Yes they are!
We have seen in the consumer world how almost every age demographic has taken to conversational messaging /chat interfaces because they are quick, convenient, and accessible from your device of choice. Many also show your availability, if messages are read/unread and someone’s location. This helps set expectations as to whether you will get an immediate response or will have to wait for a reply.
The chat screen/interface is typically accessed via an App on your phone, such as SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or a chat facility on a website / within applications. Gen Z and Millennials are the most prolific users of more recent apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Tiktok. They are all simple and intuitive to use and offer real-time updates and responses.
Historically the business world has had far better communications tools than the consumer. This turned on its head when Smartphones and Apps became mainstream, and it has taken businesses a number of years to roll out systems that offer calls, chat and video that replicate the apps that consumers are already familiar with. Whilst these platforms are being widely adopted the messaging, presence and video features are typically for internal employee use, not customer communications. This means customers rely on traditional phone calls, emails, web forms, text messages and letters! More progressive businesses offer Webchat and Social Engagement channels.
Both Apple and Google have developed next-gen messenger offerings to supersede SMS for business to consumer use. Apple Business-Chat and Google RCS (Rich Communication Services) both offer a rich conversational interface that supports text, images, videos, audio messages and more. Although a few businesses introduced these services they have been slow to take off for various technical reasons. When more providers support these technologies there will inevitably be higher adoption rates.
The Modern Consumer
The always-connected modern consumer is becoming much more demanding and used to instant gratification in their personal communications. So much so that their expectations on businesses and brands is for their desired information or service to be available at their moment of need. They have become impatient and if it takes longer than a minute to find information, to transact or to get a response to an enquiry, they often give up. Many consumers try to self-serve first and where Chat apps are not available they will resort to a phone call, use webchat (if available) or even post their complaint on social. Customer experience has now become the most important criteria for retaining and winning customers, in many cases more influential than price.
Messaging Apps with Speech
Whilst the majority of users are typing and tapping their messages, there are a growing number adopting speech interfaces to increase the convenience levels further. More and more applications are beginning to add a microphone button next to the typing area so that you speak your instructions and they are transcribed and sent as text. It is simple and intuitive, and offers the choice of text or speech. Some apps are adding voice notes, where you record your message, edit if required and send. It takes seconds to compose and is super easy for the recipient to listen to the message and respond (like a modern update on voicemail).
Messaging Apps for Business use
But do businesses want to offer these chat style of interfaces for customers and prospects to communicate, transact or provide instant help and support on a diverse range of topics? Do they want to use multiple media formats including messaging, speech, images, videos?
That’s a definite yes. We hear a growing number of requests from businesses that want to use applications like WhatsApp for customer communications. Is it WhatsApp specifically they want or is it an easily accessible, simple to use, conversational interface? Although some businesses are using WhatsApp for customer interactions there are many who do not wish to share confidential information across the platform. In 2022 WhatsApp asked users for consent to share data with Facebook. Although this might be acceptable for general conversations there will be certain sensitive data that you may not want traversing their platform. Specifically, sending passwords or personal data that identifies and verifies the user before exchanging confidential information or transactions are probably best kept away from social messenger platforms. Whether its WhatsApp or any of the apps discussed, it is clear businesses need to offer conversational interfaces offering instant responses to enquiries whether using live or virtual advisors.
Introducing Automation to Customer Service
To serve customers with better, faster and more effortless digital experiences than ever before will require automation to be introduced. Customers want to self-serve and mobile messaging is where consumers are spending the majority of their time. Chat and speech interfaces offer that instant, informed and personalised responses that solve their problems and save them time. We have seen Chatbots and Virtual Assistants introduced with very different levels of success. When done well they will add significant value but the majority aren’t connected to business data, offer limited intelligence and operate in a silo.
With the right platform Conversational AI, speech technology, and Low-Code application integration is opening up the opportunity to offer some transformational services to your customers.
Speech Driven Automation
Smart devices with Speech Assistants have become more common with Alexa leading the way and Google Assistant not far behind. Mobile phones have inbuilt Virtual Assistants such as Siri and Bixby, and Alexa or Google Assistant are available to download. Adoptions rates are rising due to the enhanced levels of convenience and ease of use. Speech technology is constantly improving its accuracy and understanding. Speech is also a more natural interface for the elderly and for many disabled users as it removes the challenge of typing on a small screen. There are also a lot of new developments in speech technology to understand users who struggle to speak, these will open up new possibilities for future communications. There are still many apps and platforms that do not offer speech driven services, but in the future you will see this changing.
How Businesses Use Speech Assistants
The Speech Assistants referred to above take their information from the Internet, it isn't connected to your business data. Alexa and Google Assistant are the same unless you set up an advanced Alexa skill or equivalent, and it will not help customers with their specific personal queries. The information your audience requires may be publicly available on the Internet (maybe on your website) but when they call your business it is because they want information that they can't readily access, and it is likely to be within a database or business application. When customers call in your Customer Service Advisors will view multiple screens within applications to serve them and will require some form of ID & V before providing the response.
Speech Assistants can automate this process by replicating your advisors, identify the caller, interrogate your company data, and respond to enquiries. Examples include checking a delivery time, an appointment date and time, stock availability, or booking a service
How Will Businesses Using Messaging Apps In The Future?
Businesses are now looking to serve customers through Chat and Messaging interfaces. To offer the best experience a
conversational chat interface will be simple and convenient and offer fast and personalised responses. Something that looks and behaves like WhatsApp, and can be driven by messaging or speech. It will automate responses (to offer instant support) and blend self-service, assisted service with live service, as and when required. It will be connected to the businesses data to respond with information that is contextual and present it back in the most suitable way. A simple admin GUI will enable the Customer Service team to administer the customer journeys and workflows without requiring IT or outsourced support. The easier it is to build these journeys the broader the service can become to support multiple departments.
Choosing The Right Messaging Platform for Business
Offering all of the above isn't easy, the global messaging platforms aren't customisable for individual businesses across a plethora of sectors. Automating speech driven services that support multiple dialects, accents and languages with high accuracy across a ranges of diverse and complex topics is extremely difficult to get right. Allowing these interfaces to securely retrieve data from multiple applications, accessing relevant information and then presenting it in a conversational way either visually or over speech is also not for the faint-hearted and requires powerful middleware within the platform.
Adaptive and Contextual Chat Interfaces
As well as the features already discussed, future customer communications need to be conversational and multi-modal. Some conversations are better resolved with speech, others with text or in many cases it will be far easier to transact using images, videos or custom content. The conversation context will be suggested or predictive through dynamic retrieval of customer information. Conversations will be adaptive; you will tap, type, swipe or speak and all interactions will be monitored and analysed by AI to improve future services.
A No-Code and Low-Code Approach
Designing customer journeys, adding the responses and updating company information over-time is not the responsibility of IT so the management of your Virtual Assistants should not be a technical exercise. The Customer Service Team are at the coalface daily and understand why their customers are contacting them. They have the knowledge and expertise to answer customer queries and therefore are the perfect fit for administering the automation platform. This requires the platform to have an intuitive interface that almost anyone can use with a small amount of training. A No-Code interface is the perfect tool where it is simple to create and amend responses. The workflow builder should easily enable text, buttons, images, videos, maps etc to be inserted into the flow and offer drag and drop components for workflows such as transfer, send email/SMS, capturing data or accessing the API’s that the IT team make available.
But even backend integrations no longer need high levels of IT support. Where Low-Code interfaces significantly add value is enabling the connectivity to all of your business applications to access relevant, real-time data. Low-Code middleware enables people with little or no coding experience to use a visual programming tool to create the API’s that the customer service team can drop into their flows. Both No-Code and Low-Code tools significantly reduce the cost of running the platform as in-house resources can manage everything.
Can Your Business Improve Its Customer Service With Messaging Apps?
Many Digital transformation projects have been completed to make it easier or more cost effective for the business rather than improving the service for the customer. It should not be forcing your audience to use digital channels such as web forms or portals instead of a making a phone call, or replacing live services with apps – it’s about customer choice. The technology is now available to improve services in new ways so that customers get a better, faster and easier experience whichever way they contact you. If they call by phone, they will receive a better service than holding in a queue to speak with someone, messenger/chat communications will be instant and informative, and some customers may prefer to speak with a digital human (life-like avatar) that assists them whilst being courteous and showing empathy.
Customer service automation incorporating Conversational AI, Intelligent Speech Assistants and Virtual Agents have come a long way in recent years and there is much more to consider when choosing a platform. If you would like a demonstration of all of this technology in action then please contact us or call us on 0333 6000 360.