A Bit of Background
There are more than ten million Official Accounts on WeChat. Facebook quickly followed up their April release of the Messenger Business Platform with a substantially updated version 1.1. WhatsApp has announced they will finally start supporting businesses officially this year, in recognition of the fact that thousands of businesses already found out how to do this, most notably in India and Brazil. Why are businesses flocking to the latest messaging products?
In the early days of WeChat Official Accounts, brand interest was primarily driven by opportunities in outbound marketing. As the platform has matured, easy wins in outbound marketing have evaporated and marketers are now challenged with providing real utility to keep a large base of followers engaged. In this second generation of brand behaviors on WeChat, inbound customer service and sales are getting more attention.
More generally, as business-to-consumer conversations move away from phone and email support and on to mobile messaging platforms, we see that the type, content, and frequency of conversations changes. This new relationship is characterized by higher frequency interactions that require lighter effort from the business, allowing savvy businesses to more closely monitor brand sentiment, better understand their customers, and win more loyalty.
Compare the difference in friction that it takes to start, participate in, and re-start a conversation with a business on a phone compared to a messaging app. One of the worst things you can do as a company is put me on hold. I’m not even able to kill time on my smartphone while I wait because my phone is stuck to my ear. To be fair, many businesses still struggle with consistent responsiveness in messaging, too. We have many successful clients that average less than one-minute response time at scale, with only one to three simultaneous online representatives. That’s faster than it takes for me to dial, wait for the phone to ring, say my hello, and get a response from just about any business out there.
Overall, web chat users receive an average response within five minutes according to this study by social media consulting firm Eptica. The same study found that businesses on Twitter, held up as a successful channel for low-friction social customer care, had an average response time of just over a day. The disconnect is that 64% of Twitter users expect to be served within an hour.
There are many techniques for managing customer expectations in messaging. In the end, you don’t even have to be faster than a phone call as long as the experience is that much better than calling. The key is that your customers quickly discover that they can message you and consider it done. If you can achieve this, you’re on a path to very loyal customers.
The beauty of messaging is that this quality of customer experience is within reach of most businesses. Because the channel is asynchronous, you can simultaneously manage multiple conversations, quickly opening chats, and triaging accordingly. You can use a hybrid of automated and live-agent messaging to manage expectations when you are offline or busy. Because it’s a digital channel, you are recording your entire chat history with each customer, so you can always see who at your business last spoke with the customer, what was said, and you don’t ever have to have customers repeat themselves. You have ready access to screenshots, stored text, images, and other FAQ content which bring exponential efficiency gains over a phone call.
A great anecdote of this happened while shadowing a concierge in a five-star hotel. A guest called down from his room to inquire about booking a tour, and the concierge’s entire attention for the next nine and a half minutes was explaining the different options to the guest, while he discussed them in the background with his wife. That conversation in a messaging app could have taken fifteen seconds of the concierge’s time to drag-and-drop the three options from his FAQ library and the customer would have actually had a better experience with photos, expert descriptions, and the ability to discuss with his wife at his leisure, before tapping to book.
So, no more tickets?
Ultimately a heavy burden of communication disincentivizes consumers from truly engaging in open dialogue with businesses. If it’s difficult to connect to your business, I’ll only contact you when I have a serious problem. This is the paradigm from which customer service tickets emerged. It is easier for businesses to myopically view customer service success by ticket resolution metrics rather than how successful they are at truly engaging customers over their entire relationship with the business.
If businesses make it easy to start, participate in, and re-start a conversation, it no longer makes sense to structure conversations as tickets. If the conversation is asynchronous, meaning I can leave it open without affecting either party, and I can easily add in other team members to a chat while we work together to resolve an issue for a customer, it doesn’t make sense to open and close tickets. What you have is an ongoing relationship.
Will there still be issues you create a ticket for? Sure. A ticketing system is still a common request from large clients during the sales process. Since we don’t find tickets a necessity, we try to convince the client to first go live with the service and then see if it’s really needed. Sure enough, it always slips down the list of priorities in their feature requests after they get started. Tickets are still good for organizations that haven’t mastered conversational service yet. They make accountability easier in the transition and can make sense for issue resolution that lasts longer than one day or one shift.
The Cost of Friction
Even incremental reductions in communication friction will bring benefits across the spectrum for most businesses: increased last-minute purchases, customer satisfaction, consumer evangelism, and long-term loyalty, and reduced churn and “shopping cart” abandonment. If you can achieve an initial “wow” moment with your customers, it starts to redefine how and how often they talk to you.
Your business to a greater or lesser extent competes on service. No customer wants to be treated like a statistic. The conversational history of interactions between you and your customer is in essence, a ticket that never closes.
In our next post, we will discuss how success metrics change moving from call centers and customer service tickets to next generation messaging-based contact centers.