Never before has it been so vital for all businesses to digitally transform – or risk being left behind. Virtually overnight, worldwide lockdowns have driven commerce almost exclusively online, forcing companies of all sizes to contend with dramatically changing customer behaviour and expectations.

Average weekly support requests have gone up 20% since the start of the pandemic, according to Zendesk’s Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report 2021, and with ticket volumes rapidly rising, businesses have had to take a good hard look at their customer experience, and determine whether it’s fit for purpose.

What new services – and service channels – are customers trying for the first time? How can businesses cope effectively with increased enquiries, both efficiently and with empathy? What is most important to customers right now and what behaviours are likely to stick around long-term?

Messaging channels have become a firm consumer favourite

One standout change in behaviour is that consumers – Millennials and Gen Z-ers especially – have flocked to messaging channels since the start of the pandemic, and most don’t plan on looking back.

Messaging apps now have an estimated 2.77 billion monthly users around the globe. As well as talking to family and friends, more and more people are also now messaging companies, whether through native messaging channels like branded websites or mobile apps, or through social messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal or Facebook Messenger. In fact, according to Zendesk’s research, use of messaging apps to contact businesses more than doubled in EMEA in the last year.

Chat keeps the conversation flowing

Messaging’s popularity has grown faster than any other service channel and it’s rapidly transforming how brands interact with customers. Granted, an increase in the use of digital services and online in general has been a key contributor to this, with many consumers saying they are willing to spend more with a brand that delivers easier online experiences, including chat. Messaging is also convenient, conversational and personal, as well as being persistent and asynchronous, meaning that it allows for a continuous conversation between customer and company. Equally, if a customer service agent gets to a point in the conversation where they need to wait for a response, they can always come back to the message stream later on and pick back up, and all the context remains right there in the thread. 

It also offers greater flexibility. Agents can use other channels within the messaging software, switching to a voice or even video call within messaging streams, if that provides a better way to deal with the request. Companies can also easily plug extra functionality into it, such as images, carousels, links, forms and chatbots.

Maritime transportation company Balearia brought in chat functionality as part of its move to a more modern and agile contact centre strategy, enabling agents to work more effectively from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As ticket volumes surged, contact centre agents learned how to use the functionality in just half an hour. As a result, contacts were managed more quickly and seconds saved across hundreds of contacts added up to hours of extra time, with customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores for chat at 96 percent.

Balearia also became the first Spanish shipping company to send boarding passes through WhatsApp. Originally a security measure implemented after COVID-19 to enable passengers to avoid ticket office crowds, the company has also now used the messaging channel to send all travel-related notifications to passengers travelling to the Balearic Islands. When customers book passage on a ship, they authorise Baleària to use WhatsApp as a channel. Those passengers then receive tickets for their reservation, including any vehicle passes, through the app and can also sign up for SMS as an alternative.

Similarly, Made.com immediately moved to a non-verbal chat service following lockdown announcements last year, when they saw it was what customers wanted. They have since seen CSAT scores and productivity jump up as a result, and their customer service teams are happier too. “There’s less pressure on these frontline staff who now have the ability to hold more than one conversation at a time – using chat – and to flex more during peak demand times,” explains Gary Sheppard, Global Customer Service Operations Manager at Made.com. “We can see WhatsApp overtaking email as the preferred service channel before the year is out.”

A great messaging experience = a great customer experience

Above all, messaging leads to a better customer service experience – companies that boast the fastest resolution times and highest satisfaction scores are more likely to be messaging with customers, Zendesk’s research found. That’s probably why more than half of businesses surveyed that added a new channel to their service strategy recently chose messaging.

By 2025, 80% of customer service organisations will have abandoned native mobile apps in favour of messaging for a better customer experience, according to Gartner. This shift to messaging platforms like WhatsApp puts brands in the privileged position of being on people’s most regular communication channels, sitting right there next to their family and friends chat groups. And as the experiences brands can offer become richer – enabling in-app purchases and sharing product selections, for example –  the conversation can move beyond simply addressing issues to building a continuous relationship where research and transactions become even simpler for consumers. It’s an exciting future that has the potential to dramatically shift the role of service teams from cost centre to profit centre.

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