Conversational messaging has taken off in recent years.
But back in the day, the business-to-customer relationship was more of a one-way street—companies would talk at customers through direct mail, television ads, billboards, and the like. Customers could respond by visiting a store, making a purchase, or calling a number and waiting on hold, but that was the extent of the relationship (if you could call it that).
Things have changed. Today’s customers don't want you to talk at them—they want you to talk with them. They want to respond to messages, kick-start conversations, and build relationships rather than one-off interactions. This requires companies to shift the communication strategy, which often involves pivoting technology.
While pivoting to conversational messaging might seem like a no-brainer, the process isn't cut and dried—and the outcome has lasting advantages and disadvantages. Below, we'll dig into the pros and cons of conversational messaging to help you make an informed decision about the future of your business' communication.
What is conversational messaging?
Conversational messaging is 2-way communication between consumers and businesses on the consumer's channel of choice. Consumers could start a conversation with an agent on a phone call or kick things off with a text message—they might even use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or webchat.
However, customers don't want businesses to be in charge of the relationship. That's why 61% of respondents in Twilio’s Conversational Messaging: The Next Storefront Experience survey reported “sometimes, often, or always disabling push notifications.”
Consumers want to have a say on when and where conversations take place. For example, when they need help with a problem, some want to jump on the phone, some want to start a text conversation, and some just want to send an email. Conversational messaging gives your customers these options, turning your communications from marketing and advertising to back-and-forth discussions.
Pros and cons of conversational messaging
Conversational messaging is ushering in the next-era storefront, but it's not without its challenges. Let's explore the pros and cons of conversational messaging below.
Advantages of conversational messaging
1. Satisfies customer demand
According to our survey, “80% of consumers would like brands to offer conversational messaging.” They want to start conversations with brands and use messaging at different stages in their journey:
- 77% of consumers want to use conversational messaging to get help early in the buying process
- 71% want to use conversational messaging to help them further along in the buying process
- 58% want to use conversational messaging to make purchases directly
It makes sense, especially when you compare the digital experience to the physical storefront. Think about visiting a new store and being able to ask an employee a question at any time: "Do you have this shoe in a wider style?" "What bindings are compatible with these skis?" "Which subscription plan do you recommend if I want to include my entire family?"
For the customer, it's a lot easier to ask direct questions and get straightforward rather than digging through product descriptions and frequently asked question pages. That's why 74% of consumers “believe that conversational messaging makes the purchase process simpler,” and 67% of consumers report having “completed a purchase after contacting a brand through a conversational messaging channel.”
2. Builds consumer trust
Trust is the new currency, but it's hard to build and quick to lose. That’s why everything you do (and don't do) impacts how customers perceive your brand.
It’s also true that people only trust people—not automated robot-like campaigns. In fact, 95% of consumers say “they would trust a brand more if it was easy for them to initiate a conversation.” They want human interaction that shows you're real and you care.
And initiating the conversation is just the first step. Consumers expect a quick response, and 88% say “they would be more likely to purchase from a brand online if they were able to message with them in real time.”
3. Enables customers to start the conversation
Customers want 2-way communication, and 75% of them “are frustrated when they can't respond directly to a brand's message”—one (of many) reasons we don't recommend no-reply emails. It's like receiving a shopping coupon, showing up at the store, and finding not one employee to help.
Conversational messaging lets your customers choose when, where, and how communication takes place. They don’t have to chat on your schedule, nor do they have to limit themselves to a single channel. For example, if they need help now (and perhaps already have a digital shopping cart full of products), they can initiate a conversation and get a response in real time.
However, keep in mind that messaging preferences vary depending on age and region. For example, consumers in Latin America want to use WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to communicate, while customers in the North American Region overwhelmingly prefer SMS. Simply put, conversational messaging lets your customers choose the channel they most prefer.
Disadvantages of conversational messaging
1. Takes more work
Offering conversational messaging is a bit more complex than traditional one-way communication. You have to enable customers to kick-start the conversation, which means you need employees ready to engage and respond.
It's the opposite of your classic email blast in which a single employee messages thousands of customers. And you need a team of well-trained agents ready to respond in real time to potentially dozens of incoming messaging requests.
Advanced chatbots can do a great job of handling the minutia and redirecting traffic (when necessary), but conversational messaging always takes more time and resources than conventional marketing.
2. Requires new software (sometimes)
Odds are your current communication stack wasn’t built to enable conversational messaging. So you’ll likely need new purpose-built software to optimize incoming and outgoing conversations with your business.
Without a cloud contact center, your employees will have to engage with customers on dozens of disconnected channels. For example, you might need an employee logged into Facebook handling Messenger requests while another employee sits on WhatsApp chatting with customers. And a handful of others might be on standby monitoring text messages.
But what happens when a customer starts a conversation over Messenger and wants to transfer to a phone call? Or what if your texting channels get overwhelmed while your social media channels sit idle?
You can sometimes get by with a scrappy, pieced-together communication stack in your business' early days, but it becomes impossible as you scale. As you grow, you’ll need software that integrates all your channels, stores customer information for fast recall, routes customers intelligently, and accelerates your response time.
3. Can make or break the experience with chatbots
Businesses that use conversational messaging usually rely on chatbots to some extent, but not all chatbots are equal. Some will efficiently answer customer questions and send them on their merry way, while others will bog down communication lines and frustrate potential buyers.
You'll need to invest in sophisticated chatbots to make conversational messaging work. Without them, your agents will likely face an onslaught of trivial questions, such as "What are your store hours?" and "Will you be open on Black Friday?"—the kinds of questions that a chatbot could (and should) answer easily.
Deliver better customer conversations with Twilio Flex
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