This is the first post in the “Marketer’s Guide” series designed to help marketers understand omni-channel marketing and all its component parts (SMS, messaging APIs, 2-Factor Authentication, and Communications Platforms as a Service). Usually with a series like this you start with the pieces of the puzzle then assemble them at the end. This approach works really well when it's clear how all the pieces fit or you're making a case for something new and revolutionary in the market. In our case we’re starting with the end solution—omni-channel communications—then covering all the parts that make the whole.
While this seems backwards, starting with the big picture gives you the whole vision for a new communications strategy at once. You won't just see how the parts fit together but why they fit together as well. Each facet of omni-channel communications supports the other. 2-Way SMS is built on an SMS messaging API that powers 2-Factor Authentication that can be used to help customer support over the phone. That's the omni part of omni-channel. All encompassing. Unified. Cohesive.
Omni-channel marketing and communications is comprised of a web of solutions that gives customers the flexibility to choose the right communications tool for them—at that moment. With fully-integrated communications, it doesn't matter what channel a customer picks, all the channels are pulled into a single place for a company to manage. Omni-channel marketing stems from both consumer demand and technological innovations allowing formerly disparate communications channels to be melded together into a single channel.
Omni-channel marketing is more than just a choice of platforms or channels, it's a mindset that there is no preferred channel for customer communications. It's a mindset that allows companies to think nothing of having a support call start with SMS, switch to email for details then phone to confirm and back to SMS for a follow up survey. At its core omni-channel marketing is customer-focused and user-centric marketing and messaging. Omni-channel is about letting the customer guide the pace of the conversation, not the company.
Omni-channel marketing and messaging grew out of both the social media revolution and the explosion of smartphones (mobile first approach). Social media brought the expectation that companies and brands should always be available to answer questions and smartphones let us start those conversation anywhere, any time.
Consumers are driving the evolution of messaging
Consumers don't just expect responses from companies any more, they expect rapid responses. According to a study by Lithium over 40% of consumers expected an answer to their question within an hour. This expectation puts companies under pressure to constantly monitor and respond to queries, regardless of channel. Along with the expectation of rapid response, consumers want to connect on channels of their choosing. Social media, email, chat, phone, SMS these channels are all available to consumers, and they use every single one of them.
Omni-channel marketing isn't just limited to messaging, but also the entire process of marketing to consumers. Let's take the travel industry for example. According to a study from Facebook and Deloitte most consumers use several devices (and often several devices as once) to plan a trip. For a resort, an airline, a hotel, this means that each and every time a consumer interacts with their brand it has to be not just seamless but consistent too. Jumping from laptop to smartphone to tablet, consumers expect—and will soon demand—their searches and favorites come along for the ride.
From messaging to marketing to customer experience, omni-channel messaging is only going to gain ground and become more complicated to manage. Bot-connected chat apps, like Facebook Messenger and Slack, will create a whole new facet in the omni-channel world—and that world is going to get a lot more interesting in the next 6-12 months.
Omni-channel messaging brings reach and flexibility to your marketing communications mix
Having one way to communicate with customers is like having only one flavor of ice cream. Sure it's good, but you're not always in the mood for mint chocolate chip. Sometimes you need rapid, reliable communications and only SMS will get the message to customers quickly. Product updates, probably better as an email. Support could be done on either, but what about using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger? Omni-channel marketing—and by extension Omni-channel messaging—is about being flexible and adaptable to both your customer's needs and wants.
While there is a downside of being platform agnostic, the upside is not needing to shoehorn your message into a format that doesn’t fit. A newsletter over SMS makes no sense, but a 2FA OTP (one-time-pin) is better not emailed.
Omni-channel marketing channels and how they fit into marketing communications
The fundamental cornerstone of omnichannel marketing and communications is the humble website. Your website sets the tone and story for your company. All channels should feed into and be derived from your website. While it seems obvious, in practice many marketers forget to do things as simple an email subscription form on the site. Or asking how someone wants to be contacted and making sure everything from the newsletter list to the CRM reflect that choice.
Your website, and offshoots from it, serves as the landing page for support. It becomes the place to download your app. Your website should allow any visitor to contact you by phone, email, or SMS. Your app’s push notifications should offer quick taps to reach the website if something is unclear.
Your website is your digital hub and all other media emanates from it.
If your website is the cornerstone, email is the foundation. Email is the well-accepted (though often maligned) communications tool of choice for much of the world. When people want to reach you, voice and email are the two leading contenders. While email is ubiquitous and well understood, by the same token, email is a problem because people receive so many emails a day—not to mention spam—that important messages are often lost in the shuffle of overstuffed inboxes. The solution is neither to abandon email nor blithely ignore its weaknesses. Leverage email for bulk communications, support, and outreach; knowing full well that many of the people you are trying to reach might not be seeing your message at all. This is works as long as email isn’t your only weapon in your marketing toolkit.
One of the most important parts of this facet of omni-channel marketing, making sure your email campaigns are connected to all your global systems. Emails to support, should be managed by the same tool as calls to support. Email conversations with leads and qualified customers need to be in the CRM—automatically at best. When other communications channels break down, email needs to be a key fall back.
Voice plays a unique, and changing, role in omni-channel communications. Not long ago voice was essential to support and customer connections, today voice is often the fall back when even email fails. It’s reliability gives it a place in 2FA and authentication with email to voice and SMS to voice tools that are the last resort if messages aren’t getting through. But is voice for marketing dead? No, not hardly, but its place has changed in the last few years to be a technology bridge between the online world and offline.
SMS isn't the newest channel on the list (that honor goes to push) or the oldest (voice), but SMS is increasingly becoming more than just a way for a couple people to send short messages back and forth to each other. Through messaging APIs, companies can send complex 2-Way SMS messages. SMS for support. SMS for shopping. SMS for booking appointments. SMS for communicating and connecting with customers.
Like all of the omni facets, for SMS to be an effective omnichannel communications tool, it must be connected to all the other tools. With a tap, you should be able to switch from SMS to email when you need more than 160 characters to explain something. It’s amazing how much can be said in 160 characters, but for some communications you need to be able to jump to email or phone to wrap the conversation up efficiently.
Apple’s iMessage looks like SMS. In many ways it behaves like SMS, but iMessage is far more complex than any SMS. In fact while iMessage is also the iOS SMS tool, when users see those blue chat bubbles, iMessage is working as an Over the Top (OTT) messaging tool. Chat and the invention of semi-intelligent chat bots (like the recent Messinabot) are new and exciting avenues for messaging. Combining the natural communication flow of chat, the ease of SMS, and the power of enterprise messaging APIs, chat bots and chat-connected services will help marketers jump from an SMS or email right to a full discussion that could resolve a support issue, place an order, or continue a pre-sales conversation.
The Bot Revolution is just beginning, but both Facebook and Slack are investing heavily in the chat bot space making this one of the hot areas for marketers and developers to watch (Chris Messina dubbed 2016 the year of conversational commerce).
Push might be the newcomer in this suite of communications tools, but with smartphones in billions of hands around the world, sending push notifications through your app will get your customers’ attention. Unlike voice and SMS, push messages are specific to an app and are limited by the mobile OS. Push messages draw the user’s attention from another task to your app. This could be an order update, support notice, or a promotion. Push messages are designed to catch people’s attention, because they can be interactive, can connect to SMS, email, or voice for a call to action.
Below are a few examples how omnichannel messaging fits into marketing and communications. In all of these examples, the point is how several messaging platforms mesh together into a cohesive whole.
Support: Email, phone, SMS, and push
Often customer support relies on their phone and email for all communications. Many companies tie both channels into tools like Zendesk, but sometimes support is handled more ad hoc.
However, more companies have realized that sometimes neither phone nor email is the best way to support customers. For example Scoop saw SMS-based support as the only way to give their riders and drivers timely updates. Sometimes using the phone isn't convenient and emails often get delayed or lost. Critical communications like emergency service outages or changes need to get right in front of customers. Using push notifications and SMS messages avoid inbox delays and get messages right when people need them most. Even pure support is less complicated over SMS. With limited space to write, both customers and agents need to be concise and get right to the problem at hand.
Scoop connects people to carpool together for work, this means people will always be worried about getting to work or home. A rider might need to find out where their ride is and “Where is my ride?” does the job. A driver might have hit traffic and could ask another passenger to text “Stuck in traffic, will be 15 mins late” to go out to the other riders on the route. In Scoop's case they made sure that all messages (email and SMS) and phone calls were logged and connected in Zendesk so all agents had the same information at the same time.
For omnichannel support, it's not enough to say “Text us for help”, you must make sure that all support requests are received, longed, and managed the same way. Without integration, omnichannel support will quickly become an omnichannel disaster.
Store loyalty: promotions and coupons
SMS is a proven way to send out coupons to customers. Emails can be misplaced (spam) and webpages forgotten, while SMS messages have highest open and delivery rates. You don't have to just choose one or another: email or SMS for any promotion. Some customers prefer email. Others like text. Giving customers a range of options even options like “text me this coupon” in an email newsletter expands how customers can connect with you.
Like support, integration and coordination is essential. Both email and SMS coupons need to be accepted at stores. The same offer has to be available regardless of how customers want to receive it—even if it's printing off a coupon from a website. Omni-channel needs to give you more reach with customers, not more headaches connecting with them.
SMS to Chat bot
One of the newest areas to hit omnichannel message is the world of the autonomous chat bot. Through SMS or OTT chat apps like Facebook Messenger, Slack, or Whatsapp, these bots are growing in popularity with businesses and consumers. Helping people with everything from basic account questions, password resets, or simple support questions, chat bots free human support agents to answer more complicated questions. The chat bot revolution is even extending to people having their own chat bots to answer questions and get freelance jobs.
Chat bots will soon be commonplace and help customers place regular orders, refill prescriptions, and manage their day to day work. Until then, chat bots connected to SMS or OTT apps are an innovative way for companies to not only reach customers, but support them more efficiently as well.
What’s to come in the series
In the rest of the series, we’ll cover how SMS, A2P, 2FA, Push, and Communications Platforms as a Service (cPaaS) fit together as part of omnichannel communications. Each of these parts pull together into omnichannel marketing, but each have their own specific benefits how they fit into the whole. Each of these tools alone is a powerful part of a communications toolkit, together they work to create a larger communications machine that connects and engages customers, companies, and people.