It’s Ok to Message Your Customers – but They’re Not Your Friends

Messaging technology is more than mere texting. It supports incredible communicative flexibility, all within a single personalized environment. Be it WhatsApp or WeChat or Viber or Telegram, billions of people are flocking to messaging platforms to exchange images, gifs, video, and audio. And these platforms represent a new means for doing business, rapidly enabling access to myriad other services and applications — setting appointments, tracking shipments, buying gifts, ordering lunch, etc.

Brand forays into messaging require finesse. The rising popularity of messaging platforms like Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp Business presents a Marketing opportunity for brands, but only if they learn from past failures and avoid falling into bad habits that drove users away from other communication technologies like voice calls and emails. Marketers must be intelligent in their use of this new, asynchronous communications channel and respect the (still) fuzzy boundaries of acceptable behavior.

People were excited to get emails in the early days, too

There’s a lesson to learn from the original digital asynchronous communication technology — email. The danger is that brands may see the same financial incentives that drove them to abuse email and turn it into a marketing spam channel. The consumer embrace of messaging has a direct correlation to it not being a perceived nuisance like email, which is now largely for archival purposes. That’s partly why we keep our friends and family on the message thread — they don’t pound us with stuff that we don’t like and didn’t ask for.

As the practice of messaging with businesses takes root, it’s important that brands consider what is driving consumers to the messaging world — a new model of ultra-convenient, asynchronous communication. With messaging, users can have in-the-moment, real-time exchanges, broadcast to groups large and small, with innumerable stop-and-go threads. Participants are free to enter and exit the conversation on their own timetable.

Here’s where finesse is needed. There is a key difference between the way we communicate with friends and family versus the way we communicate in an asynchronous world with businesses, and it relates directly to expectation. 

The expectation on the consumer side when dealing with business remains asynchronous, with customers controlling the ebb and flow of conversation. If they come back in two minutes, two hours, two days, two weeks, or two months, they want the business to pick up the conversation thread correctly — and instantly — with the information they’ve already provided.

For brands, it is definitely not acceptable to respond in a similarly whim-based manner, but the customs are still evolving. For example, brands using WhatsApp’s enterprise product have 24 hours to respond before incurring a fee, which encourages business responsiveness and a growth feedback loop.

But at the same time, messaging platforms require restraint from over-solicitousness. The pressure implied by an “R U still there?” contradicts the expectation that the customer controls the clock. Brands must walk a fine line to appear responsive-without seeming pushy, in addition to not seeming smug or overly familiar with messaging slang and emojis.

Keeping it Simple, Efficient and Courteous

If messaging is to remain compelling and convenient for the customer, brand responses should be driven by necessity. Oversharing via messaging is not appreciated in the workplace, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, so it is an even greater failure with customers. To keep the asynchronous messaging thread clear and simple, marketers must exercise restraint and present customers with only the information they want, based on what they’ve asked. If an image or video is more effective than text, fine. Take payments or send other purchase options, fine — but only if needed.

With messaging platforms, businesses have an opportunity to be intelligently proactive in addressing customer needs — as long as they respect the customer’s time and the emerging platform etiquette. Marketers must resist the siren call of their own convenience and avoid turning messaging platforms into spam channels.

Read more: 10 Tips for Using Messaging Apps in Customer Care

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