Conversational Customer Care

I could write a book about my recent customer service wranglings with banks, mobile and TV providers. I’ve been tossed from one representative to another, listened to lots of on-hold muzak, answered complex security questions, and told the same tale of woe over and over again… My personal favourite is the mobile phone shop scenario. You’ve already tried fixing your problem over the phone, you go to your local store, where you have to wait in line for an hour for them to inevitably make you call customer service on a landline – not a Bat Phone! You’re back where you started and wondering where the world went wrong…

Lots of brands and service providers make it really difficult to even contact them, not to mention solve a complex problem. Increasingly there’s the online chat option. You know the box that pops up after a few minutes of browsing, with a stock image of a perma-smiley girl in a headset? (Or worse, an avatar!) Saying, “hey, can I help you find what you’re looking for?” No thanks. Frustrated with bad customer service, plenty of disgruntled customers are calling out companies on social media, which can be detrimental to brand image. 

But maybe mobile messaging can save us. As mobile becomes the most important digital space to innovate, brands are realizing that consumers want friendly, personal, and most of all, immediate conversations online. As of this month, the no frills messaging service WhatsApp has 1 billion monthly active users, while China’s WeChat, Japan’s LINE and South Korea’s KakaoTalk are best regional alternatives. Facebook Messenger is becoming a much greater platform to cater for mobile payments, shopping, and service updates. Fashion brand, Everlane converses with its customers on FB Messenger after they’ve purchased a product, keeping the conversation in one place that’s easily accessible on mobile. I increasingly use Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and FB Messenger rather than email or SMS and brands are capitalizing on this. Just yesterday Vogue announced that it has enabled news updates via WhatsApp. 

For Facebook Messenger, it’s an opportunity to mine data on users’ preferences, shopping habits and communication style, and it keeps customers within the app even when they are shopping multiple services and brands. With mobile battery life struggling to sustain a huge number of apps at once, it's also advantageous for customers to use just one app for numerous shopping and communication opportunities. 

Catherine Baba  Photograph by Phil Oh. Source: Vogue

Catherine Baba Photograph by Phil Oh. Source: Vogue

While some tech leaders – of the Uber ilk – can adapt quickly to this type of innovation, utilities providers are way behind. Just this morning, EDF sent me a clunky text, querying my communication preferences for meter reading reminders. In future scenario planning, EDF would already know how much electricity I’ve used by installing an automated system in my home that requires no input from me whatsoever, and they could send me notifications to do with usage, energy conservation and billing. Until we get to that point, utilities providers can find me on a messaging app and let’s chat about it over there!

Thanks for reading,