Third-Party Messaging Offers Customer Service Opportunities

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Third-party messaging platforms have evolved from nice-to-have to need-to-have capabilities for customer service organizations, advises Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask in a report titled “Using Third-Party Messaging Platforms for Customer Service.”

Customer service organizations need to meet customers wherever they are, regardless of channel, to resolve issues, Ask says. And increasingly, customers are looking to platforms like Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messages, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp and are likely to expand those preferences to other apps now in development.

But today, only a minority of organizations offer services on the popular customer messaging platforms, according to Ask.

She blames the relative youth of the platforms. Some started in invitation-only mode. Many small businesses signed up directly, providing relatively quick use for them and their customers. However, the providers want the larger enterprises to come through content centers, providing another level of complexity.

Customers had turned to different types of chat platforms as on-hold time for telephone responses grew, especially in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ask says. By providing customers with wider channel choices, customer service organizations can reduce phone calls and customer wait times, increasing efficiencies and decreasing on-hold times.

“Companies want to give consumers choice not only of channel, interaction mode, and platform, but also asynchronous options,” Ask states. “They’ve primarily delivered customer service through voice, website, apps, and SMS; they’re also adopting third-party platforms to give consumers asynchronous choice.

“Third-party messaging platforms can provide value to most brands regardless of industries, but some verticals have a greater affinity with messaging. Brands with real-time customer needs—airlines with customers racing for flights or an audio/visual equipment retailer with customers looking to configure the right system to buy—have myriad customer service use cases for which messaging makes a great fit,” Ask says further.

Though some customers have flocked to these platforms, others aren’t as experienced with them. Some customers expect the platforms to be like live chat, which they are not, Ask says. “Customers want super-speedy responses. They want to be able to leave the conversation [momentarily] to step out of a cab or something, but they want the agent to be readily available. They want that instant gratification.”

Before most customers fully embrace these platforms, they want to ensure their privacy is protected, Ask adds.

Ask recommends that customer service organizations do the following when exploring these platforms:

  • Determine which platforms customers use daily or weekly and prioritize them.
  • Examine case studies. Apple, Facebook, and Google all have various conferences to help developers ensure that platform experiences meet expectations.
  • Start small with chatbots. By starting small, organizations can avoid large problems that can negatively impact their reputations.
  • Use digital natives to staff digital channels. The skills for agents working with digital channels rather than traditional channels are unique. Digital agents need to speak “digital” (i.e., use emojis, embed links) while also being able to help customers get onboarded and to use the available tools.
  • Look for unique social media messaging options to successfully engage customers during different stages of their journeys.

“Enterprises must find ways to route inbound communications from all of these platforms seamlessly, whether to a marketing department, account services, or a contact center,” Ask says.

A few leading-edge companies are already embedding customer workflows in these messaging platforms, a practice that Ask expects others to follow soon. But for now, companies need to gain some experience using these platforms as part of their customer service outreach.

“The first thing that we will see is that companies will start to use these platforms to do old things in new ways,” Ask says. “Eventually, companies will find ways to work these platforms into the purchasing model.”

In doing so, they will work to discover at which point in customer journeys the platforms are most effective, she adds.

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