Rich messaging and the customer experience of the future

Messaging apps are putting more power into the hands of consumers. / Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash.

In the first part of this two-part blog, we looked at the evolution of messaging apps in recent times. In this second part, we’ll look at how messaging apps might develop in future.

Consistently, consumers have shown that they prefer rich media messaging over plain text. The ability to send videos and images has elevated messaging apps like Rakuten Viber from a free and simple way to stay in touch to a truly immersive communications platform. And for enterprises, it has moved them past the simple one-way text alerts to true two-way communication.

Think about it. As things stand, a customer wanting to report an issue with a service is faced with a pretty terrible customer journey. They have to call up, explain the issue, note down reference numbers, or download an entirely separate app and do it that way. Neither is ideal.

But what if reporting the problem was as easy as sending a message? It might sound too good to be true, but some brands already have that facility – with certain banks, reporting things like overcharges, wrong bills, and pretty much anything linked to erroneous transactions can be solved through our app. Just send a PDF of your bank statement, a picture of an invoice or a transaction statement directly to the customer care department through the messaging channel, and they’ll take care of it.

This has enormous potential for the service industry. Instead of noting down your gas meter reading, downloading your energy provider’s app or logging in to their website and entering the digits there, why not just message them a photo of the meter? There’s a date and timestamp, a paper trail as to what was sent and when, photographic evidence in case of any dispute. And it’s a lot easier than downloading yet another app or logging into an online account.

The uses are almost endless. Ecommerce companies can send reminders to customers about items that are still sitting in their carts, but instead of a simple reminder, they can include images, suggestions and a deep link or a checkout button to drive real ROI. Airlines can send info about overbooked flights but also include the option to respond and a deep-link for other flights available. Credit card fraud alerts can show images of the suspect charges, so you don’t have to go digging through your online banking. And you can change flight reservations by just sending a message instead of rifling through emails to find reference numbers, login details and so on.

Authenticity wins hearts and minds

So what do enterprises need to do to embrace this new way of marketing?

The first thing to note is the rise of conversational marketing. By this, we mean a combination of content marketing and dialogue marketing. It’s a way of making marketing more personal – think bespoke recommendations/offers for each customer based on their interaction history with your business. It’s a one-to-one approach, rather than one-to-many. And it’s usually accompanied by a more informal tone, as if the customer was talking to one of their friends rather than an enterprise.

The focus is on authenticity. Consumers want companies to be genuine. For example, don’t try and hide the fact that they’re dealing with a chatbot, but celebrate it. If it solves their problem – and admittedly, that’s a big ‘if’ – your customers won’t care that they’re not talking to a human. In fact, they’ll probably be impressed it works so well.

You should also refocus your efforts away from ‘push’ communication to ‘pull’ marketing instead. In other words, instead of pushing content to the customer, you interact in a way that drives better engagement by leveraging the power of real-time conversations. Again, it’s about making the conversation feel more genuine – for example, by employing a chatbot that uses local expressions unique to a specific region of the world. The communications should also be tailored depending on who you’re talking to – if they’re young, feel free to use a lot of gifs, emojis, and more informal language and references, for example, whereas older people might prefer a more traditional text-based approach.

It’s a tailored approach to communication – the opposite of one-size-fits-all. As just like with clothing, one size rarely fits all.

Embracing the future, replacing the browser

It’s easy to forget that it’s still very early days for messaging apps. But it’s safe to say that in many respects, messaging will replace the web browser experience. It’s never going to be 100 per cent like-for-like, but we are already used to getting information from a messaging app, whether we’re consulting with friends before making a purchase, using a search function natively built into the messaging app (as with Viber), or using all manner of native services like digital payments or music streaming. It’s so much more convenient than constantly switching between the app and the browser.

With more of these services now coming baked into the messaging app, it’s clear that messaging platforms are moving towards a more browser-like experience. In the near future, expect to see a lot more customisation and personalisation of the messaging experience, similar to shortcuts and bookmarked web tabs – you’ll be doing the same thing in your messaging apps. We know that in markets like China and Japan, where messaging apps are a much more inclusive experience, almost everything from payments to gifting somebody money to search is already available within the messaging app. We’ll see this more and more in the West and European markets.

This is driven by consumer choice. Customers want communication methods that are personal, relevant and private, and they prefer conversational messaging over one-way alerts. They want to engage using the channels they already use. Forward-looking brands understand this and are using these conversations to build exceptional experiences for consumers. Embrace messaging and make yours one of them.

Cristina Constandache, chief revenue officer at Rakuten Viber

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