The stats are staggering—1.3 billion users on Facebook Messenger, which
continues to add 100M users every 5-6 months. According to CTIA, 1.5
trillion text messages were sent in 2017 alone. By 2020, ~50 million
consumers will opt-in to receive business SMS!
While consumer messaging is mainstream in C2C (consumer-to-consumer)
communications, the medium is also gaining popularity for B2C and B2B
interactions, including for customer service. However, customer service
messaging is a relatively new domain where the dos and don’ts for its
success are just starting to emerge. Here are some best practices, based on
our experience with blue-chip clients in providing digital customer service
To message or not to message
First, see if your current and future customers use messaging for customer
service. You can conduct your own survey or look at third-party research
that already exists. Millennials and Gen Z use messaging far more than
older consumers. If your industry is competitive, you might have to
implement it just to “keep up with the Joneses.”
How do you scale up customer service messaging when the tsunami hits? One
best practice would be to design and implement a framework to triage the
queries by scoring them on factors such as the value of the customer (which
should be readily available since the customer is already identified through
the smartphone number) and the criticality of the query. Based on these
scores, the business can determine the cadence of the interaction and the
mode of service, whether through automated or human handling or a blend of
the two. A human-heavy mode would be more suitable for queries with higher
scores, and an automation-heavy mode would be more appropriate for
lower-score queries. The business should make sure to match or exceed the
cadence of the customer for high-score queries.
Automation should have a human safety net
You can handle messaging queries of low to medium complexity with a virtual
assistant, but make sure that customers can escalate with full context to
human-assisted messaging service. This will require a unified omnichannel
customer engagement platform. We also suggest you make it obvious to the
consumer how you are handling the conversation, whether through a chatbot
or a human, to set the right expectation with the customer.
Say no to silo
Conversations are even more incremental and fragmented in the messaging
world. Moreover, the customer might switch to other messaging and
non-messaging channels while resolving a problem. It is, therefore,
critical for agents to get a 360 view of the conversations across all
touchpoints for a smooth customer experience. The last thing the customer
or the agents would want is yet another disconnected silo. In addition,
proactive messaging notifications need to be unified into the same
infrastructure as “reactive” customer service messaging. Again, look for a
solution provider that offers a unified omnichannel messaging and customer
No messaging is better than clueless messaging
Just like any other channel, make sure you have a knowledge base and a
guidance technology like AI reasoning behind your chatbot and human agents
when you handle messages. Agent knowledgeability is the biggest CX hurdle
that was mentioned by customers in a Forrester Consulting survey of 5000
Customize for each messaging channel
Each messaging channel has a unique set of features— for example, pick
lists, time picker controls, and rich links for Apple Business Chat, and
rich controls such as quick replies for Facebook Messenger. Your customer
engagement system should automatically detect the channel and customize
responses for these touchpoints.
Figure out operations
There are operational issues to revisit in the messaging world, which falls
between chat and email in synchronicity. How do you measure metrics such as
First-Contact Resolution (FCR), Time-to-Resolution (TTR), and Average
Handle Time (AHT) in a continuous conversation stream? How do you assign
workloads to agents? How do you maintain continuity of conversation across
agents? What would be the Goldilocks cadence that keeps the customer happy
while optimizing cost in the case of human-assisted messaging?
Align with your brand
Messaging can be used to reinforce your brand. For example, if you happen
to front your automated responses with a chatbot, you could align its
avatar with your brand. You could also match the tone and language of your
content, and the speed of your responses to the brand personality. As an
example, a retail brand targeted at millennials and Gen Z might use a more
informal language with emojis and faster messaging cadence relative to a
health insurance brand that is targeted at older age groups.
Select the right solution partner
As said earlier, messaging should be part of a unified customer service
strategy. Ask the important questions. Does the vendor offer a
digital-first, unified omnichannel suite? Can they scale to support growth?
Do they offer a solution with proven best-practice expertise or do they
just vend technology? Do they offer a safe, risk-free way to try out the
solution in a no-charge production pilot?
“Build, and they will come.” This doesn’t work for anything else, and it won’t work for your messaging service. Publicize the service, including on other
interaction channels. Since customer service messaging can often be used to
deflect calls to self-service (e.g., an SMS message with a contextual link
to self-service can be sent to a consumer on hold at the IVR, or a chatbot can drive the conversation), the cost per interaction will be
lower than that of a phone call, a win-win for you and the customer.
Following these dos and don’ts is guaranteed to get you to messaging
Anand Subramaniam is SVP Global Marketing at eGain Corporation
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