Jun 26, 2020

Asynchronous Interaction in Business Text Messaging for Better Customer Experience

By Nidhin Varghese (NV)

I am sure you are familiar with the feeling of leaving the house and realizing that you left your phone at home. You feel disconnected from the world, perhaps even incomplete. Without even realizing it, these devices have become our constant companions.


If you think about it, our lives are a collection of mobile moments. Irrespective of where we are, we pull out our phones to get things done. Not only are phones our go-to-tool for basic aspects of our lives, but companies like Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon are redefining or rather have already redefined our expectations as consumers.


Of all the activities that we do on our mobile device, a recent analysis showed that 25% of the time is spent on messaging apps. Clearly today’s economy is driven by digital natives, who are mobile-first, chat-first, and social-first.


Despite this obvious preference for digital, if you look at call volumes and the cost to provide customer service … messaging has barely made a dent. So, what is the solution? That is where the technology giants like Apple, Google and Facebook have stepped in. We, as consumers, have given these companies the permission to be in our pockets, and in turn these companies are enabling businesses to contact us on these channels. That is going to allow consumers to message businesses, instead of calling, at our convenience and at our own time. That is business messaging.


Text Messaging Service for Businesses


We’ve all had experiences with businesses contacting us through SMS, for shipping notifications, marketing offers, promotional campaigns, and appointment reminders. Traditionally text message systems for business is associated with just SMS or texting. However, business messaging isn’t just SMS or texting and it definitely isn’t just one-way communication. It can and should be a two way dialog that offers a richer experience than SMS, one where you can send images, emojis, and videos, and use it to conduct transactions (making payments etc.).


Let’s take a common scenario such as contacting an Internet provider or a bank. Today, you would have to set aside 30 – 45 minutes for a phone call or online chat (if they offer it). The interaction almost always starts with waiting for an agent to become available. Once the session is established, you send a message, the agent responds, and this goes back and forth a few turns. Then, let’s say you had to step away or take too long to reply. The agent waits for you to respond, and most likely they will check in at regular intervals in to see if you are still online. From a contact center perspective, this results in a loss of productivity. On the flip side, if the agent has to do some research, you are put on hold resulting in a waste of your time.


Personally, I have had a number of experiences where while waiting for the agent to respond, I step away to grab a cup of coffee and return to find that the agent has left the conversation. It goes without saying that restarting that conversation is almost equally frustrating as waiting, if not more so. Adding to the distress, sometimes the previous interaction disappears completely. Other times, I get connected to a new agent and have to re-explain the whole problem from the beginning.


As consumers, our lifestyles demand more flexibility that what businesses provide. That flexibility is exactly what business messaging provides by shifting the consumer and the agent to an asynchronous mode of communication.


First off, asynchronous messaging eliminates the ”wait in queue” concept. The customer can send the message at their convenience and the underlying platform takes into account the nature of the query, the customer profile, past engagements, other business parameters and assigns it to the right agent. If the customer ever gets distracted, the agent is notified of the status of the customer, and instead of having to keep waiting for the customer’s response, the agent can now cater to other active customers. The same is the case for the customer, rather than needing to wait next to their computer or staying on hold on a voice call, they can continue with their lives and get back to the interaction when they get a response or when it is suitable for them.


The Benefit of Asynchronous Interaction


The best part of asynchronous interactions is that the choice is in the hands of the customer. As a customer, I can choose to stay with the interaction and complete it or choose to drop in and out of the conversation and spread it throughout the day.


Now that we have established what business messaging is, the question then is where do I use business messaging?  Simply put - start with the customer. That’s almost always the right way to begin, and it certainly applies to business messaging. If a customer wants information or service, then that is your moment to shine. Meet them where they are, and your customer will come to depend on you, deepening their loyalty. On the flip side, if you are absent in those moments, those customers are going to turn to someone else who is providing a better experience.


Better Customer Experience with Business Messaging Services


The best way to figure out where to use messaging is to create a catalog of the relevant messaging moments. And the best way to come up with that catalog is to answer these three questions:

  1. Where can you immediately solve a customer problem? - Say a potential customer has a question about a promotional offer, or a new customer has a billing surprise, or an existing customer is looking to resolve their issue. Those are those no-waiting moments that you can tap into using messaging.
  2. Where can you eliminate friction? - This question can help unleash a ton of instances, in which you can find and fix, those little annoyances. For example, take a look at you appointment scheduling process, return process, claim filing process etc. Can you use messaging to improve the current experience?
  3. Where can you deliver new services? - This is the blue-sky path for new messaging moments. If you implement messaging correctly, and expand your messaging touch-points, that is the quickest path to increasing the bottom line. For example, modernize and personalize the sports fan experience by enabling a concierge experience through messaging. 

Three Pillars for Asynchronous Communication Channel Success


From my experience, there are three fundamental pillars to making asynchronous communication channels successful:

  1. Discoverability – Meet the customer in the channel they prefer. Carefully and diligently choose the messaging app and the respective entry points. Equally as important, supplement the launch with the necessary marketing & awareness activities, so that customers are aware of the capabilities.
  2. Customer experience – The new channel should not be enabled just to “tick the check box” but should be designed to ensure that the customer issue is completely addressed, resolved and contained within that channel for a better customer experience. The last thing a business should do is tell a customer who went down the messaging path that their issue can’t be resolved in this channel and that they have to call in.
  3. Contact Center Readiness – Success of the operations team is mainly dependent on two things:
  • One – Technology advancements, the agent console that you choose has to be geared up to handle asynchronous chats, and by that I don’t mean just the ability to accept asynchronous chats, but have the necessary features to help agents reap the benefits of that communication mode.
  • Two – Adjust the agent performance management that suits asynchronous interaction.


To sum it all up, business messaging is no longer a luxury but a necessity. However, deploying a successful asynchronous communication channel requires careful deliberation, and a well-crafted strategy!


About the author


NV, Director of Strategic Alliances at [24]7.ai., is very passionate about driving the adoption of business messaging and for the last 2 years have been working very closely with Apple, Google & Facebook. He has been consulting with many enterprises as they embarked on the transformation journey from synchronous to asynchronous mode of customer engagement.