This was originally published on the Smooch blog in 2018 but has been updated. You can learn more about Zendesk acquiring Smooch here.
That customer experience would ultimately spread to modern messaging apps has long seemed inevitable, but it's become a reality since the three largest consumer messaging players have finally opened their platforms to businesses.
In 2018, Facebook introduced WhatsApp for Business, allowing brands to proactively message customers. Then, Google threw its weight behind Rich Communication Services (RCS), an SMS successor that it's trying to build into every Android phone under the new "Chat" moniker. Apple then launched Business Chat, allowing iOS users to chat with businesses through iMessage.
For the big tech rivals, this opened a new front in the hard-fought messaging wars. But neither businesses nor consumers have a dog in this fight. All three channels boast massive audiences, and brands who care about being wherever their customers are will have no choice but to embrace them all. In our latest State of Messaging report, we reported that by 2022, analysts predict that 70 percent of customer interactions will involve emerging conversational tools like chatbots, machine learning and messaging apps.
The question is no longer when brands will embrace messaging or which apps they'll use, but how this is all going to work. That's where most businesses will be looking to their existing customer engagement platforms for help. If you're a customer-centric business that's ready to embrace the conversational revolution, here are a few questions you should ask your vendors:
1. Which channels are you connected to?
As of 2020, WhatsApp, Apple and Google have made their business messaging solutions generally available. While in some cases these over-the-top (OTT) channels are working directly with brands, they know that the best way to scale is to bring the customer engagement and contact center platforms millions of businesses already depend on into the fold. Apple, for example, announced that it's working with platforms like Zendesk to get their customers on Business Chat.
For the most part though, this has all gone more slowly than the OTT channels had hoped. It turns out that connecting to and managing conversations across various disconnected channels with ever-changing APIs and messaging frameworks is frustratingly complex.
2. How will I manage all those conversations?
The first step for customer engagement platforms is connecting to all these OTT channels' APIs. The next step is to provide the tools to manage these customer conversations at scale.
What sort of user interface will enable your agents to chat with customers? How will they go about constructing the sort of rich and interactive conversational experiences that modern messaging apps enable?
We've been hearing about a new age of "conversational commerce" for a while now. The dream is for customers to be able to do everything from book a hotel room to order a meal to fill out an NPS survey without leaving the comfort of the chat window.
3. How much context will I have at my fingertips?
The early Apple Business Chat campaigns are promising, but they reveal how much opportunity customer engagement platforms have to help improve the user experience.
Authentication and encryption are crucial for business messaging solutions. A customer can find a specific hotel in Maps and send a message, but the agent might still ask which hotel they’re interested in booking alongside any other qualifying information. In an ideal world, this context could have been presented to the agent through whatever platform they were using to manage the conversation. While some solutions (like Zendesk!) make this information available to agents, not everyone is on the same page.
In the future, we can look forward to easier authentication with Touch ID or Face ID, features native to their mobile phones, instead of typing personal info.
Context and identity are precisely what makes messaging so powerful. Capturing this information will allow you to deliver truly personal experiences your customers will love, no matter the channel, with minimal effort on their part.