Sorry, Companies. We’re Just Not That Close.

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I almost never use chat. If a brand has a live chat option, chances are I’m not going to use it. But Christina, you sold chat platforms for years. You cover chat platforms at Forrester Research. I know! I know. Part of me thinks that maybe I’m just too close to it to want to use it personally. But honestly? Most enterprise chat experiences suuuck.

I would sincerely rather wait on hold for a call center agent than be tethered to a single browser tab waiting for the telltale pop or ping of a live chat notification. I know that if I step away or change tabs even for a moment, the chat agent might decide I’m idle and disconnect without helping me, forcing me to start all over again with a new agent. Infuriating!

It’s funny because anyone who knows me personally would be surprised that I prefer speaking on the phone in any scenario. I’m big on messaging. I am an active participant in many group chats with my friends and family. I have been teased more than once at work about how many messages I send on Teams. But let’s face it: Asynchronous messaging is the right modality for many a situation—when it’s not important enough for a call and doesn’t require the formality of an email. I don’t mind if people don’t get back to me right away. No pressure. No problem.

When vendors started pitching asynchronous messaging for customer service, this made some sense to me. Live chat has always been this strange combination of both urgent and elusive—maybe asynchronous messaging would give digital customer service a necessary dose of stability. The first days of async came quite a few years ago, and these days, it’s almost harder to find a vendor that doesn’t lead with async.


If you take a look at the marketing for asynchronous messaging solutions, you’ll see things like “Engage with your customers where their friends are!” And hey, don’t get me wrong; it’s a cute concept. But … really?

Vendors will sing the virtues of brands’ ability to send messages that will appear in the same application as messages from your best friends or grandmother (assuming grandma’s got a smartphone). And while I agree that companies need to branch out from offering support exclusively on their own channels (I am not downloading another brand app), they need to tread carefully in such a personal space.

Forrester surveyed its online research community to understand how consumers feel about messaging with businesses, and many respondents felt that this is “too invasive” and “too personal.” Our phones (for better or worse) are almost an extension of ourselves, and any company invited into that space should ensure their messaging strategy acknowledges that privilege.

Brands should not fall into the trap of overfamiliarity with their async messaging strategy. It’s true that customers can and will step in and out of conversations at will, but this does not mean that companies should approach this channel with the same casual demeanor. My best friend gets to ignore me for half the day, but my airline should not expect the same privilege. I’m sorry—we’re not friends like that. 

Christina McAllister is senior analyst, Forrester Research, covering customer service and contact center technology, strategy, and operations.

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