I have installed 170 apps on my iPhone—I just counted them. I’m not at all unusual (at least not in terms of number of apps downloaded). Of those 170, I use four or five consistently and most of the others rarely, and many not at all. Again, I’m not unusual. Think about your own app usage and you’ll likely find that your experience mirrors my own.
Forrester data also reflects this trend. We tracked the usage of nearly 2,000 U.S. smartphone owners and found they spent 88 percent of their time in just five apps. The No. 1 app consumed almost half their usage time. The apps used vary by consumer. For some, the top five will likely include communication and social apps; for others, gaming and entertainment apps occupy their attention. One thing missing from most people’s list? Brand apps. Consumed with Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and email, people have limited appetite for brand apps. To the utilities, insurance companies, and restaurant chains that spent gobs of cash on developing apps—sorry.
There are exceptions, of course: Apps where mobile itself is the product can draw high engagement levels from consumers. Mobile gaming apps; transportation apps used on the go, such as Uber or Lyft; mobile banking apps; mobile platforms for viewing content, such as NFL Mobile—these all have high usage. Loyalty-driven apps can attract high usage as well: Delta frequent flyers frequently use the Delta app. But for the most part, consumers will delete an app if it does not provide unique value. Mobile apps are where you must serve your most loyal customers; more fleeting customers will simply not download them.
So if you want to tap into your customers’ mobile lives and apps won’t attract them, where can you turn?
Increasingly, companies have started to look at mobile messaging tools as a possible path to providing mobile customer service. With more than 1 billion monthly active users each, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger clearly get high mobile engagement. Essentially, brands are starting to buy into that old saw about the mountain and Muhammad and going where their customers actually are.
Beyond that purely utilitarian motivation, companies have other reasons they should start exploring and piloting mobile messaging customer service:
• It creates persistent conversations. Although companies have recorded customer service phone calls for years, consumers had no easy way to preserve a record of those interactions. Because messaging apps keep a persistent record of all communications, both consumers and companies will have easy access to all current and past conversations. In this way, messaging arms consumers with the ability to “record this call for quality assurance purposes.”
• It makes for richer communications. Facebook Messenger allows users and brands to exchange photographs—which is extremely useful for showing a sweater that arrived with a hole in the sleeve or showing the state of an uncleaned hotel room. The tool can also send maps, which is helpful for shipping notifications or real-time status updates for a package delivery. It also supports the seemingly omnipresent emoji and animated GIFs, allowing service to become more casual and more closely resemble communications with friends and family. Companies can create a carousel of options to present to users. All of these tools make messaging a deeper experience than many other possible service channels, such as SMS.
• It can alleviate fears of social customer service. Messaging helps brands keep conversations private. Sprint, for example, saw a 31 percent increase in volume via Messenger and a subsequent 23 percent decrease in public comments in just the first three months. Messaging can also mitigate the potential for negative viral messages. As customers increasingly choose a private channel for complaint resolution and, more importantly, receive a good result from it, they may be less inclined to escalate to a viral approach.
Given all that, it behooves customer service pros to evaluate what it would take to engage customers via messaging. If your business attracts significant numbers of Millennial customers, this imperative increases exponentially, as more than one third of that generation regularly uses Facebook Messenger.
Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst at Forrester Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.