WhatsApp as the Customer Service channel of the future

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(Version in Spanish at https://www.nobbot.com/negocios/whatsapp-atencion-al-cliente/)

I’m going to move houses and I need to hire some utilities. I get into the web, “I look for gas companies” in the search engine, I pick one and a WhatsApp conversations is automatically opened. I “talk” to the customer service representative on WhatsApp and, after getting all the info around rates and services available, I ask the person “on the other side” which things I need to finally sign for the service.

They are asking for a bank receipt. I enter the WhatsApp channel of my bank, ask them to be sent one, and forward it to my new gas company. I do not visit websites and do not download applications or comparators. Everything in the same channel without leaving WhatsApp. This I’m telling you, we’re about to be able to do in our day to day lives.

Entropy and messaging

The immediate future of business-customer relationships is conversational. And when I talk about conversational I mean messaging, as opposed to internet searches or interactions with company pages, or even apps.

The most natural form of human interaction are questions and answers, conversations. Thus we learn and communicate from of our most distant ancestors. Everything else is to force Nature :-). And because the universe tends to the maximum entropy, relationships always will tend to the less organized, most simple, and comfortable: conversations.

WhatsApp customer service: the future is conversational

In addition, the possibilities that customer service gives us on WhatsApp are very wide. Exchange of information, sending of documents, links, photos, videos, communication of written commitments, storage of sent information, interoperability with other channels, use of voice if necessary…

Already today the most popular channel of communication among people is messaging, even more popular than face to face. 95% of people use it every day, and it’s not a thing reserved for Millenials. It is almost as equally popular with over-65s. There is no other technology that has overcome so much the age barrier. Today messaging bridges generational gaps. Since 2015 it surpassed Social Networks usage, and has long since left behind the use of voice on mobile (only one in four people remember the “old” utility of that device that he always carry with him: talk). My kids are not able to find SMS on their phones, and the mail looks more like Marco Polo’s letters than an agile communication channel.

What until now seemed to be preserved for family and friends (like WhatsApp), will soon cease to be so. It will be the next revolution in Customer Care. Because it is the place where the person is and prefers to communicate. Because today it is the best valued communication channel, to which people (all of us) dedicate an average of 1.5 hours a day, because it is absolutely personal (it is linked to your number), always goes with you and gathers so much attention that no one is able to skip reading a message on WhatsApp (if someone unknown sends me an email the probability I open it is 1%, while a private message is opened 92% of the time).

atención whatsapp orange

The evolution of messaging

But what lies ahead of us in this channel is much more interesting than what is on our backs. It’s going to have to evolve into something more functional and complete if you want to cover all the relationship functionality needed. First of all, it should be a simple channel, that responds to the natural need of “enter and ask” and, to do so, it should have or rely on a “search functionality” (at least for the commercial part) that helps you find the companies with which you want to establish a conversation (or it will have to be very much linked to the internet to cover the bridge).

In addition, market fragmentation has to be reduced. It will be impossible to maintain presence in all of them : WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Telegram, Messenger, Wechat, Imo free, ABC, RCS,… There will be few left (in 2018 Yahoo messenger closed) and companies and customers will pick the winners.

Those who survive will have developed a better interface than the current one. An interface oriented to be able to offer service (for example, WhatsApp will have to develop resources that today it does not have to be able to offer communication possibilities as multiple choices, menus, buttons… whatever).

Artificial intelligence and customer service on WhatsApp

Artificial Intelligence is key as a distributor, filter and intermediary in the channel (both the one developed by the channel itself and the one that each company has to tune up to build the functionalities with which it wants to provide the relationship and make it cost-efficient. This AI is the key to transform the way the service is provided from digital channels. It will make possible the great disruption that we start to face: Customer should not go to the Information to the places where it is. Information should go to Customer to the places where she is.

Today we care about bringing customers to our apps, tomorrow we will care of taking our apps to where the customers are. And even though this may seem like a problem it’s actually a great opportunity. The average user uses ten apps in his phone. The probability of one of them being ours’ is quite small (especially competing against Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Gmail, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix, Google Maps, Pay…).

However, thanks to the new conversational channel and the AI we will be able “to bring our app” to the customer when she needs it. The configuration of the channel will offer us huge possibilities for customization. We will be able to present to each client possibilities that today are not feasible in any other channel at reasonable costs. Each customer will be known and recognized instantly and will be presented to a different experience.

Commercial saturation and channel ownership

Two dangers are arising, however, on this path, and will condition totally the future of customer service on WhatsApp. On one hand we have the risk of commercial saturation. The true risk of customers fleeing because of the indiscriminate usage of the commercial communication possibilities that arrive with the new channel. On the other hand, the obvious risk of building the connection with our customers on a channel that has an owner and that may come to abuse its position of control. This will make the companies reluctant to assume the risk of being prisoners of a potential monopoly like this if they have no guarantee that it will not be exercised.

In the end, success or failure will depend solely on us, the users of the channel. If we don´t get what we’re looking for, we’ll leave. There will be lots of alternatives.

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