Today, the four largest messaging platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat, have more active users than the four largest social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn –– 4.1 billion versus 3.4 billion.
It’s a sign of the times. A decade ago, the rise of social media pushed communications into the public sphere, incentivizing businesses to broadcast content to their followers. Now, consumers prefer secure, 1-to-1 communication, or group channels.
Overwhelmed by as many as 63.5 notifications per day, they’re muting notifications from non-essential mobile apps providing a singular function or one-off transaction. Only 12 percent of consumers prefer a company’s mobile app for receiving communications from a business. These shifts in technology and preferences are driving consumers to seek out more secure, authentic communications.
A powerful opportunity to engage
For companies, this shift represents an opportunity to transform how they connect with customers through personalized, context-rich conversations. As we share in our recently-released State of Customer Engagement report, 94 percent of consumers are annoyed by the communications they receive from businesses.
Without a shift in how businesses communicate with their customers, that trend is likely to continue. Analysts estimate that by 2022, 2.7 trillion application-to-person (A2P) (think business-to-consumer) messages will be sent from businesses and organizations. And, while the majority of messages sent to consumers from businesses today are still one-way, like account notifications, one time passwords, or promotional messages, consumers are increasingly looking for the ability to reply back.
Imagine calling a business and sitting on hold forever, or sending an email and never getting a reply. That’s the unfortunate reality when it comes to business messaging today. SMS is still the leading channel for business-to-consumer messaging worldwide. Yet, the rise of new types of A2P channels like the WhatsApp Business API (the A2P counterpart of WhatsApp) and Apple Business Chat (the native iOS A2P conversational solution) shows the potential for businesses that lean into this trend.
Many businesses have turned to messaging to send outbound notifications, but market leaders are letting consumers engage with intelligent assistants or humans, in the same message thread, on the same channel, with context. For businesses, employees can field many one-to-one messages simultaneously, improving efficiency.
Good messaging practices for today and tomorrow
Whether you’re exploring adding messaging as a channel or responding to consumer preferences for conversational support, consider the following:
→ Get customers’ permission.
More than half of consumers say it’s important that businesses make it easy to opt-out (54%) and give them the option to choose the channel on which they receive messages (52%). It’s also the law.
Before sending any kind of communications, companies should first receive consent from customers (and periodically reconfirm consent for recurring campaigns). Giving customers control to choose signals that your company respects their time and helps to build greater trust. For many rich messaging platforms, businesses aren’t able to engage unless a customer initiates the communication, or are only able to send pre-vetted messages.
→ Personalize what and how you communicate.
Consumers use different channels for different needs, and businesses need to adapt and mold to suit their use-cases. A third of consumers say businesses are contacting them over the wrong communication channels.
Individuals want their unique preferences honored. Let customers identify the types of communications they want and how to receive them. Personalization improves consumer trust—and that’s especially true for younger consumers. A Twilio-commissioned study found Gen Z/Millennials are more than twice as likely (40%) to say personalization increases their level of trust in business messaging.
→ Consider the role of AI and automation.
Conversational messaging can be deployed at nearly every stage of the customer journey: a product expert can help convert, support can help to retain consumers when a challenge arises, and the whole team can serve and grow. That doesn’t mean it always has to be a human on the other end.
Using automation or intent recognition allows intelligent routing of customer requests based on location or inquiry, and a bot can field common inquiries and escalate to a human as needed.
Increasingly, combining intelligent automation and conversational messaging improves the customer and agent experience. Utilizing a bot for certain questions or needs, transitioning seamlessly to an agent, back to a bot, and back to an agent again as needed—entirely within a customer’s chosen channel—gives businesses the ability to both solve issues without human intervention and allows agents to be more responsive and field more inquiries (because the interaction isn’t a 1-to-1 voice call).
The next era of messaging
Consumers view messaging as a trusted, critical channel for two-way communication. Starting with SMS might make sense for your business. It’s a universal messaging standard with 5 billion users and more daily active users than any other app or service.
SMS distinguishes itself because it’s the one app that’s pre-installed on every mobile phone, and all you need is a phone number to reach another user. This universal reach has made SMS one of the top channels for businesses to reach their customers with 98 percent open rates.
That said, OTT applications like WhatsApp top monthly download and active user charts around the world. Either way, the time to start responding to consumers is now. With analysts estimating nearly 80 percent of all mobile subscribers will use smartphones by 2025, that trend toward richer, trusted, conversational messaging will only continue.
The demand for more authentic, 1-to-1 conversations is just one of the five most salient trends in communication that surfaced in 2019. To better understand what these changes mean for businesses and how they will evolve in 2020 download The State of Customer Engagement report.