy developer experience and a great agent experience.

To answer customers’ questions effectively, agents will need to clearly understand each customer’s unique case and have the ability to manage it effectively. For instance, the Agent Workspace within Zendesk’s Support Suite equips support teams with the tracking, routing and collaboration tools required to close out an issue, live updates about incoming messages and the ability to switch channels seamlessly – in other words, an agent can follow up a message with an email without ending the messaging conversation.

As businesses introduce chatbots, automation and multi-department messaging infrastructure, they need a way to define the rules of engagement centrally and streamline hand-offs between people, automation and AI across the business. With the help of triggers, automation and workflows that go beyond ticket-based routing, agents can streamline customer-facing interactions, saving support resources and decreasing time to resolution.

When you can manage customer conversations effectively between teams – as well as bots and systems – you will open up possibilities such as:

  • E-commerce companies connecting a third-party payment processor, such as Stripe, to enable agents to initiate a refund workflow across multiple systems. If a customer meets predefined criteria – for instance, if they’re a ‘gold’ level loyalty member and their refund amount is less than £20 – a workflow can automatically initiate the refund or require a managerial approval step for all other returns that do not meet the predefined criteria.

  • Internet providers automatically assigning a repeat dissatisfied customer to a specialised customer-support team by looking at context, sentiment and intent.

  • Software companies using bots to deflect routine tickets and automatically assigning a high priority to conversations with VIP customers, routing them to a live salesperson for help – with the conversation history.

4. Your use case

The right messaging partner is one that’s customisable and can be programmed to the requirements of your business. Here are a few examples and things to consider:

  • How many participants will you need in a single conversation?
    Modern customer relationships often include multiple parties inside and outside the business. Marketplace companies will probably need to connect buyers with sellers, and riders with drivers. Most messaging providers offer one-to-one communication: the key is to find one that’s also successful at ‘one to many’.
  • Do you plan to offer self-service options?
    Businesses can integrate chatbots for self-service at scale, enabling customers to find answers on their own, in context, around the clock. An e-commerce company can deploy a chatbot on its checkout page so that customers don’t abandon their baskets because of unanswered questions. Businesses should look for a messaging provider that gives them the ability to launch a bot across multiple channels, and that is bot and AI agnostic – in other words, gives them the flexibility to do what they want in the conversation, on their terms, as opposed to being locked down to a specific set of integrations or capabilities.
  • How can you brand the messaging experience?
    With the help of SDKs for web and mobile, you can build in-app messaging on any device to drive engagement within the products and services that your customers use every day – such as on the web, or in Android and iOS – using rich-content types such as GIFs and location sharing.

5. How the solution fits with your current infrastructure – and how it will allow you to scale in the future

It’s important to choose an open platform that allows your business to change quickly, going wherever your customers go next. Initial time to value and continuous time to value are key for creating a seamless customer experience. An ideal messaging partner is configurable to support any workflow and powerful enough to handle the most complex business, yet flexible enough to scale at any pace.

A partner that’s based on open APIs, like Zendesk’s Sunshine, doesn’t lock a business into using proprietary tech. It lets organisations leverage the technology investments that they’ve already made and surface data wherever they want – such as in their home-grown applications. And developers can use the tools that they already know, empowering them to build quickly.

An open and flexible solution also makes it easy to integrate with the new channels, software and third parties that your organisation adds in the future, whether that’s bots, natural language processing, automation, or reporting and analytics. This ensures that sales, support and marketing teams remain on the same page – not in siloes – as your business scales, so they can spend time helping customers rather than administering a system.

Of course, businesses need a solution that will continue to meet its security requirements too – which means that every customer can stop worrying.

When a platform and a CRM walk into the same bar…

Businesses see the most success when they find a messaging partner that’s both a platform and a CRM – a CRM platform – to give them the development tools necessary to be agile, innovative and able to scale. This also gives them the ability to manage customers’ problems and understand the context and intent behind them clearly. That’s the secret cocktail recipe to a great messaging experience.

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