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I’m known professionally as a customer service consultant, customer experience trainer and training designer, which means, in plain English, that I work every day to improve the experience my client companies offer to their customers.
I probably have the greatest job in the world, and it’s especially great when a solution I can offer is already right there in front of us, ripe for the picking.
Commercial text messaging is such a solution.
The use of text messaging as a channel in your customer service mix may have been growing organically (i.e., haphazardly). Still, it’s time to intentionally embrace it as a powerful customer support tool and improve the customer experience that it represents. By embracing messaging, you’re encouraging customers to communicate with your company in a natural way that they’re already using with their friends, family and coworkers.
In their personal, non-consumer lives, your customers spend more time texting than they do on voice calls, and this is true, to a varying degree, across all demographics: Though younger customers do the highest percentage of texting, the difference between even the oldest and youngest thumb-wielding human beings is modest.
This preference for texting extends into their lives as customers. Sixty-three percent of people surveyed in the United States report that they would rather message with a brand than call a customer service phone line. Considering this, it’s narrow-minded to continue requiring customers to only contact you by voice.
Continuing the conversation until the situation is truly resolved
One thing that makes commercial text messaging so powerful and convenient (when done correctly) is that it provides the opportunity for an ongoing conversation even when the customer’s on the go. Your customer’s initial message could reach you on a Thursday afternoon when they discovered a problem with their bill. But then, they have to rush to pick up their kids at school, interrupting the back-and-forth texting with the agent before everything gets resolved.
Their second message might not be sent until the following morning; during that interlude, the agent will likely have been able to research their account history in detail. There is no rush and no need to proceed without complete information or fully considered responses on either side of the interaction.
This compares positively with a phone call’s ideal but oft-abused real-time nature. Many businesses require customers to waste their real-time (!) being put on hold or in a queue. Then, once the customer is actually speaking with an employee (perhaps after a long and inconvenient hold time), both the customer and employee are forced to interact right then — whether it’s actually the best time for either.
In other words, after a customer has finally made it through the queue to talk with an employee, they can only speak with that employee for a set period. If the customer or the employee hangs up, the customer (who may have one question they’ve forgotten to ask or one detail they didn’t think to have clarified while the clock was ticking) goes right back into the queue — probably unable to ever talk with that particular agent again to complete the conversation.
Certainly, there are ways to improve this scenario in voice support, such as offering callback times, investing in staffing to shorten the queues and ensuring that agents have as much pertinent data as possible at their fingertips. Still, for some customers — particularly those already embittered by the kind of phone (non)support they’ve received elsewhere — it’s attractive to do an end-run by allowing those customers to message you at their convenience. Messaging allows a conversation to be nearly as real-time as a voice call and allows for a lot more fluidity in how that time is allocated.
The power of video conversations in customer service
Another channel to consider adding your customer service mix is support via video conversation. A video interaction offers the auditory cues of a phone call, along with the addition of eye contact and body language cues. As such, video chat sessions tend to engender empathy on both sides of the call.
Using video creatively can help an employee and customer consider options and work out solutions together. Think of how useful this can be, for example, when determining fabric and ﬁnishes in the home furnishings industry or making color and size choices in apparel retailing.
Realtors have become adept at using video calls to allow prospective homebuyers to preview potential homes to the extent that they can look into drawers and closets “together” without requiring the prospective homebuyer to stomp all over town. Likewise, if a retail store’s employee wants to demonstrate the ﬂufﬁness of a particular pillow being considered by a customer, a well-placed, on-camera pillow squeeze can speak louder than words.
And here’s an interesting phenomenon: the younger the customer, the more their online life is driven by video — and this includes how they prefer to interact with brands, with Gen Z in particular showing a strong preference for video chat and similar visual tools.