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WhatsApp doc? Why WhatsApp isn’t a threat to live chat

(Image credit: Image Credit: Nito / Shutterstock)

Mobile apps are great, but they sap battery power on mobile devices and take time to download. People don’t mind downloading apps they’ll use frequently, but they do if they just want to ask a quick question about an issue they require help to resolve. Despite claims from the likes of Webio that mobile apps such as Messenger and WhatsApp will see the demise of live chat, there is room for both an app-based customer messaging platforms and live chat.

Business and technology journalist Graham Jarvis recently interviewed Mark Oppermann, EVP Sales and Marketing at Webio. During their discussion Oppermann claimed:

“I would see the likes of WhatsApp as a threat to live chat. On WhatsApp there are 1.6m active users, and they send 65bn message per day or 40 messages per person. Facebook Messenger wouldn’t be far behind, which started as part of Facebook. It is now a standalone product, while being still embedded into Facebook.”

“Webio offers on the bottom-right of its website are social media channels that can be automated, and hand over to an agent whenever it’s required. This is doing the job that web-based live chat does, but it’s not session-based. With Webio I can go away and return to the message in an hour’s time. Live chat is good when it’s a quick session. With Webio you can carry on the conversation over time.”

Given this endorsement for social media apps, you might be forgiven for thinking that live chat is really going to be left behind. However, there is no actual evidence that this is true today. One of the benefits of a live chat solution is that customers can access it using their smartphones without having to download any application from any app store.

Live chat test

Jarvis informs me that he tested live chat by using it to contact Click4Assistance – speaking to a representative called Amy. He says his experience demonstrates that there is more than one communication channel open to customers. “I was able to connect very quickly, without any hassle, and the agent responded very quickly”, he comments.

Therefore, while individual solutions may not be part of a social media network, he believes that live chat still has a role to play alongside messaging apps. In fact, they may enhance customer choice by being part of an omnichannel experience. With smartphone it is possible to use web-based live chat, and there is also the option to use the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger too.

Messaging app limits

However, it’s worth noting that in my experience customers don’t necessarily want to be contactable by a business constantly via messaging apps. It’s one thing to keep the conversation flowing day to day with friends and families. But once a live chat session ends, individuals are happy to know that the connection has been severed and they are in control of future interactions with a company. With live chat they can also share as little amount of information as they wish to protect their data and safely know they will not be contacted unless they agreed this within their conversation.

“Live chat exists because people didn’t want to wait for an agent, and one agent can handle three conversations in one go – tripling the efficiency of one agent”, says Oppermann who then comments: “Most business would prefer their customers not to ring them. They prefer to automated interactions as agents are an expensive resource. That’s why web chat has been popular.”

Channel integration

Amy Scott, Director of Sedulous Consulting says: “The inclusion of Instant Messaging (IM) platforms and Voice Messaging (VM) platforms like Siri & Alexa really started to appear in contact centres as a new touchpoint about 2 years ago and their use will only continue to grow driven by customers. It isn’t a case of IM or VM customer service vs. chatbots but a case of IM and VM customer service as yet another channel, which customers will increasingly demand.”

“An organisation will probably require some middleware that sits between your organisation and your customers to seamlessly manage IM & VM contacts. Done in this way It would also allow you to integrate with your other channels such as SMS, email, & voice seamlessly.”

Complementary solutions

She seems to agree that messaging apps complement live chat rather than threaten them. “Of course, it just allows customers to contact you in their channel of choice.”  This still leave the question of how much easier it is to implement and to ask customers to use live chat in comparison to messaging apps such as WhatsApp. In response she thinks “it might be easier from an inside-out organisational perspective, but it isn’t easier from an outside-in customer perspective.”

Why is this the case? Well, she explains: “In the hypercompetitive world that currently exists, it’s all about providing customers what they want, when they want it and in the channel they want. For customers it’s all about ease and convenience and that means letting them contact you by IM/VM. If your organisation can’t do this, customers will find ones who can, and on many occasions, you will have lost a customer and you won’t even know it.”

Space for choice

In my opinion consumers don’t all use the same apps, and when it comes to messaging in our private lives, individuals may prefer Messenger over WhatsApp or Instagram direct messages to Snapchat. WhatsApp allows customers another choice of communication with a company, and with this integration, it will allow live chat software providers to integrate WhatsApp into their solutions to allow all messages to be handled by the same agents in one area. For example, we already do this with Messenger and our live chat solution.

Usability is better on a downloadable app. Login credentials and other settings are easily saved too. Some providers may also have to offer a much simpler version as some aspects of the application may not work the same when using a browser-based version compared to the full functionality available on a downloadable app. However, this needn’t preclude any form of web-based live chat.

“From a customer perspective you are responding to them in the channel they want to communicate to you in as opposed to forcing them to use another channel”, emphasises Scott before elaborating: “So allowing customers to contact you using IM or by using VM is a good idea. And it is likely that the number of people, especially millennials using IM and VM will continue to grow in the next few years.”

WhatsApp impracticalities

That aside, companies using WhatsApp Business will need to have an available phone to receive and respond to messages. This may not be practical if offices have a no phones at desks policy, or that the business owner wouldn’t want to responsible for handling the messages.

It is therefore easier to implement a live chat solution as this sits on your website; consumers do not need an app or login credentials to speak with you. They just simply enter the required details (name, email address, or postcode etc.) and are instantly connected to an agent. Multiple agents can be signed in to the same application and answer more than one enquiry at any one time.”

Text messaging and chatbots

Working together

Nevertheless, when integrating live chat and chatbots with other channels – include, perhaps, mobile messaging apps, which could offer some advantages. Such integration allows a conversation to flow seamlessly from a live chat to a phone call, or from social media into a private chat. Having live chat in other applications improves the user experience as they don’t have to leave the application to search the company’s website for contact details; it’s quick, easy and instant.

My concluding advice is that organisation should ensure that all of the channels, whether or not they consist of live chat, chatbots, text messaging or messaging apps such as WhatsApp, are implemented well and are used.  For example, if a customer is waiting to chat with a company but try several times a day and no operators are available, this can give a worse impression of the company than having no chat service at all. So, make the most of any free trials to give your organisation time to evaluate what areas of the website, or which departments need live chat the most. This will identify what is causing the visitor to make their enquiry, and through which channels they prefer to communicate.

Gemma Baker, marketing executive, Click4Assistance (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Nito / Shutterstock