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Just a few years ago instant messaging (IM) was viewed as an optional feature, only utilized by the most forward-thinking contact centers. Today it’s an indispensable channel in any brand communication strategy. What has led to IM’s popularity and how is it changing customer experience?
IM is on the rise. WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging app worldwide, has enjoyed a 10x increase in monthly users over the past decade. The 20 billion messages sent between customers and businesses every month on Facebook messenger alone demand a strategic response. Read on to learn how brands are adding IM to their communications strategy for maximum effect.
In 2007 – the year Apple introduced the iPhone – the number of texts sent in the United States surpassed the number of calls. And that monumental rise in usage came at a time when texts were painstakingly typed out by “multi-tapping” a set of nine keys. People are clearly drawn to something about text messages.
IM brings multiple benefits, especially as part of a broader brand communication strategy. It provides a rich user experience, with searchable histories plus voice and video options. Agents, on their side, have numerous options available to them which make their jobs easier. And contact center managers enjoy easier planning and lower costs. IM is particularly popular among younger users, 70% of whom prefer some form of texting over in-person meetings. For brands that want to keep up with the times, this is a strong sign that this trend is only beginning.
Customers want to resolve their problems with as little effort as possible, which is why the customer effort score (CES) is such a useful KPI. When customers are asked what they find most frustrating about customer service, they list “automated telephone system[s] that makes it hard to reach a human agent” (56%), limited customer support hours (53%) and the need to repeat themselves (45%) as their top complaints. IM eliminates or reduces each of these pain points.
IM sidesteps a traditional interactive voice response (IVR) system, so there’s no “automatic telephone system” to stand between customers and agents. The added flexibility which IM affords means extended service hours, often around the clock. There’s little or no need for repetition (on either side) because both customer and agent have a written history. Plus, with an IM conversation there’s no such thing as waiting on hold; there’s simply a break between messages. Timewise, a customer’s experience texting with an agent is about what they experience texting with friends and family.
Instant messaging also offers a capability that greatly speeds up requests: customers can attach files. IM enables customers to attach screenshots, error messages, photos, even videos. They can do so in their own time, without feeling rushed. Agents can respond with their own attachments: a marked-up screenshot, visual instructions or an instructional video (or link). Agents can also send passwords or one-time codes much more easily than by phone, and with lower risk of human error on both sides.
IM users are sending one other kind of attachment as well – voice messages. Customers record an audio message and send it just as they would a text message, thus combining the ease of speaking with the convenience of the IM format. The reverse is possible too. Forbes describes how IM can be used to enhance traditional phone calls by “allow[ing] agents to simply send customers a text message link with the products discussed along with relevant images, descriptions and prices — while the customer is still on the call.” The more that contact centers blend and combine channels, the closer they come to truly channel-less conversations, which put conversations above any individual channel.
Customer and agent experience are closely linked, so what helps one is likely to benefit the other. Just like customers, agents want the ability to share images. In fact, agents can take this one step further. With IM, agents can reuse answers from previous requests, with no loss in quality (and in fact, with a rise in consistency.) And the written format of IM also eliminates some of the biggest difficulties for agents, such as poor phone connections, unfamiliar accents or agitated customers.
The benefits of IM for contact centers extend beyond better agent experience. The asynchronous nature of IM enables agents to handle multiple chats at the same time, which leads to significant cost savings, makes work more efficient and easier to plan, and greatly mitigates temporary peaks of traffic. Partial automation of IM responses can bring further savings. For example, customers may receive an automated response with the option of ending a request if their questions are resolved, or waiting for a human agent. According to research by Helpshift that compares customer satisfaction (CSAT) for agents, bots, and agents plus bots, CSAT is highest when agents and bots work together. Contact centers and customers both come out ahead.
So why are customers, agents and brands all finding value in this communication strategy? The answer is that, in many situations, texting simply works better than talking. It’s faster and clearer, especially when leveraging visual capabilities. Brands that fully embrace IM as part of their communication strategy are going to be better positioned to meet their customers’ expectations.
Would you like to know how an Odigo Contact Center as a Service solution can help integrate IM into your overall brand communication strategy?