Sparkcentral recently had the pleasure of inviting Ian Jacobs, Principal Analyst at Forrester, to join our head of product, Abhay Prasad in a discussion about digital customer care. Sparkcentral works with many brands who are undergoing a shift to a messaging-first support strategy and we are often approached by teams that are about to embark on that adventure. Ian and Abhay joined forces to discuss what “good” customer service is, the impact of digital messaging on service, and how to operationalize digital customer care. You can watch a recording of this discussion or catch up with this quick recap:

What is good customer service?

Each year, Forrester surveys consumers to understand how we define “good” customer service. Each year, the answer is the same: brands can provide good customer service by valuing my time. It’s simple and it’s what customers want. Ian discussed how “value my time” translates to aspects in the customer journey.

Customers want service to be:

  • Fast (or fast enough)
  • Personal and personalized

There will be cases when service needs to be immediate, such as an emergency. Other times, customers are asking for a simple answer, like store hours or location information. The importance of response time varies by inquiry. That’s why Ian adds a qualifier of “fast enough” to the listed service requirements.

Ian shared that personalized and personal service are not the same but customers still want both. Customers don’t want a cold and robotic response (regardless of interacting with a bot or a human agent), they crave something personal and relatable. At the same time, customers desire a personalized experience. “You don’t want to be treated like everybody else. Your situation is, indeed, unique. Even if you’re asking something that is completely routine, such as asking about store hours. Your reason for asking is unique.” Ian shared. A few ways that he provided for creating a personalized feel is for a brand to know and acknowledge past conversations and interactions with returning customers.

Brands are not meeting these expectations

While Ian spoke optimistically about the fundamental requirements for good service, he felt that many brands fall short. These brands, he maintained, make the customer adjust to their operations instead of meeting their needs. Ian’s expressed his biggest frustration: “Instead of personalizing the service and coming up with the right amount of speed based on customer needs in the moment, the brands are expecting consumers to change for our business.”

“Instead of personalizing the service and coming up with the right amount of speed based on customer needs in the moment, the brands are expecting consumers to change for our business.”

“In our personal lives, we are frustrated when our friends and family don’t get the signals we’re sending out about the channels.” For instance, if you have a quick question and text a friend about it and they call you back instead of replying with a message, that’s frustrating. The same goes when interacting with brands. If a consumer wants to send you a simple message but you make them go through a complicated IVR to get an answer, you are doing more harm than good. Ian didn’t hold back when talking about telephony support, “It’s just a bulky, awkward experience that very rarely leads to a lasting [positive] impression. It may be effective but you’re not going to feel good about it.”

“In order to improve support operations, I’m of the belief that brands should provide the kinds of experiences that customers today will walk away from saying, ‘yep, that made me happy’.”

What’s the impact of digital messaging?

The impact of digital messaging and a messaging-first strategy was also discussed in detail during this webinar.

Customer Satisfaction is on the rise

Phone satisfaction scores have fallen flat. At the same time, customer satisfaction scores on messaging channels have increased and are catching up with phone CSAT averages. This indicates the customer experience for phones is stagnant, while it is improving in mobile messaging apps. One of the leading causes of the increase of CSAT with digital messaging channels is the fact that brands are now on messaging channels. In the past, social media and other messaging channels were established by marketing teams but are increasingly shifting to be under the ownership of digital care teams.

Satisfaction trends reported by Forrester:

Phone 2015: 76%

Phone 2017: 75%

Mobile Messaging Apps 2015: 56%

Mobile Messaging Apps 2017: 71%

SMS (North America) 2015: 59%

SMS (North America) 2017: 70%

Clarification: webchat is not messaging

In addition to comparing digital channels with the phone, Ian referenced the differences between messaging and webchat. Webchat is problematic because contact centers are not able to properly staff their chat teams in order to meet customer needs. In fact, 21% of live chat requests go unanswered. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Chat is also not designed for mobile experiences, which is how many of us seek help. This is where messaging steps up: the ability to start a conversation with a brand, interact, leave, and then come back to the conversation exactly where you left off is what makes messaging so appealing for the customer. At the same time, it’s a better experience for the agent, as they are able to interact with one customer at a time (even if they are handling multiple conversations at once), instead of focusing on two or three concurrent chats.

Messaging can imitate live chat

“If you want to provide a live chat experience without the frustrations, messaging can do that,” Ian recommends. You can take an asynchronous messaging platform (like Sparkcentral) and configure it in such a manner that the back-and-forth conversation with a single customer keeps being sent to the same agent. When these messages are sorted in a prioritized manner, the agent essentially has a live conversation with the customer without the customer realizing that they aren’t in a “live” channel.

“If you want to provide a live chat experience without the frustrations, messaging can do that.”

Where should brands start on their digital journey?

Between picking which channels to support to the operationalization of a messaging-first contact center, Ian and Abhay had several pointers. Here are the top takeaways:

Select your channels

Select channels based on your customers. Where are they already trying to reach out to you? What messaging apps are popular for the regions you support? What are the device trends for your customer demographics? Chances are they are mobile and rely heavily on a variety of messaging apps. There is a cost associated with adding channels, even if it’s just advertising these service channels to customers, so choose wisely!

Pick a platform

If you attempt to implement a messaging-first customer care approach and do not have a platform that will allow you to handle messages across different channel types, you will be in trouble. The work you put into operationalizing your messaging care should be scalable and repeatable across similar various channels. Shameless plug: this is what we specialize in at Sparkcentral!

5-point plan for a messaging-first world

Abhay shared a tried-and-true outline for getting started with messaging. These five steps are where we start with our customers when implementing a new account or simply a new channel!

  1. Set the vision
  2. Design initial deployment plan
  3. Drive customer awareness
  4. Measure results
  5. Optimize and scale

Abhay and Ian dove into this five-point plan and the nuances of operationalizing messaging in the contact center. However, if I covered it all in this post, it wouldn’t be called a recap! To get the specifics, view their slides, and to hear the rest of the webinar, check out the recording now.

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