For businesses, messaging is set to become the marketing and communications channel of choice.
Especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises, which may lack the resources to run dedicated service teams, messaging is an affordable, accessible solution for driving new business and serving existing customers.
To learn more about messaging as a revenue driver, we talked with Stefanos Loukakos, cofounder and CEO of Connectly, and Yandong Liu, Connectly’s other cofounder and its CTO. They explained that messaging has four core competitive advantages over other communication channels.
1. Messages Are What Customers Want
Why should businesses consider an investment in messaging? Because research indicates that people prefer messaging to calling.
The trouble is that businesses, too many of which cling to the phone call as a messaging medium, aren’t adequately putting messaging to work. As Loukakos points out, “We still have to call businesses. Wouldn’t it be way better if we can message businesses, too?”
Unlike email, which has countless service providers offering support products for managing customer relationships, messaging apps have had too few. Too few tools that measure customer engagement and retention. Too few dashboards where service agents can organize inbound messages, create tickets and answer questions immediately.
That’s changing. Intelligent messaging platforms are now available that can convert chats into structured data that integrate into more traditional marketing platforms and, ultimately, inform business strategies.
“Businesses care only about one thing,” Loukakos says. “How can we get more business?”
A company using messaging is communicating with customers on their own terms, on their platform of choice, thus raising its chances to get exactly that: more business.
2. Messages Are Better At Reproducing Real-World Service Experiences
For all the convenience of e-commerce, shopping on websites remains impersonal and generic, Loukakos says. He believes marketers can offer a better experience using messaging apps.
“A website is a one-to-many conversation, whereas messaging is a one-to-one personal conversation,” he explains. “Everybody sees essentially the same website, gets the same products, and you have to search to find your own way there.”
Messaging, on the other hand, creates meaningful, direct relationships between buyers and sellers.
Consider the simple pleasure of shopping at a well-run local business. The owners quickly get to know you and your tastes: They might, say, put aside your favorite bread when it arrives in the morning, expecting your visit later in the day. There’s no pressure, just genuine thoughtfulness. You shop there regularly and tell your friends about the place.
“This is the experience we want to replicate,” says Loukakos. “We want to bring the great stuff that happens in the offline world into the online world.”
It’s not about just e-commerce, he adds. Such an experience is relevant whether you’re visiting the bank, making a doctor’s appointment or talking with your children’s school.
“There are so many experiences where one-to-one personalized interactions make sense and make happy customers, and increase the ROI for businesses,” Loukakos says.
3. AI Can Personalize Messages For Better Engagement
Let’s say you’re a business owner or a marketing director who’s already messaging with customers. Congratulations. You’re ahead of the curve.
But are you truly making the most of your messages? For example, are you turning these unstructured engagements into data that can be analyzed for insights? If not, you’re missing important opportunities.
“In every activity, I see a data point or even multiple data points,” Liu explains. “But if there’s no easy way to convert them into something a computer can easily understand, then it’s really hard to convert them into further actions.”
Using artificial intelligence, conversational messages (“unstructured data,” in technical terms) are converted into machine-readable data. These data sets, in turn, can be fed into your company’s CRM to create highly personalized outbound marketing messages.
And vice versa: Data held in CRMs can be integrated into smart messaging platforms, creating an instantly personal exchange between customers and service agents.
Says Liu, “The biggest value is converting those unstructured chat sessions into business drivers.”
4. Messages Streamline The Customer Service Experience (For Everyone)
Particularly during growth stages, business owners and other decision makers can find themselves so focused on building a great product that they forego innovation in favor of tried-and-true tools. Take email-based customer service portals, for example—they’re abundant and familiar.
As the company grows, it then becomes more difficult and expensive to “unwind” systems to implement superior solutions.
“Email is still productive,” Liu concedes. “But if there’s a messaging option, I would use it.” For customers, he explains, messaging means quicker responses. Messaging also provides a “holistic history”—a single point of contact that eliminates the need to switch between chats, emails and phone calls, for example.
“Everything is a little bit easier on the customer side,” he says.
For business, similar benefits apply. “Unifying everything into one channel, or fewer channels, reduces management overhead,” Liu explains. No more passing off customers to other departments; no more collecting the same basic information at the start of every call. Employees, says Liu, “get to see all of the messages, displayed nicely and converted to data points” that help them make better decisions.
The Messaging Path To ROI
Mobile messaging has come a long way since the world’s first SMS text message was sent: a simple “Merry Christmas,” sent to a Vodafone executive’s Orbitel 901 cellphone on December 3, 1992.
And yet messaging’s most promising days still lie ahead—especially for businesses looking to improve their outreach efforts. Messaging is proven to increase customer engagement, acquisition and conversion.
“Statistics show that email has an open rate of 20% and an under 2% click-through rate. With messaging, you get an open rate of 98%, and at Connectly we’re seeing a CTR of around 25%,” Liu says.
“I believe it's going to be the de facto communication channel between people and businesses, just as it is between people and people,” says Loukakos.
Liu agrees: “Messaging is the future. No question about that.”
Jeff Koyen is an award-winning journalist, media entrepreneur and early cryptocurrency investor. He lives in Curaçao with his family.