When Joshua March built an app for the new Facebook Application Platform in 2007, "social customer service was not a phrase," he says. But March, now CEO & Co-Founder of Conversocial, saw an early opportunity. "I thought this was a really exciting opportunity for brands to engage with customers in a way they never had before."
Conversocial, a digital customer care platform, aims at "bridging the gap between the rapidly shifting worlds of social media and... the discipline of a large-scale customer service platform," according to March.
As someone who lives and breathes social customer service every day, March prides himself on being an early adopter of new technology. And while many companies are just starting to pay attention to messaging apps, March has been working for months with brands like Hyatt, Sprint, and Alaska Air to pilot customer service for Facebook Messenger. He calls messaging apps "the future of customer service... they're really exciting in lots of ways."
Platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and WeChat in China have "full live-chat capabilities" which are both "highly efficient from an agent perspective" and "a great experience" for customers, March says.
"Messaging apps have just completely blown up from a consumer perspective," he adds. "They've really become the dominant way that consumers interact with each other and communicate with each other."
Advantages of Messaging Apps for Brands
March cites two big advantages that messaging apps bring to brands that "traditional" social media channels do not:
- Private vs. Public: "One of the big hesitations that a lot of companies have had in promoting social as a primary customer service channel has been the very public aspect of it... The great thing about [messaging apps] is that you can have a 'Message Us' button and really promote this as a one-on-one, private channel."
- Persistency: "Messaging is a persistent conversation between you and a brand. You can have a real-time chat with an agent, then you can go away and come back a day later and see the history... That's really exciting because that starts to have an impact on consumer behavior."
In their beta testing with Conversocial, Sprint saw a decrease in public complaints on Facebook as messages on Messenger increased. As a result, Sprint now lists its social customer care options - including the "Message Us" button - above the phone number on its website. March is expecting 50+ more clients to launch live chat via Messenger this year and "thousands" overall.
Are the Bots Really Going to Take Over?
March also had a lot to say about Facebook's recent introduction of the "Bots for Messenger" Platform. He says that bots will be useful for certain types of transactions and "can help contact centers become more efficient by making things easier for agents." But, he cautions, "we are not at the stage yet where you could have a really comprehensive chat bot for customer service."
One challenge that bots will face, he says, is that messaging is already less expensive and a better customer experience than on the phone, so moving to a bot runs the risk of worsening that experience and creating additional phone calls.
"A lot of people turn to social because they're fed up with the 'computer says no' attitude or big, complex IVRs [Interactive Voice Response systems on the telephone], or the bad experience they're getting through these other channels and they want to connect with brands in a more human, engaging way," March says. "And that's really, really important that brands don't forget that."
As with most things these days, it's all about how a brand executes. If brands don't deliver a good customer experience, customers "are only a click away" from complaining publicly.
Here are some key moments in Episode 35 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast and where to find them:
1:45 A background on Conversocial
3:00 Conversocial's (very) early entry into social customer service
7:00 The intersection of Marketing and Customer Service
11:23 The emergence of messaging platforms for service
15:21 What does the rise in messaging apps mean for companies?
22:57 Are messaging bots going to take over customer service?
30:55 Public vs. private customer service
34:43 What's the future of peer-to-peer support?
40:00 What will be different in social customer service in one year?