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It’s 2018: Why are you still on hold?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jacek Dudzinski / Shutterstock)

1.   In recent years, an explosion of messaging and communications channels—from WhatsApp to WeChat to Messenger—have radically increased options and reduced the cost of communicating with family and friends. Now, we’re seeing businesses seize that opportunity to offer services and support to customers. When did messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat first become a viable customer support channel?

If 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that communications is at a crossroads. Businesses no longer call the shots when it comes to business communications. Consumers do.

Over the past decade, the world has become increasingly mobile and on-the-go, prompting the rise of messaging apps like Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as dynamic two-way SMS. It’s forced a big shift in business communications, both in terms of the services businesses offer, and the type of support they provide. Before, businesses could dictate how, when and where they interacted with customers. That’s not the case anymore. Now, businesses have to meet consumers where they are—via their favourite communications channels, on their own timeframes, and with all the context of previous conversations.

And, as it turns out, that’s a good thing—not just for consumers, but for businesses. For consumers, it provides a convenient way to handle support issues, without interrupting their busy lives. For businesses, customer interactions are unified and streamlined into a single thread delivered straight into their CRM—creating rich customer profiles.

2.   Globally, where is the use of messaging apps for customer support most prevalent? How do you see this evolving going forward?

Using messaging apps for customer support is gaining traction rapidly in the West. Yet, it’s a model that has its roots in the East. WeChat launched in 2011 and quickly became known as a “super app”—where users could connect not just with friends and family, but with businesses of any size—from street vendors to large retail chains. To put it in perspective, WeChat lets you message your friends, order food from restaurants, book a rideshare, buy groceries, and purchase movie tickets—all without leaving the app.

MessageBird integrates with messaging apps, like WeChat and WhatsApp Business, to power those everyday interactions. Our suite of APIs takes away the complexity of authentication, payments and messaging, creating a “one-stop-shop” experience for customers, whether they’re purchasing a product in-app, or tracking down the answer to a support question. Our APIs power a future without friction—where customers can handle issues and notifications all in one place, and businesses can access interactions all in one thread.

3. Generally speaking, how receptive are customers to using messaging apps as support channels? 

Customers want convenience. And, they’ll give their loyalty to brands that provide it. There aren’t a lot of people who want to pause their day to wait on hold with customer support. More often than not, customers want those interactions to happen anytime, anywhere. And, usually, they want to be able to handle them discreetly, at their fingertips—without having to ask their questions aloud on the phone, or explain why they need to step outside or fire up their laptops to send a long email to a support agent.

Using messaging apps for customer support makes sense because they fit into our busy digital lives. That’s because messaging apps offer more than just messaging: you can send videos, links, photos, and even money. In a customer support setting, all of that translates to context. Instead of trying to decipher want a customer wants, the customer can show you exactly what they need, all in one thread. And, if you ever need to pick up the conversation again—it’s there waiting for you, all in one spot.

4.   For the customer, what’s the upside of using messaging apps as a support channel? What about for customer support agents and businesses?

There’s a saying in real estate, “location, location, location.” The same applies to customer support. People are busy and on-the-move. As the world becomes more mobile, companies and brands don’t want to interrupt customers’ lives; they want to fit in seamlessly as their customers live their lives. That’s why offering customer support through messaging is a smart move.

Offering support via messaging cuts down on the amount of effort the customer needs to put into the conversation. It’s not a hassle; it’s one clean flow. Consumers send a message, receive a response, and repeat for as long as it takes to solve the problem. It’s a great option for businesses to have in their support arsenals. When businesses have easy access to their entire interaction history with a customer, it improves the customer experience and extends the customer journey. Instead of a relationship with a customer ending abruptly at the point of purchase, you can build a rich customer profile through your support pipeline.

Having messaging as an support option can also boost productivity for agents. All the context an agent needs is there for reference, in one clean flow piped through our platform to CRM, so they don’t have to toggle between separate windows. And, because the conversation is all in one place, it’s seamless for another agent to pick up the thread, in case the customer walks away and comes back to the conversation later. Add in bots and built-in self-service tools, and you have yourself a streamlined system that’s more efficient for customers and businesses alike. And, because MessageBird provides the API and analytics for agents, the overall customer interaction is simplified, which cuts down on costs.

5.  Are there any disadvantages for the customer in using messaging apps as customer support channels? What about for customer support agents and businesses?

There’s really not a downside, though, as with any customer experience, you want every interaction to be a positive one. Consumers today want to to interact with businesses the same way they do with their friends and family. And, that means, increasingly, they expect just about anything to be available on-demand. But that’s the great thing about messaging as a support tool. Your customer can communicate with you throughout the course of the day, without having to wait on hold, all without losing the context of the conversation. 

6.   Bottom line: should companies utilise messaging apps as support channels? Why or why not?

The success of any business hinges on the quality and speed of communication, especially when it comes to customer support. WeChat, Messenger and WhatsApp have more than a billion users apiece. That’s an incredible opportunity for businesses of any size to expand their customer base and their reach. Offering support through messaging apps and two-way SMS is a no-brainer.

Robert Vis, CEO and co-founder, MessageBird (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Jacek Dudzinski / Shutterstock

Robert Vis is the CEO of MessageBird, the Amsterdam-based cloud communications platform that offers a suite of APIs to connect developers and enterprises with customers in virtually every corner of the planet.