Instant messaging: what are the stakes for customer relations? | Eleven

Instant messaging: what are the stakes for customer relations?31 May 2021


Instant messaging , a (still) growing communication channel

Instant messaging applications, led by WhatsApp and Messenger, have succeeded in eclipsing several previously unavoidable channels of exchange, such as SMS, through their sustained growth. The number of users has risen sharply in recent years and will reach 3 billion by 2022.

However, the use of these channels is no longer limited to the private sphere. Instant messaging like WhatsApp is increasingly being used by businesses as a tool for customer relations. According to the Washington Post, 20 million companies use Messenger to communicate with their customers. Software company Zendesk goes further, claiming that 25% of businesses use instant messaging applications, and a further 11% may adopt them in the near future. These channels, which have recently been used in B2C, are also very popular with consumers. 70% of people prefer to communicate with a brand via text message rather than by phone, when presented with both options. This may be to request a new policy from their insurer, or to discuss the purchase of a car or appliance with an advisor. Further evidence of this is the fact that customer satisfaction is 25% higher when dealing with a company via a messaging application than when dealing by phone.

New channels with specific characteristics

Instant messaging – WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, Apple Business Chat and others – are among the so-called asynchronous channels: they allow for active but discontinuous exchange, not requiring an immediate response between two messages. These channels are distinct from synchronous channels, such as live chats, which involve a live digital exchange, and from physical channels such as the telephone. They are generally multi-platform, mobile and desktop. Among asynchronous channels, instant messaging also stands out from other modes of communication such as e-mail because of its more modern connotation.

Benefits for companies and individuals

The use of these channels (such as WhatsApp) in customer relations has many advantages, both for companies and for individuals.

On the business side, the use of instant messaging in customer relations leads to increased efficiency, with, for example, the possibility of handling several requests at the same time. The asynchronous nature of instant messaging also smoothes out the activity of advisers who, having control over the response time, can better manage peaks in demand. Communication with the customer also becomes more personal, as the customer can see his or her exchange with the advisor in an interface that he or she would normally use to interact with a relative. Finally, by using instant messaging, the company is sending out an image of modernity and adaptability to technological trends, and is positioning itself on an aspect that is increasingly discriminating in terms of the quality of the user experience in its relationship with a brand.

On the customer side, the use of instant messaging facilitates the relationship with an advisor since it is done through a channel already used on a daily basis for private use. In addition, the customer can express his or her needs to an advisor at any time, regardless of the opening hours of a switchboard. They also benefit from the ease of use of these channels: they can make a request and receive a response without ever changing the thread of the discussion, with access to the history of the exchanges and the ability to easily send documents in several formats (videos, photos, PDFs, etc.).

Untapped potential

Instant messaging like WhatsApp is increasingly used by companies as a customer relations tool. However, the potential of these channels is not always fully exploited, due to limited resources in their deployment. In many cases, for example, advisors are not integrated into the thread management tool, so that channel breaks occur: a customer who has contacted a brand via instant messaging may be redirected to another channel, or the community manager receiving the request may have to leave the tool to transfer it to an advisor.

In order to create an optimal customer experience on these channels, companies need to offer a fluid, seamless journey with a good level of automation. Bots, which are part of the classic levers implemented by eleven to support companies in their digital transformation, can be effective in this respect, particularly for automating simple paths. Nevertheless, the relationship with an advisor is still preferred by the consumer, and companies must therefore give customers the possibility to switch to a physical person at any time. Defining the right balance between automation and human interaction, by identifying where technological innovation can really generate value, is therefore a key issue in the digital strategy of the companies that eleven supports.

Thus, the success of the use of these channels lies largely in the ability of companies to efficiently distribute requests to the appropriate advisor, to enable the customer to have a response that is both quick and in line with their expectations. True value creation is only possible if the pathway is sufficiently simplified for the consumer, giving them no reason to pick up the phone: a chat thread accessible at the click of a button from a website, and a response in an adapted format after the exchange of a few messages. Otherwise, the consumer could be forced to change channels, exposing the company to potential overflows and a drop in customer satisfaction. It is therefore up to companies to deploy the necessary means for optimal use.


Léo Poitou, Simon Georges-Kot, Morand Studer


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