Finding new ways to create meaningful connections with customers and to enhance the human experience is growing increasingly important to organizations.

Written digital communications offer one way for contact centers to meet customers in their preferred channels and deliver personalized, one-to-one service. Messaging apps continue to grow in popularity, and companies are taking note. In fact, 68 percent of consumers say they prefer this way of communicating with businesses.

Consumers like messaging because it’s asynchronous—they can ask a question without having to sit on hold or in a queue waiting for an answer. Plus, it’s a channel they’re already using for communications with friends or other businesses. These written digital communications may be socially oriented, such as WeChat; business-focused, such as Apple Business Chat; or span both uses, such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Twitter DM, to name a few. Each application brings with it a unique geographic and demographic user profile.

Messaging appeals to businesses because it has the lowest cost per channel for a single operation , so there is a potential of cost savings. Customer service agents can interact with multiple customers at once, or even in between communications through other channels. On the other hand, messaging adds complexity to almost every aspect of the service delivery model. Choosing the right platform(s) to support is one of the challenges, as dozens of apps are available. Many of the operational necessities already established for other channels—such as forecasting volume, routing intelligence, and measuring agent performance—must be reconsidered for the messaging channel.

Plan your messaging strategy carefully

Before opening up a new channel to engage customers, companies should consider their overall customer service delivery strategy and their internal capabilities. Many organizations have found that messaging is most useful for one-on-one communications, transactions, or support inquiries that are not time-sensitive or complicated. Now is the time to conduct a right channeling exercise to be customer-centric while steering customers to the most effective channel for resolution.

Here’s what you should consider when making this transition:

  • Select the channels where most of your customers are today, rather than tackling too many. Target the messaging applications your customers are already using, and focus your implementation efforts on their preferred app. The popularity of each messaging app varies depending on geography and your target demographic, so your choice may depend on where you do business or the typical profile of your customer. Be selective about the channel you choose, then get to know the app inside and out so you can use it as efficiently and effectively as possible. 
  • Don't implement messaging simply based on the potential of cost savings; do it for improved customer experience. Over time, transactional costs of messaging can be less valuable than other channels, but there are inherent costs. Aligning resources to meet customer expectations is critically important. Consider training existing agents on this skill to maintain economies of scale until channel volume can be adequately forecasted and staffed. Ensuring security protocols are in place to secure information will also add cost; conversations may need to be taken to another channel to support identification and authentication.
  • Simplify and improve containment using CRM. Integrating messaging within your CRM platform, along with your other channels, provides a more customer-centric view and better continuity of transactions. This integration will allow for tracking workload and a consolidated multiple channels process. Integrating with your CRM enables agents to see the metadata available from the messaging applications and streamlines the complexity of communication flow, especially with asynchronous messaging. 
  • Develop a right-channeling strategy. The ultimate goal of messaging is to replace expensive voice calls and to provide a channel that customers prefer. As with any right channeling strategy, you need to inventory the customer interaction reasons and what interactions will be most effective in what channel and determine how to steer the customer to the desired channel. Messaging can have so few barriers that customers might increase their interactions for things they used to self-service. 
  • Don't bet on bots yet! AI and bots provide a compelling channel enhancement that companies may want to consider. However, carefully consider how to best deploy this technology to be successful in meeting both customer and business expectations. Companies will need to weigh the cost of leveraging messaging with its expected outcomes to understand whether or not it will ultimately deliver value.
  • Align sales, marketing, and service. Recognize that your customers will want to use the messaging channel for multiple types of conversations, including sales, marketing, and service—and they will expect agents to have access to their complete sales history and the results of any customer service conversations they have had previously. If your organization’s most frequent messaging contacts involve transaction-specific information or status, you may want to encourage customers to access alternative channels—such as the website, interactive voice response (IVR), or voice—rather than supporting these queries through messaging. Otherwise, this channel may drive poor customer experience, loss of confidence, and, ultimately, business. 
  • Anticipate multiple servicing environments. As with more traditional chat channels, agents gain efficiency only if they can service multiple interactions at once. If a company’s core servicing systems only allow agents to view one order or account at a time, asynchronous messaging can become much less efficient when customers come and go from the conversation for hours in between responses. While it is possible for messaging applications to time the agent out of the conversation and put the customer's inquiry back in the queue, they will likely be more efficient if they can keep the record open and service other customers without starting over.

As the popularity of messaging continues to grow, we predict that more and more organizations will adopt this channel for communications across the customer journey.

Download our new report for more details on implementing—and executing—an effective contact center messaging strategy.

Andy Haas is Managing Director and Service Excellence Leader with Deloitte Consulting LLP. Andy leads Deloitte Consulting’s Service Transformation Offering with 24 years of cross industry and global experience helping clients realize business value service optimization.

Tim McDougal is Managing Director and Contact Center Transformation Leader with Deloitte Consulting LLP. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, Tim McDougal brings a unique and global perspective advising clients in the optimization of customer interactions and the transformation of the contact center.

Jaden Herrin is Senior Manager, Contact Center Transformation Practice with Deloitte Consulting LLP.