Will messaging overtake the telephone as most popular customer service channel?

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Most customers around the world continue to use the telephone when contacting customer service. When customers are asked (and depending upon who is conducting the survey and how the question is asked), many reasons have been given for their choice: their familiarity with that channel (vs. digital channels), the perception that the complexity of their issue requires a live conversation, or simply their desire to speak to a human being.

Like a telephone call, messaging–a term used to describe SMS/text messages or proprietary messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp–shares many of the same traits. As a result, it is poised to make further gains as a popular channel for customer service. In fact, earlier this year Gartner predicted that four out of five customer service organizations will abandon native mobile apps by 2025 and invest instead in messaging. Messaging is clearly on the way up, and it makes sense when you consider the many strengths it brings to the customer experience and the benefits to the organization.

Availability

In 2021, SMS/text messaging is nearly ubiquitous. Five billion people globally–or about sixty-five percent of the world’s population–send and receive SMS/text messages. In North America, that percentage increases to eighty or roughly two hundred ninety-two million people using text messaging. While usage may vary depending upon age, it’s clear from the numbers that most demographics are using it in some manner to communicate.

This high level of adoption demonstrates how comfortable most people are in using it as a communication channel–just like the telephone. That comfort creates not just an opportunity but an imperative for customer service, since seventy-eight percent of people want the ability to text businesses.

Asynchronicity

Considering how messaging works, one reason it’s so popular has to do with its conversational nature. For people staying in touch with friends and family, the dialog can be picked up or put on pause as the mood or moment dictates. When it is resumed, all prior context is available to both parties.

For customer service, this make persistent conversation possible. For simple issues, a dialog might only require a few rounds back-and-forth. For more complex issues, the dialog between customer and agent can play out over minutes or days until a resolution is determined.

That asynchronous nature can also benefit customer service by smoothing out spikes in volume. Because agents aren’t tied by telephone or chat to a single live conversation, they can actually manage several issues at once. And when a customer temporarily steps away from the conversation, though the issue remains open, it frees up the agent to focus on other active conversations or work.

Bot or live

That’s not to say messaging must be entirely handled by live customer service agents, however. In fact, messaging creates an opportunity to introduce greater scale into customer service.

The same chatbots living on customer service websites can be used to “staff” the messaging queue. Tapping into their ability to match common words and phrases with the problems they can address, a chatbot can just as easily offer solutions to issues or point customers to knowledge base articles using messaging. If the customer’s responses or additional questions are not recognized by the chatbot, no problem–business rules can ensure the conversation is seamlessly handed over to an agent.

Freed resources

The Gartner prediction mentioned organizations abandoning native mobile apps for service. This is significant for two reasons.

It frees up resources in those organizations that were maintaining those apps. The technical staff, skills, and funds can be used to shore up and improve other gaps in customer experience. On the customer service side, resources supporting requests coming in from the mobile app can also be reallocated.

Eliminating a proprietary mobile app also improves the customer experience. It removes what might be a significant barrier for customers: the need to download and learn a new app merely to communicate with a single organization.

Time for text

The telephone continues to hold its place as the most popular means of connecting with customer service for most of the population. With SMS/text messaging and app-based messaging now used every day by so much of the world, that is starting to change, however. With so many customers familiar with the various forms of messaging and its ongoing, asynchronous nature, organizations not using it to connect with their customers are missing out on an opportunity to improve the customer experience.

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