People expect more from brands than they used to. In the age of Amazon, Uber, and Netflix, they’re used to service on demand: they find the thing they want, tap a button and receive whatever they’ve asked for as quickly as possible. They want answers equally quickly: a recent study by SAP Hybris found 87 percent of customers expect a response to brand inquiries within 24 hours, and 20 percent within an hour.
But speed and the absence of friction is only half the story. People also have an expectation of personalized service, that a retailer or service provider will recognize them, remember their previous dealings, and use what they know to create a bespoke offering and reward their loyalty.
Steep expectations, to be sure, but technology has evolved to allow brands to deliver. One part of the answer we can help with is to evolve the channels used to communicate with customers to enable the concept of conversational commerce.
It’s a model that moves far beyond the traditional ‘Thank you for your purchase’ and into an ongoing, open-ended dialogue. A customer’s relationship with your brand shouldn’t come to a swift close once they’ve completed their transaction: in fact, that should only be the beginning.
The latest tool to enable this dynamic is WhatsApp Business, a channel offering potential access to 1.5 billion consumers in 180 countries. Chat apps surpassed social networks in 2015, to become the world’s most-used smartphone applications.
Changing the game
To understand how WhatsApp Business can turbo-charge consumer relationships, imagine how it might affect communications from an airline company, for example.
Historically, customers would buy an airline ticket, receive it a few days later, and that would basically be the end of the story until they arrive at check-in.
If the customer opts-in to receive updates from the airline over WhatsApp, the dialogue can be considerably deeper, creating enormous extra value for both the customer and the airline — a true win-win scenario.
To begin with, few people want a paper ticket anymore, so, with its rich media capabilities, there’s no reason your e-ticket with a QR code shouldn’t arrive in a WhatsApp message. And, on the day of departure, wouldn’t it be a thoughtful extra to provide maps to help customers locate the check-in desk and their gate?
A second, very fundamental aspect to WhatsApp is that it’s two-way – customers can and should be using the app to speak back to brands, to ask questions, clarify their preferences and ask for more. To follow our airline example, check-in could actually be performed in-app, avoiding a trip to the desk entirely. It would run through the standard questions, then check seating and dietary requirements. Maybe the customer would like upgrades for faster boarding or more legroom? Their freshly minted boarding pass could then also arrive as a rich media message.
A new dynamic
Third, as a chat app, conversations over instant messaging have a different flow and dynamic to other modes of communication. A chat message is less urgent than a text message and requires less attention than a phone call. Customers can respond immediately, if they choose, or they might leave it until tomorrow. Messages can be as short as they need to be. If the answer isn’t clear or there are follow-up questions, then there’s no discomfort in asking for or offering clarification. Think about how much time, and how many emails and calls could be saved as a result.
WhatsApp also provides a great way to demonstrate responsiveness. This doesn’t just mean responding to people’s messages quickly – we’ll take that as a given. Rather, it lets you take the initiative when you can add value. Let’s imagine the customer’s flight is delayed. Letting them know about the delay at the same time as the message boards in the airport are updated is fantastic service. Keeping them notified about the situation in an equally timely, reliable manner lets them know you care about their journey and their peace of mind, and creates trust. It’s a brand-building dream.
Lastly, while it might initially seem very casual to be conducting business over an instant messaging app, it’s important to remember that WhatsApp communications are end-to-end encrypted to extremely strong standards. WhatsApp messages are more secure than many other digital channels and are just as suited to confidential messages as SMS or email. More so, in some ways, since WhatsApp Business senders can be verified.
This combination of rich-media enabled, two-way, chatty, instant and secure messaging promises to be a game-changer for brand communications. It provides a proven answer to the demand for faster, more fluid, richer communication that customers are crying for.
Of course, SMS and email aren’t going away. They’ll remain a vital part of the marketer’s armory for years to come. But modern brands need to be prepared to meet consumers using every platform, adopting an omnichannel strategy, allowing messages to be tailored to individual preferences. Those preferences are rapidly swinging towards chat and conversational commerce. More than half of consumers say they prefer businesses that use chat apps. Compared to a phone call, they believe they’ll get faster service; that it’s more convenient and they value having a record of the conversation. As we’ve discussed, for brands, it offers the ability to offer more value, better satisfaction and to continue the conversation long after the initial transaction is concluded.